Ryan Schimpf Is an Outlier, Again

This a companion piece to what I wrote earlier today on Trevor Story, in which I wondered if a hitter can become too extreme with regard to a certain approach. In Story’s case, the specific approach is one designed to lift the ball into the air.

This is also a status update on a comment made by Eno Sarris regarding Ryan Schimpf back in early March, after Schimpf had just produced the most fly-ball-oriented season on record. Wrote Sarris:

And maybe that’s the lesson in the end: Ryan Schimpf is so extreme that two things are true. On the one hand, he won’t be as extreme next year, because only one person has ever been as extreme as Schimpf was last year, and that player also didn’t play a full season. But it’s also true to say that Schimpf will probably a hit a ton of fly balls next year, even with regression.

Schimpf was not a qualified hitter last year, recording just 330 plate appearances, but among single seasons of 100 plate appearances or more, no hitter on record had produced a higher fly-ball rate or a more extreme ratio of fly balls to ground ball.

Schimpf is always going to be a fly-ball hitter, because he’s always been a fly-ball hitter. Schimpf routinely posted sub-0.60 GB/FB ratios throughout his lengthy, winding minor-league career. But he’d never produced a ratio like the 0.30 mark he produced last season in a half-season’s worth of work. Surely he was going to regress nearer his minor-league career average this season, nearer normal MLB batted-ball distribution, right?

Maybe not! Maybe Schimpf is an outlier, a natural fly-ball extremist. If his FB% and GB/FB ratios hold, they would represent MLB records, topping his work of last season:

Top Fly-Ball Rates on Record
Season Name Team G PA wRC+ GB/FB FB%
2017 Ryan Schimpf Padres 26 106 92 0.24 68.5%
2017 Trevor Story Rockies 27 107 62 0.26 67.3%
2010 Rod Barajas – – – 99 339 93 0.29 66.2%
2016 Ryan Schimpf Padres 89 330 129 0.30 64.9%
2011 Rod Barajas Dodgers 98 337 97 0.34 61.2%
2013 Scott Hairston – – – 85 174 73 0.44 59.3%
2015 Chris Parmelee Orioles 32 102 82 0.37 58.6%
2011 Aaron Cunningham Padres 52 101 77 0.63 58.1%
2017 Joey Gallo Rangers 28 105 129 0.48 58.0%
2008 Russell Branyan Brewers 50 152 133 0.38 57.1%
Min. 100 plate appearances in a season.

Schimpf been more extreme, but only through his first 52 batted balls this season. We’re getting closer to a point when a number of batted-ball trends reach stabilization, including fly balls.

Drilling deeper, one finds that Schimpf’s extreme batted-ball output was supported last year by baseball’s top average launch angle (32.1 degrees). That figure is slightly up this year, to 33 degrees, which again is the top average launch angle among players this season with at least 25 batted-ball events.

Maybe you can be this extreme.

There are, of course, potential benefits to this sort of approach. If Shimpf can put 300 balls in play this season — perhaps a challenge given his high strikeout totals — then he would project to hit 39 home runs, assuming he maintained his current 68% fly-ball and 19 HR/FB% rates. He certainly has real power, having consistently producing double-digit HR/FB ratios as a minor leaguer.

That a batter should be so far removed from typical batted-ball distributions seems untenable. On the other hand, Zach Britton has averaged nearly an 80% ground-ball rate as a pitcher from 2014 to -17. There are always exceptions to the rule and perhaps Schimpf is one of them.

Perhaps his natural fly-ball tendencies have only been encouraged and refined due to the amount of discussion and advancement of fly-ball theory in recent seasons.

But it’s also possible Schimpf’s uppercut is too extreme, that he could benefit from a more tempered approach. His career batting average is .200. He’s recorded just a .143 mark this year. He hit only .249 over 3,026 plate appearances. Batting average is only part of the equation, of course, but it’s an important one.

Schimpf has had trouble converting balls in play into hits. He has the major’s lowest BABP this season, at .106. The next closest mark (belonging to Curtis Granderson) is more than 60 points higher. In a related development, Schimpf is tied for the lead in infield pop ups (8), too. None of this is positive.

But the BABIP mark also suggests some positive regression is ahead. And he has a career 120 wRC+ mark to date, even after a slow start this season. Judging from the overall output, the approach is working for him, particularly as a second baseman.

What about on the pitch-specific level? Hitters and pitchers are constantly adjusting to each other. Has a scouting report developed for Schimpf? Is there a hole in his swing to identify and expose?

There is where pitchers located four-seamers versus Schimpf last year:

And this season:

Schimpf’s strikeouts are up, but after whiffing on 14.5% of four-seamers last year, Schimpf has cut that rate to 9.5% this year. And he’s walking in an elite 18.9% of his plate appearances early this season, making him less dependent on batted-ball production.

We’ll have to wait and see, but right now Schimpf continues to be extreme, continues to be an outlier. We can debate whether this is who Schimpf should be, whether he should be this extreme, but perhaps this is his natural state. Maybe a hitter can be this extreme.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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6 years ago

Thanks for this, I really enjoy articles on extreme outlier-type players.