Sunday Notes: Jonathan Schoop Needs a Better Two-Strike Approach (Maybe)

Jonathan Schoop slashed .169/.217/.273 last year in counts that included two strikes, and over his career that line is an equally-squeamish .162/.208/.276. The Detroit Tigers infielder — recently re-signed to a one-year deal worth a reported $4.5M — isn’t alone in scuffling when a possible punch-out looms. Across the two leagues, batters slashed .167/.248/.275 in those situations in 2020

Schoop typically doesn’t get into two-strike counts by taking pitcher’s pitches and patiently waiting for mistakes. Restraint has never been his forte. Since debuting with the Baltimore Orioles in September 2013, Schoop’s walk rate is a lowly 3.8%, while his Swing% and O-Swing% both rank toward the top of our Plate Discipline leaderboard. And while toning down that level of aggression is a goal, it’s not as though a Tiger can simply change his stripes. Schoop isn’t about to morph into Joey Votto — not at age 29 — which means a different two-strike approach might be in order.

I asked Schoop about that during a Zoom call earlier this week.

“I’ve got to do better with two strikes,” admitted Schoop, whose 22% K-rate last year was a shade under his career mark of 22.9%. “I need to put the ball more in play and see what happens. I’m going to change that. I’m going to be better at everything. The things I need to be better in, I’m going to be better in. The things I’m good in, I’m trying to be a tick better on them, too.”

Following up, I asked Schoop if he’s considered shortening his swing with two strikes, maybe even choking up on the bat. While that might mean giving up some power, it would likely help him boost his contact rate.

“Not choke up that much,” responded Schoop. “If you go see my numbers, I have a lot of home runs with two strikes. I’m not a speedy guy that can put the ball in play and beat it out. I’ve got to just swing at strikes and not chase. Hit the ball hard, and wherever it goes, it goes.”

Schoop was spot-on about home runs with two strikes. He’s hit 40 of them — this out of 141 total — and somewhat surprisingly, only six have come on full counts. He’s hit nine home runs on 0-2 counts, ten home runs on 1-2 counts, and 15 home runs on 2-2 counts. The Curacao native may have a cromulent slash line with two strikes, but he does produce dingers. Trading some of them in for more balls in play might be to his advantage, but then again, it might not.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from Wednesday’s interview with Josh Staumont was what he told me about a pitch that may or may not be coming out of his back pocket this summer. The flame-throwing Kansas City Royals reliever hasn’t thrown a changeup in any of his 42 big-league outings, but it was only last year that he introduced a two-seamer to his mix. If an addition to his arsenal can be advantageous, Staumont is all for it.

Finding the right grip and comfort level has been the challenge. Staumont estimates that he’s had “about five changeups in five years,” but the current iteration, a modified-split he’s working diligently on, is showing encouraging signs. Staumont anticipates the pitch going under the microscope during spring training, and if it passes muster, the time might be nigh to unveil it in games that count.

The 27-year-old right-hander went the analogy route in sharing his view of arsenal enhancement, which he considers a one-offering-at-a-time process.

“Established pitchers add pitches as they see fit, rather than trying to have four or five out of the gate,” said Staumont, who has parts of two big-league seasons under his belt. “Bruce Lee said something along the lines of, ‘I practice one punch 1,000 times, not 1,000 punches one time.’ That’s kind of the approach I’m taking.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

DJ LeMahieu is 6 for 9 with three home runs against Chris Sale.

Paul Konerko went 5 for 6 with four home runs against Jimmy Gobble.

Hank Aaron slashed .362/.431/.647 with seven home runs against Sandy Koufax.

Jim Thome slashed .373/.457/.898 with eight home runs against Roger Clemens.

Ted Williams slashed .344/.474/.675 with 10 home runs against Bob Feller.

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Mickey Jannis will be competing for a spot in the Orioles rotation this spring, and that’s encouraging news for knuckleball fanatics. The 33-year-old right-hander is one of the few purveyors of that particular craft currently active in pro ball, and while the odds aren’t in his favor… well, you just never know. Hoyt Wilhelm turned 30 a few months into his rookie season, then went on to pitch for two decades and get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Those lofty heights are almost certainly beyond Jannis’s reach, but the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues isn’t.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing him in camp,” Baltimore GM Mike Elias said when I asked about Jannis’s chances. “Mike Snyder, our pro scouting director, has been a big fan of his. I think it will be great for the major league staff to get to see him, because we do think he’s interesting. As we saw last year with with César Valdez, there are guys with neat stories that figure out how to be successful in the major leagues, and we’re hopeful that [Jannis] can be one of them. He’s got a real shot.”

Valdez made nine relief appearances for the Orioles last year at age 35, throwing his changeup an almost-unfathomable 83.2% of this time. It’s by no means unreasonable to believe that Jannis — a veteran of 10 minor-league seasons — could do much the same with a knuckleball. There may not be any Hoyt Wilhelm in Jannis’s future, but if the butterfly is floating this spring, there could very well be some César Valdez.

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A promising arm will be missing in the Texas system this summer. Ricky Vanasco, a 22-year-old right-hander who was No. 24 on last year’s Rangers Top Prospects list, underwent Tommy John surgery this past September. Shortly before that, he impressed the organization’s 2020 first-round draft pick.

“My first at-bat at the alternate site was against him,” recalled Justin Foscue, whom the Rangers had selected 14th overall out of Mississippi State University. “The first pitch was a breaking ball down the middle, and I took it. The next pitch was about 97-98 [mph] and I think I swung after the ball hit the catcher’s mitt. I hadn’t seen live pitching in a couple months, but at the same time, he has electric stuff. He has a high spin-rate fastball, and his breaking ball is very spinny, as well. He was probably the toughest guy I faced [at the alternative site.]”

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A quiz:

Charley O’Leary is the oldest player to record a hit in a big-league game, having done so with the St. Louis Browns in 1934 at age 58. Who is the oldest player to hit a home run in a big-league game?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Minor League salaries will be higher this season. The minimum salary for rookie-ball players will be $400 a week, up from $290. Class-A will be $500, also up from $290. Double-A will be $600, from $350. Triple-A will be $700, from $502. (Per Baseball America.)

Mike Wilner has joined The Toronto Star as a baseball columnist. A longtime Blue Jays radio voice, Wilner shared play-by-play duties with Ben Wagner for the past three seasons after a long tenure as a pre- and postgame host.

Billy Conigliaro, an outfielder for three teams from 1969-1973, died earlier this week at age 73. The younger brother of the late Tony Congliaro, “Billy C” was drafted fourth-overall by Boston out of a Massachusetts high school in 1965. He went on to hit 33 of his 40 career home runs in a Red Sox uniform.

A Pedro Gomez Foundation has been established at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, in Phoenix. Information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Julio Franco, who was 48 years old when he homered for the New York Mets in 2007. One year earlier, Franco broke the record then held by Jack Quinn, a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies who homered at age 46 in 1930.

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Last Sunday’s column included Ruben Amaro Jr.’s memories of playing for Terry Francona when the latter was cutting his managerial teeth with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997 and 1998. Those tumultuous times long in the rearview, Amaro now considers Francona to be “one of the best managers in the game.”

Looking back at that quote, I was reminded that Rocco Baldelli not only shared a like opinion earlier this offseason, he one-upped it. The Minnesota Twins skipper called Francona “one of the best managers in the history of baseball.” It’s not a far-fetched claim.

Francona’s 1,702 managerial wins rank 18th all-time, and his resume includes two World Series titles. Moreover, his only losing campaigns came in his nascent Phillies days. Francona has managed 16 seasons since then — eight each with Boston and Cleveland — and his club has finished north of .500 in all of them.

Twelve of 17 the managers with more wins than Francona are in the Hall of Fame, while three others, Bruce Bochy, Dusty Baker, and Jim Leyland are in line to one day join them. There’s a pretty good chance that Francona will end up with a plaque in Cooperstown, as well.

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Aren Kuri, a 29-year-old right-hander for NPB’s Hiroshima Carp, threw a 347-pitch bullpen session last week. According to Manabu Kitabeppu, a former Carp pitcher now in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, that was maybe — but only maybe — a few too many. Tokyo-based scribe Jim Allen quoted Kitabeppu as saying the following:

“I thought it was a bit much, but from what I saw on the video, his form was very loose and he only looked like he was really exerting himself at the finish. Usually, if you go all out, your pitches will be lacking by the time you get to 250.”

Kuri had a 2.96 ERA over 130-and-two-thirds innings last year. The number of bullets expended in bullpen sessions is unknown.

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On a tangentially-related note, the Red Sox have reportedly reached an agreement with Hirokazu Sawamura, a 32-year-old right-hander who has spent the past 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants. As chance would have it, NPB’s equivalent to the Cy Young Award is named for legendary Japanese pitcher Eiji Sawamura. According to Jim Allen, there is no known relationship between the two.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

The Melbourne Aces won their second straight Australian Baseball League championship on Friday, defeating the Perth Heat by a score of 9-2. Tyler Beardsley, a 26-year-old former Minnesota Twins prospect went six strong innings for the win.

The Canberra Cavalry didn’t have their top pitcher during the ABL playoffs, as left-hander Shawn Morimando received a spring training invite from an undisclosed MLB organization (per TheABL.com.au). Morimondo has pitched ten professional seasons and appeared in two games with the Cleveland Indians in 2016.

Ford Proctor slashed .324/.452/.544 with the ABL’s Perth Heat this season. A 24-year-old, left-handed-hitting catcher who played shortstop at Rice University, Proctor is No. 19 on our Tampa Bay Rays Top Prospects list.

Hiromi Ito, the Nippon Ham Fighters’ top pick in last year’s draft, could be used as a two-way player. As reported by Nikkan Sports and translated by Jim Allen, Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said of Ito, “Perhaps he could aim to lead the league in stolen bases as a pinch-runner before taking the mound as a closer. I need to give it some thought.”

Kosuke Fukudome is in camp with the Chunichi Dragons. The 43-year-old outfielder appeared in 43 games with the Hanshin Tigers last year.

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Chris Herrmann inked a free-agent deal with the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, hoping to continue an itinerant career that has seen the 33-year-old catcher play for six organizations since he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins out of the University of Miami in 2009. The following spring, Herrmann was on the back fields of the Twins spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida when I approached him for a brief interview. What I wanted was a snapshot of what camp is like for a young minor-leaguer. Herrmann was happy to oblige.

As mundane as this memory is on the surface, it merits mention for the simple fact that it’s the only time I’ve ever approached a player having no idea who he was. That wasn’t important, given my objective. In retrospect, it’s pleasant happenstance that the random big-league wannabe went on to be one of the few players on that back field to actually make it. Herrmann has played parts of eight big-league seasons.

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The latest news in the restructuring of the minors includes the replacing of longstanding league names with generic placeholder names, with MLB reportedly planning to sell branding rights to all of them. At the highest levels, there will no longer be an International League (founded in 1884) or Pacific Coast League (founded in 1903). With the caveat that logistical factors are involved, it’s safe to say that future financial gains are driving these decisions. MLB — a multi-billion-dollar industry that has recently been laying off low-and-moderate-salaried employees — clearly has priorities that deserve scrutiny, if not disdain. By all accounts, dollars trump history in the eyes of the deep-pocketed decision-makers.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Yonhap News Agency, Jee-ho Yoo talked to former FanGraphs contributor Josh Herzenberg, who is now Director of Research and Development for the KBO’s Lotte Giants.

Millions of bobbleheads were scheduled to be given out at MLB games last year — some for players who have since changed teams — only to have the pandemic wreak havoc on those plans. Joon Lee has the story at ESPN.

The sport has a long and twisted relationship when it comes to manipulating the baseball, and Emma Baccellieri told us about it at Sports Illustrated.

Jemele Hill believes that Curt Flood belongs in the Hall of Fame, and she stated her case at The Atlantic.

Beyond the Boxscore’s Steven Martano presented us with an all-time Negro League all-star team.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Jonathan Schoop has 141 home runs in 3,281 career plate appearances. Kris Bryant has 142 home runs in 3,252 career plate appearances.

In 1998, Roger Clemens went 20-6 with a 2.65 ERA, David Cone went 20-7 with a 3.55 ERA, and Rick Helling went 20-7 with a 4.41 ERA.

The Minnesota Twins have now played more games as the Twins than they did as the Senators. (per @BillJamesonline)

Carl Mays went a combined 60-7 versus teams from Pennsylvania. The right-hander went 35-3 against the Philadelphia Athletics, 13-0 against the Philadelphia Phillies, and 12-4 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Hat tip to Aidan Jackson-Evans for the Philly part of that equation.)

Arndt Jorgens played for five World Series-winning New York Yankees teams in the 1930s, but never appeared in a World Series game. A backup catcher who played parts of 11 big-league seasons, Jorgens was born in Modum, Norway. (per Adam Darowski.)

Hall of Fame left-hander Warren Spahn had 363 wins and 363 base hits.

Hall of Fame right-hander Bob Lemon hit at least one home run in 12 consecutive seasons.

Big-league history includes two players named Jim Walkup. Both were pitchers — one a righty, the other a lefty — who hailed from Havana, Arkansas. The Walkups were cousins.

Possum Whitted was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies on today’s date in 1915 to complete an earlier trade with the Boston Braves. An outfielder/third baseman for 11 big-league seasons, Whitted played in the 1914 World Series for the Braves, and in the 1915 World Series with the Phillies.

Players born on today’s date include Pretzels Getzien, whose best seasons came with the National League’s Detroit Wolverines in 1886 and 1888. The German-born right-hander went 30-11 and 29-13 in those campaigns. Getzien was known for having an outstanding curveball.

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To close, Happy Anniversary to Sunday Notes. The first of these columns went up seven years ago, on February 16, 2014. Thanks to everyone who reads, and hopefully there are many more to come.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Tony
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Tony

I think the main reason for MLB to do away with the minor league names this year is so they can get rid of the minor league presidents and the league offices.