Jonathan Schoop rarely walks. He is just an average defender at second base, and doesn’t have the range to move over to shortstop. He is coming off a bad 2018 season, one that saw him finish the year hitting about as well as Dixon Machado (he posted a 50 wRC+ in 46 games for the Milwaukee Brewers). As a result, those Brewers declined to tender Schoop a contract for 2019, making him a free agent.
So why do we want him on the Detroit Tigers? Because he would (probably) be a lot of fun for a team that sorely lacked in that department last season.
See, despite that career 3.7 percent walk rate — yeah, really — Schoop has been a fairly productive hitter throughout his career. His 97 wRC+ in 2,640 career plate appearances isn’t incredible, but he has a couple of boat anchors weighing him down. In particular, let’s ignore a 2014 season that saw Schoop notch nearly 500 plate appearances as an overmatched 22-year-old for a contending Baltimore Orioles team. Since 2015, Schoop has a 104 wRC+, which ranks 16th among 42 qualified MLB second basemen. He is just one year removed from a career-best 122 wRC+ in 160 games in 2017.
Schoop’s value comes from dingers, unsurprisingly
Going back to that same “since 2015” split, Schoop’s .196 isolated power (ISO) ranks fifth among qualified second basemen. He has hit 93 home runs in that span, tied with Robinson Cano for the third-highest total among second basemen. Even as he scuffled through 2018 (which included an oblique strain in April), he still hit 21 home runs. This would have been the second-highest total on the 2018 Tigers, a team that was completely bereft of any power — or offense in general, especially after Miguel Cabrera was lost for the season in early June.
When he’s right, Schoop has been able to hit for a high enough average to make things work. He hit .293 in 2017, which helped him maintain a modest .338 on-base percentage. Other seasons haven’t been so great from an OBP standpoint, but batting averages in the .260 to .280 range (which he managed in 2015 and 2016) are good enough to keep his overall production at league average or better.
Defensively, Schoop is adequate, if a little better than average. He hasn’t posted a truly great season since 2014 — which explains why the O’s kept him in the lineup so often that year — but he hasn’t been any worse than slightly negative either. In a word, he’s an average defender.
Average would be a huge improvement for the Tigers, though
No American League team received worse production from the second base position than the Tigers last year, and only the Pirates and Dodgers fared worse across baseball. Tigers second basemen combined for -0.3 fWAR, and their 56 wRC+ at that position was by far the worst mark in the game. The Tigers appear ready to go into the 2019 season with Niko Goodrum and Dawel Lugo in some sort of tandem at the keystone, but adding Schoop would be beneficial in a number of ways. First, it frees up both Goodrum and Lugo to play in roles that they are better suited for; namely, Goodrum can play multiple positions as he did last year, and Lugo can hone his skills in the minors for another year.
Schoop also represents a potential trade chip, provided he returns to form next season. The Tigers were able to flip Leonys Martin’s high BABIP for a legitimate prospect last year, and Schoop himself returned a fair haul when the Brewers traded for him last summer. Good middle infielders aren’t always the easiest to find on the trade market, and Schoop is young enough (27) to entice an opposing GM to take another chance on him next July.
Most of all, he would be fun. Home runs are good, and the Tigers were the AL’s least powerful team last season. Schoop is flawed enough that he should come cheap, but gives others (Lugo, in particular) a chance to develop a little longer before being thrown to the wolves. Trading Schoop for a prospect would be a nice bonus, but at the very least he would represent a big upgrade for the Tigers offense, and make them just a little bit more fun to watch next season.