Detroit Tigers veteran Jonathan Schoop remembers past triumphs during present slump

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers infielder Jonathan Schoop is battling an early slump, and it’s not the first time this has happened in his career. Through 14 games, the nine-year veteran is hitting .163 with three walks and 18 strikeouts.

Schoop went through a similar struggle in 2018 with the Baltimore Orioles. He is a notoriously streaky power hitter who strikes out way more than he draws walks. He added first base to his defensive resume this season. Behind the scenes, he is a leader.

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The Tigers are scuffling offensively as a whole, and Schoop stands out as the losses pile up, especially after the franchise re-signed him to a one-year, $4.5 million contract this offseason. His timing — the ability to read pitches, make choices and execute — isn’t up to par.

“I’ve passed through this already,” Schoop said Wednesday. “It’s not my first time. I know what I got to do. The first time I passed through it was hard, but now I’m going to learn from the past. Just got to go out there and try to help your team win.”

Back in 2018, Schoop hit .189 through his first 12 games, with one walk and 16 strikeouts. But he chipped in three doubles and a home run. Eventually, he found his groove and finished the season with 21 home runs.

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The biggest difference in 2021 is that none of Schoop’s eight hits are for extra bases. His average exit velocity is 85.4 mph, which is toward the bottom of the league. That means he isn’t making hard contact, one of the keys to getting consistent hits.

Schoop’s 27.3% hard-hit percentage is another indicator of weak contact, as are his .170 weighted on-base average, .177 expected batting average and .215 expected slugging percentage. (Weighted on-base average credits a hitter for the value of each outcome — single, double, triple, home run or walk — rather than giving equal treatment for reaching base.)

But Schoop came through in Game 1 of the doubleheader with an RBI single up the middle, one of just three Tigers hits in the 3-2 loss.

“It’s been a tough run for him,” Hinch said Sunday. “With Jonathan, you trust the veteran part of it. You know he’s going to continue to push and work. The bottom line is you got to find results in the game. … It’s been a grind for him, mentally, physical and production-wise.”

The Tigers are hitting .212 with 20 home runs, 55 RBIs, 45 walks and 161 strikeouts across 16 games this season, with a .278 on-base percentage and .369 slugging percentage. They have the sixth-worst batting average and second-worst on-base percentage in the majors.

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The reason Hinch believes Schoop will improve is because of 860 games of MLB experience. Last year, he delivered a .278 batting average, four doubles, two triples, eight homers and 23 RBIs in 44 games.

With the Twins in 2019, Schoop cranked 23 home runs and posted a .256 batting average.

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Schoop is spending time in the batting cage after games with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh and assistant hitting coach Jose Cruz Jr. The process focuses on getting his timing down rather than overhauling his swing mechanics.

“Everybody wants to do the best they can do,” Schoop said. “Nobody wants to fail. When things aren’t good, you just have to work to be better for tomorrow. It’s tough because you want to have your team win. For us to win, we got to put up good at-bats and things are going to happen.

“Sometimes people panic, but if you panic, you’re going to be in (the slump) longer. You got to focus and work hard. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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