The Hangover: An Airing Of Schimpf’s Grievances

Sometimes the Hangover hits you in the first inning.

Ryan Schimpf isn’t playing in tonight’s Padres game, not because he had a night off, or an injury, or because he got abducted by baseball-obsessed aliens. Schimpf isn’t playing tonight because the Padres willingly opted to send him to Triple-A El Paso.

Schimpf was hardly a known quantity after he left the Toronto Blue Jays organization after 2015, a career minor leaguer with good numbers but worse scouting reports, just holding onto big-league dreams. The Padres took a chance on him and, by the standards of these things, struck gold. A year and a half later, Schimpf’s shtick is well-documented.

The man hits the ball in the air with frightening frequency, he walks a lot, he strikes out a lot more, and he runs into his share of dingers. Schimpf’s slashing just .158/.284/.424 on the year, good for a 90 wRC+. Here’s the thing, though: that’s fourth on the Padres among qualified hitters, better than Manuel Margot, Austin Hedges, Yangervis Solarte, Erick Aybar, and Cory Spangenberg.

Throw in last year’s awesome production (a 129 wRC+ in 330 plate appearances) and Schimpf has an overall 115 wRC+. That’s five points better than Wil Myers‘ career mark. Say what you want about the nuances of advanced statistics, Schimpf’s been a good offensive player over his time in the majors. Schimpf rates even better by Baseball Prospectus’ measure of offense, True Average. At .276, he’s 14th out of 33 in the league among third baseman with at least 100 PAs this year, just two points behind fellow air-ball artist Joey Gallo. Schimpf’s career .301 TAv is 20 whole points better than Myers’.

Schimpf shouldn’t have been sent down, quite simply. He’s the kind of player you let ride it out at the big-league level. He’s 29, sure, but he’s also under contract through 2022 and he’s coming off a fantastic debut season. Even this year, a comparatively down year, he’s been either slightly below or slightly above average as a hitter, depending on your metric of choice. And even if the batting average or the strikeouts are tough to watch, well, shoot . . . nobody’s really paying attention, anyway.

Because Schimpf is such as extreme three true outcomes guy, with a predisposition to launch the ball into the air, I’d argue that his floor is relative stable. There’s value in a steady diet of walks and home runs. Where Schimpf’s ultimate value is decided is in the outcome of the sparse number of batted balls he puts into play. This year he’s only put 83 balls in play, with a laughably low .145 BABiP. Not only is that the lowest figure in the league, it’s the lowest figure in the league by 50 points. If you just give Schimpf Luis Valbuena‘s .194 BABiP (he’s second-lowest in the league), suddenly he’s the Padres leading candidate for an all-star appearance.

Schimpf’s always going to roll with low BABiP’s, mainly because he hits so many fly balls, and fly balls are turned into outs more frequently than line drives and grounders. Still, last year he posted a .260 BABiP with a similar style, so it’s not unthinkable that he could regularly post a BABiP in the mid-.200s (or at least cracking the .200 mark). In fact, his batted-ball profile this year (64 percent FB rate) is almost identical to his batted-ball profile last year (65 percent). With so few balls in play, though, part of Schimpf’s value is decided by the fate of four or five batted balls.

What’s more baffling than sending Schimpf down now, arguably, is how the Padres handled his last month in the majors. With the low average and occasional cold streaks, they started sitting him more. From May through now, Schimpf sat in 11 games, and he never started more than four in a row. In April, by contrast, he had a stretch of 13 consecutive starts. More strangely, he also sat in plenty of advantageous matchups, a trend often noted on the twitter by @TooMuchMortons. Here’s the list of the starters he sat against from May on:

LHP Clayton Kershaw (@Los Angeles)
RHP Yu Darvish (@Texas)
LHP Jose Quintana (@Chicago)
RHP Jimmy Nelson (@San Diego)
RHP Matt Garza (@San Diego)
LHP Robbie Ray (@San Diego)
RHP Rafael Montero (@New York)
RHP Eddie Butler (@San Diego)
RHP Tyler Chatwood (@San Diego)
LHP Robbie Ray (@Arizona)
LHP Patrick Corbin (@Arizona)

Alright, there are five lefties there, which is fine. But why would Schimpf ever sit against a righty? Better yet: why would he sit against bad righty? Here are the updated ZiPS projections for the six right handers:

Pitcher ZiPS ERA ZiPS K/9 ZiPS BB/9 HR/9
Darvish 3.82 10.49 3.21 1.14
Nelson 4.17 7.91 3.10 1.06
Garza 5.04 6.44 2.94 1.32
Montero 5.24 7.83 4.64 1.26
Butler 4.95 5.39 3.58 1.15
Chatwood 4.49 7.14 4.05 1.18

All six have HR/9 rates over one, and a few of them, like Garza, Montero, Butler, and Chatwood, look like perfect matchups for Schimpf, righties who don’t excel at strikeouts and either have some control issues or surrender homers with regularity (or both). Andy Green and the Padres should have been salivating to start Schimpf against guys like that, while sitting him against tough righties (sometimes, maybe) and good lefties. The idea is to put Schimpf in the right spots, to make his surface numbers look better and thus bump up his trade value. The idea certainly isn’t to sit him against below average right-handed hitters and then send him down when things don’t work out just right.

Look, Schimpf to the minors could work. There’s an argument here that his launch angle is too extreme, and that he’d be better off adjusting his swing path slightly to make better and more frequent contact. If this is a two or three week breather to attempt to adjust that issue, fine. At the same time, let’s not hope this a signal that the Padres have lost faith in Schimpf overall.

Guys who post 115 wRC+’s over a full season’s worth of plate appearances don’t grow on trees, and they certainly aren’t found in abundance at the bottom of an ocean. When you run into the good fortune of finding one, you should stick with him as long as possible. Schimpf’s still got a shot to be real good, and he’d have plenty of trade value, particularly to a team with a favorable park (like, say, Colorado). Hopefully the Padres give him every chance to succeed, not falling into the trap of lamenting over his batting average or whiff-prone ways.

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