The last time that Ryan Schimpf stepped onto the field as a Padre, he was batting .158 and had an OPS of .709. One of the reasons given for his demotion to Triple-A three weeks ago was to allow Cory Spangenberg a chance to get regular at bats now that he was finally healthy, but it was apparent that Schimpf had some things to work on as well.
Spangenberg has taken his opportunity and sprinted with it, hitting .327/.393/.509 since Schimpf’s demotion on June 9th. Yes, a 16-game sample is much too small to draw any definitive conclusions from (just ask Franchy Cordero), but being three years younger than Schimpf, he’s more likely to have a future with the next good Padres team anyways.
Still, it’s not often you seen a club demote the team leader in home runs, and though his 88 WRC+ was subpar, it was still the fourth best on the team at the time (among players with at least 50 plate appearances – José Pírela has since met that and surpassed Schimpf). While the demotion gives Spangenberg a chance to play every day, you have to wonder what the Padres plans and expectations for Schimpf are at this point.
At the time of the move, Padres manager Andy Green said that the move was to “let him get going again” after his struggles for the first few months of the season. While his production seemed a bit unconventional for a full-time MLB player last year, he still proved to have value, so let’s compare the numbers from then and now.
From this year to now, he is walking at an almost identical rate, and there’s been a slight uptick in strikeouts – almost a four percent increase. There are also more extra base hits (XBH) than single-base hits (SBH), though the ratio isn’t as steep as it was last year.
With a 59-point drop in batting average, on base percentage and slugging are going to take a hit as well. A look at his BABIP tells the sad, sad tale that when he’s making contact, he’s only getting on base 14.5% of the time. Dustin Palmateer over at Padres Public pointed out that not only was this the lowest in the league (at the time), but it was the lowest by 49 points.
Yes, Schimpf’s fly-ball abilities can translate to pop-ups as well, but it’s difficult to see that number and not point to at least a little bad luck. With some regression to last year’s numbers when he posted a 129 wRC+, Schimpf would at least be ready to help an anemic offense that ranks last in the league in OBP.
So, in just under three weeks since his demotion, has Schimpf been able to turn it around? A glance at his stats show that his production is in familiar territory but not near the same standard that he set in 2016 when he started off the year in El Paso.
While the numbers are looking up compared to his stats at the major league level, there is a much larger drop-off compared to what he was doing in Triple-A last year. Now, the sample sizes are much different as Schimpf spent 51 games with El Paso before getting called up last year; while in 2017, he’s only been there for 14 games. Still, he turned 29 this year and it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that he peaked last year at the optimal time.
Of course, his power numbers were gaudy with the Padres last year, despite the low batting average, but he was coming off a similarly spectacular run in the Pacific Coast League, where he was hitting for a high average and a ridiculous slugging percentage. There are obvious differences between the majors and the PCL, including quality of pitching and altitude, but if we’re looking for the numbers he’s putting up now to translate to the majors like they did last year, we’d likely be in for a rude awakening.
So, what are they going to do with him?
From the Padres standpoint, there’s not really any need to rush him back, unless they thought they might be able to increase his value before the trade deadline. Giving Spangenberg the full-time job isn’t a bad idea; at the very least, it will let the organization see what he can really do now that he’s healthy because it’s apparent that Schimpf needs some time to figure things out.
However, seeing a slight improvement at the Triple-A level likely isn’t going to be enough to get Schimpf back on the Padres radar. As long as we’re in the middle of the Launch Angle Revolution, Schimpf will continue to be an interesting player to watch. As a “three true outcomes” hitter (walks, strikeouts, and home runs), he can still have value in today’s game, but there is a threshold. Despite his shortcomings last year, he was still able to hit above .200 and had a OBP in the .300s. He’ll need to revisit that kind of production if he wants to remain a viable bat for the Padres.
At this point, Spangenberg’s got the hot hand, and it’s going to be hard to supplant him in the Padres lineup. However, with Spangenberg’s history of injury troubles, Schimpf could still find himself being called up at a moment’s notice. Knowing that his production will likely drop off when he makes that leap, he’ll need to work on his approach to bridge that gap between his minor league performance and his big league production.