An oxymoron, as defined by the somewhat-ancient woman who taught my high school English class, is defined as the following: “a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.”
One of the most popular examples of an oxymoron is “jumbo shrimp.” Is it large? Is it tiny? No one knows for sure.
Another one that may better relate to the baseball people in the room: “slugging second baseman.” Historically, second baseman have been thought of as light-hitting glovemen. If they do happen to be special with the stick, it’s in the form of line drive singles and on-base skills, not the kind of homer mashing traditionally reserved for first basemen and corner outfielders. Rod Carew. Joe Morgan. Jackie Robinson. Mark Loretta. These guys are the epitome of the conventional second basemen.
Luckily for San Diego Padres fans, the seeming contradiction of the phrase “slugging second baseman” doesn’t necessarily rule out its plausibility, and the man currently roaming around the second base bag at Petco Park is an undeniable example of this.
His name: Ryan Schimpf.
His lesser-known, but perhaps more appropriate, alter ego: Jumbo Schimpf.
After accumulating 15 homers and 48 RBI’s in just 51 games with El Paso (AAA) to start the year, Schimpf got the call to the big leagues June 14 for a weeknight home game against the visiting Miami Marlins. He doubled in his first at-bat in The Show, driving a frozen rope down the right field line and into the corner. Over the course of his 274 plate appearances since then, Jumbo Schimpf has established himself as one of the better-hitting second basemen not just in the National League, but in all of Major League Baseball.
Yes, you’re allowed to be surprised by that.
A quick perusal of Schimpf’s baseball card might not offer a whole lot of true insight into the kind of season he’s having. “The man is only hitting .225,” my AARP-eligible English teacher might cry out. “That’s not good at all!” But here’s where some of his other numbers would lie if extrapolated over a full 162-game season:
Home Runs: 40
For perspective, Schimpf’s full-season pace would place him right around the same statistical region as Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins, who just eclipsed the 40-homer mark in continuing a breakout campaign in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.
Sample size be darned, that’s not bad at all for a 28-year old rookie who was signed to a minor league contract by the Padres last November.
What Schimpf has managed to do behind the scenes, in the realm of sometimes mind-numbingly weird sabermetrics, is where the LSU product really stands out, however. In 73 games, Schimpf has established himself as one of the epitomes of the shortcomings of traditional stats.
His .225 batting average might’ve been cause for release twenty years ago, but now, offset by a .338 on-base percentage that is buoyed by an impressive 12.4% walk rate, that pitcher-esque batting average doesn’t seem so bad. This is especially the case when you consider the damage that Schimpf is able to do when he does manage to put the ball in play. 73% of Schimpf’s hits have gone for extra bases, leading to a .342 ISO that would lead the league (and current ageless frontrunner David Ortiz) by thirty points if the second baseman had enough at-bats to qualify.
The man has more doubles than singles. That’s something no other player with at least 100 plate appearances this year is capable of claiming. It’s weird, but it’s also wildly impressive.
The best part, however, might be that Schimpf has started to back up his strange statistical anomalies with real talent. It’s not a fluke. His ability to get around on balls on the outer third of the plate and drive them all over the field with loft has been a significant contributor to his success. Schimpf has also developed an exceptional ability to put together quality at-bats. Just last week, in fact, I was blown away by an at-bat he had against Boston Red Sox left hander David Price.
First, some context. The boys from Beantown won the game, 7-2, on the back of a 7-inning, 8-strikeout performance by Price. He had his good stuff working that day. One should also keep in mind that Schimpf is a lefty as well. Against lefties in 2016, Schimpf has struggled mightily, striking out more than 43% of the time. A guy with his splits going against an ace with Price’s credentials? The outcome should’ve been a foregone conclusion.
Except it wasn’t. Schimpf quickly fell behind 0-2. Then, though, the rookie went to work. Foul ball. Take a fastball outside for a ball. Foul ball. Foul ball. Foul ball. Foul ball. Foul ball.
Not giving an inch to the Red Sox ace, Schimpf finally squared up the ninth pitch of the at-bat, driving a fastball on the outside corner over the head of rangy Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. in center for a double.
It is not hyperbole to say that it was one of the best at-bats I’ve seen out of a Padres player all season. And it is for that reason that I believe Schimpf’s season of slugging is just the beginning. The rookie is a player who certainly bears watching as the Padres begin to assemble the pieces of a future title contender, and if not for the performance of Dodge
s sensation Corey Seager this year, Schimpf would absolutely be in contention for the Senior Circuit’s Rookie of the Year award.
There may not be many “slugging second basemen” in the majors. But, as the 5’9” Jumbo Schimpf continues to demonstrate as he wears out outfield walls around the league, oxymoronic never means out of the question. Conventionally skilled or not, he’s awfully good at baseball – an undersized player with super-sized production.
And the best part of it? He’s just getting started.