On Thursday night, Schafer continued his unpredictably solid batsmanship against the Royals. In five at-bats, he collected three hits including a double, drove in three, scored another two on his own and also swiped a base. Just another day at the office for Schafer who is now hitting .328/.411/.438 in 77 plate appearances since coming over to the Twins.
Who would have seen this coming?
At 27, Schafer was back with his original organization to begin the 2014 season and was pressed to find a consistent role. He would start in just 14 of the 63 games he would play in for the Braves. Offensively, his career hit a jagged rock bottom when he could not hit anything. Perhaps it was pressing to do too much in order to gain more playing time but Schafer’s swing rate increased exponentially as he offered at every other pitch regardless of where it may be located.
Is this stretch a breakout or a blip?
With the sample size as miniscule as it is, it is easy to consider this streak one of those sample sample size flukes. There certainly is an element of that, no question, however with the regular playing time, Schafer has seemingly shorn up his wild swing (reducing his chase rate from 33% to 25%) and increased his connectivity (dropping his swing-and-miss rate from 31% to 22%). What’s more is that the contact is far better has his line drive rate has jumped (from 16% to 28%) as has his hard-hit average (from .084 to .162). These are solid progress marks.
When the Braves had re-obtained the outfielder in 2013, Schafer confessed to falling into bad habits at the plate that dragged down his numbers. He was trying to pull the ball far too often and lost the ability to drive the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. Turning over when being pitched away resulted in groundouts instead of base hits where he could showcase his blazing speed. He reached out to Braves’ hitting coach Greg Walker to help fix this.
While he showed a better ability to go the other way in 2013 but a foul ball off his ankle led to a stress fracture that sidelined him for 31 days that year, Schafer never came back the same and it seemed his sound approach at the plate he displayed before the injury had disappeared. Opposing teams in the National League exploited Schafer’s overzealous approach and targeted the outer half of the zone:
According to ESPN/TruMedia, when being pitched on the outer-half (middle and away), Schafer pounded a vast majority of those into the ground, yanking almost 50% of those balls in play and predictably performed poorly (6-for-52, .115).
Maybe it was because of regularly scheduled at-bats or a sweet nothing that Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky whispered in his ear, but after the Twins got their hooks into him, Schafer turned things around, particularly in this area. On pitches on the outer-half, Schafer has driven those to the middle of the field (60%) which has yielded plenty of hits (14-for-39, .359).
As an example, here is a clip of Schafer versus Joba Chamberlain in which Schafer -- rather than turning over on the pitch -- stays behind the ball to intentionally drive the pitch to the spacious 5.5 hole where the third baseman is drawn in and the shortstop is playing at double-play depth.
What does the future hold for Schafer and the Twins?
After his performance against the Royals, manager Ron Gardenhire said that the organization is going to continue to feed him playing time for the rest of the year and see how he responds.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out here. We’re letting him play and giving him plenty of at bats and he’s responding and he’s doing well,” Gardenhire told reporters after the game, “You see him running the bases, he can fly -- he scored on that ball late in the game there. He was absolutely flying, I thought he had no chance to score. He has a lot of talent and we’re going to see how he does here the rest of the way for us. And we’ll to kind of figure out how he fits in this organization. We like the young man, he’s come over here and he’s shown some of his skills.”
So we will see more of Schafer in September and the Twins will make an evaluation on what to do with him heading into 2015. He might not be a starter but he could be a very good contributor both defensively and offensively.