After a couple of hit or miss seasons spent trying to prove himself, 27 year old Jordan Schafer, a once highly anticipated prospect in the Braves organization, can safely head into Spring Training with a guaranteed role with a club here in 2014.
After the 2011 trade for Michael Bourn resulted in a year and a half detour in Houston, Schafer was claimed off of waivers last offseason, and returned to Braves camp looking to earn a place on a stacked Atlanta team. Jordan did just that in 2013, slashing .312/.399/.464 through his first 61 games. After a stress fracture in his ankle disabled him however, he slowed down considerably, hitting just .170/.248/.208 in the 33 games that followed the injury. Let’s dive into the numbers and see if this was purely caused by injury.
Schafer posted a similar walk rate to his 2012 season with the Astros (10.9% in 2013, compared to 10.0% in 2012), although it was in 95 less plate appearances. So while he may not be a power threat, or even really an extra bases threat, Schafer has become a more patient hitter in some regards, and will work for a chance to get on base, where his biggest asset lies; his speed. In his split 2011, he stole 22 bases, another 27 in 2012, and 22 again in 2013. Take into account that he did not tally a full season of plate appearances in any of these years. Where his walk rate has risen, he has also seen his strikeout rate spike since 2011, albeit it was down almost 2% to 27.5% in 2013. These types of peripherals are not exactly a strong case maker for Schafer to repeat his early 2013 success.
On the side of when he actually hits the ball, Schafer has also been trending downward since 2011. His line drive rate in 2013 was just 21.4%; up only .3 percent from 2012, and a whole 3.3% lower than 2011. The saving grace behind this is his increased ground ball rate (up 4% to 48.3 in 2013). Coupled with a decreased fly ball rate, As the chart demonstrates, Jordan will benefit from hitting more balls on the line or into the ground, putting pressure on defenses with his raw speed.
In the area of just plain dumb luck, Schafer’s superficial numbers have been given a boost by a strong BABIP, which is consistently around 80 points higher than his batting average. He posted a career high .348 BABIP in 2013, and you shouldn’t expect it to be any more than that in 2014.
Despite the imperfections he may hold as a hitter, Schafer does bring value on the defensive side of the ball. Both UZR and DRS were fans of his limited work at every position last year, totaling an overall DRS of 6. His ability to play all 3 outfield positions will continue to benefit the Braves, especially if the well documented struggles of B.J. Upton continue into 2014.
Although he may not be the potential star some once projected, Jordan Schafer is still a valued asset to the Braves organization, and will have a contributing role to the team in 2014. Schafer most benefits the Braves by putting the ball in play, but his solid walk rate also gives him a chance to put pressure on the defense due to his speed. If he can find a center between striking out, walking, and hitting line drives, he could silence doubters, but look for more of the same Schafer you’ve come to know, and less of the monster we saw in the first 61 games of 2013.
.241/.334/.386 with 24 stolen bases.