Midway through September, Davis Schneider had a 1.315 OPS through 25 games and seemed like he may be the Blue Jays' second baseman of the future. However, after a rough end to his season, and not coming to the plate once in the postseason, the starting second base job for 2024 seems far from certain.
We all remember Schneider's start in the big leagues. He debuted on August 4th in Boston, homered in his first career at-bat, then proceeded to be the best hitter in baseball for about a month. Through his first 25 games, he had 102 plate appearances and was slashing .370/.500/.815. His 1.315 OPS was the best through a player's first 25 games in MLB HISTORY. In a rough season for the Blue Jays, the emergence of "Babe" Schneider was one of the biggest bright sports. Unfortunately, things got a little bit more forgettable down the stretch, as he went 2 for his last 35, highlighted by an 0-for-31 drought before hitting a pair of doubles in the season finale. This cold streak, combined with strong finishes to the season for Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal, made Schneider the team's third-string second baseman by the end of the year.
Biggio started both postseason games at second for the Blue Jays, and with the likely departure of Whit Merrifield, it would seem like he's in line to be the team's starter in 2024. However, Biggio is already essentially the team's fourth outfielder, and with Matt Chapman possibly on his way out as well, there's a chance Biggio spends a lot of time at third next season. Espinal, who posted a .919 OPS over his final 49 plate appearances but an 80 OPS+ in the season, also might stand in Schneider's way, but considering how poorly Espinal has played for most of the last season and a half, it would likely take a great spring training for him to steal the job. So where does that leave Schneider?
It all depends on how the front office and coaching staff viewed his 2023 performance on the whole. Schneider took the starting job by having one of the best offensive starts in baseball history and lost it by having about as bad of a cold streak as you can. The reality of the player is that he's probably not as good as his early numbers would suggest, but he's definitely better than his 0-for-31 stretch.
A lot of what made him so good to start his career was his ability to just take pitches. Among MLB hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Schneider ranked fifth in out-of-the-zone swing rate, and accordingly, his walk rate ranked 12th in the majors. This is extremely uncommon for someone with so little experience, but once pitchers caught on to this, they started challenging him more, resulting in worse numbers, and culminating in that 0-for-31. The thing about that stretch though is that while on paper it looks bad, it was mostly just bad luck, as the video below shows.
This cold streak just being a case of bad luck is backed up by some of his statcast numbers, as his barrel, sweet-spot, chase, and walk rates were all still among the league's best, and his xwOBA and xSLG were also excellent. This does go two ways though, as his xBA, strikeout, and whiff rates were near the bottom of the league, but his ability to barrel up the ball and take pitches should hopefully make up for that in the long run.
Another thing worth considering is his defensive play. The Blue Jays made a point of prioritizing defense last season, and while their outfield was excellent in that regard, their infield wasn't great. This is actually an area where Schneider has a leg up on Biggio and Espinal, who struggled defensively last year and recorded -4 and -3 Outs Above Average at second, respectively. Schneider, in significantly less time, put up 3 OAA and didn't commit a single error. The only real knock you could have on this part of his game is his below-average arm, but at second base that shouldn't be much of an issue.
Whit Merrifield's departure could easily lead to a "second base by committee" approach for the Blue Jays, but this could work in favor of Schneider. If he could even be a slightly above-average hitter with solid defense over the course of the season, this could give him a leg up on Biggio and Espinal who have been two of the Jays' least consistent players. At this point in time, Biggio is probably the safest bet to be manning second base on opening day, but Schneider has done more than enough to at least get an opportunity there.