Blue Jays' faith in Davis Schneider to be tested as he navigates first MLB slump

The Blue Jays rookie has slowed down in recent days after starting his MLB career on an unprecedented heater.

After Davis Schneider got off to one of the best starts to a career in MLB history, it was fair to assume the Blue Jays rookie would fall back to earth.

That's precisely what's happened in recent days as the 24-year-old has gone hitless in his last five games, reaching base just twice in 21 trips to the plate — once via an error, and once by getting plonked. A stretch like that is neither disastrous, nor particularly surprising. No one was under the illusion that Schneider was, in fact, the greatest hitter of all time. Even stars encounter similar slumps.

Davis Schneider is struggling for the first time at the MLB level. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
Davis Schneider is scuffling for the first time at the MLB level. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

His current struggles do give rise to a couple of questions, though. The first is what's going on and how he might fix it.

A five-game hitless streak doesn't provide a massive sample, but a few things stand out with Schneider lately that have him out of sorts. The first is that pitchers are challenging him significantly more than they were when he first arrived in the majors.

Via FanGraphs
Via FanGraphs

That might seem like a peculiar strategy to use against a guy who's been so hot, but Schneider has proven to be extremely patient and pounding the zone avoids walks and gives him fewer favourable counts. In his last five games, just 32.6% of the pitches against him have gone for balls, down from 42.5% in his first 25 contests.

Schneider is also seeing more of the pitches he's struggled with most in recent games. Early in his MLB career he's whiffed on 40% of the off-speed pitches he's seen, and produced a .064 xAVG and .192 xSLG against them. During his hitless streak, his percentage of off-speed pitches seen is 23.3% — up from 11.9% prior to his slump.

Those numbers come from small samples, but he also had trouble with offspeed pitches at Triple-A with a higher swinging strike rate against them (11.7%) than either fastballs (9.0%) or breaking balls (9.4%).

The good news for Schneider is that his vulnerability against off-speed stuff isn't one every pitcher can exploit. The splitter is the rarest pitch in the game and changeups are more likely to come from southpaws than right-handers — who are often uncomfortable throwing them to fellow righties. On many days he won't have to worry about off-speed stuff, but opponents capable of using it against him are likely cluing into his struggles.

Of course, for all the adjustments pitchers are making against Schneider, he'll have the opportunity to adjust back. If pitchers are pounding the zone more against him, that might be an invitation to get more aggressive. If more off-speed stuff becomes a prominent part of his pitch diet, it may become easier to anticipate those offerings and time them up.

That push and pull exists for every hitter, and it will be interesting to see how it will work with Schneider as his career progresses.

While the young infielder can view his career over a lengthy time horizon, and consider working his way through this slump a learning process, the same can't be said for the Blue Jays.

Toronto is in the midst of an extremely tight playoff race and Schneider will soon present a dilemma for them if his bat doesn't heat up again. Over the course of his current hitless streak, the infielder has hit fourth in the lineup every game. That's not unreasonable considering his incredible early-career production and the hole in the middle of the lineup caused by Brandon Belt's absence.

Even so, if he continues to have a hard time producing, the Blue Jays will need to consider dropping him in the order or even finding at-bats for guys like Spencer Horwitz and Whit Merrifield in his stead. That sounds extreme considering what he's accomplished in such a short span, but if Toronto becomes convinced he's in a deep funk they will have to consider alternatives.

That situation is complicated by the team's recent history with Schneider. After his unbelievable debut series against the Boston Red Sox, he went 1-for-12 over his next four games then received a single plate appearance between August 13 and 18.

Letting him languish on the bench due to a brief uninspiring stretch ended up being a mistake as he took off when given his next opportunity. The Blue Jays will be reluctant to replicate that error. If Schneider can't find his groove again, Toronto will have a tough situation to navigate — even if any slump isn't enough to change his long-term prognosis as a player.

The easiest way out of that bind would be for Schneider to right the ship. If he can get back to mashing the ball and taking his walks, the Blue Jays' soaring playoff odds will improve even more.