Tuesday, December 10, 2013

2013 Fluke or Future - Shin-Soo Choo

General managers looking for outfielders had two really great choices this off season. One was Ellsbury and the Yankees have snatched him up. The other is Shin-Soo Choo. News about Choo's free agency have been rather quiet and you would figure that after the season he just had, GMs would be jumping all over themselves to land the Korean-born star. The fact is that you cannot even find his name on the first page of mlbtraderumors.com. So what gives? Are GMs doing the same thing as me and wondering if Choo's 2013 was more fluke or a sign of future performance?

Choo might have been the steadier of the two outfield options. On-base percentage does not usually slump and Choo's has consistently been higher than Ellsbury. Choo has twice finished a season with a .400 or higher OBP. However, his walk rate did jump even higher in 2013. His walk rate has ranged during his career from 10.6% to 12.8%. But he had the phenomenal rate of 15.7% in 2013.

Can you call that a fluke? I don't think so. His plate discipline, always terrific, was even better (naturally) in 2013. He swung at only 20.8% of pitches outside of the strike zone. And he carried this consistently through the season. If you look at his splits, he never walked less than 17 times in any month of 2013. That is pretty remarkable. Add to the 112 walks (107 unintentional) the 26 times he was hit with a pitch and Choo was on base a remarkable 300 times on the nose in 2013.

That is amazing to me. But I think the part that is bothering teams is that Choo sort of got lost in 2011 and 2012. After being traded to Cleveland by the Mariners for Ben Broussard--one of the worst trades ever--Choo had terrific seasons in 2008, 2009 and 2010. 

But then, as memory serves, he was stopped for drinking and driving before the 2011 season and it seemed like he never recovered from that. And after a two down years, the Indians included him as part of a humongous three-team trade that included the Diamondbacks and Reds. Choo ended up being a one year rental for the Reds and he rewarded them with a fantastic season.

So what do you make of 2011 and 2012? If you look at 2008 through 2010, you get WAR values of 3.0, 4.8 and 5.9. Terrific, right? But then 2011 and 2012 and 1.3 and 2.4. Weird. But he was back to 5.2 fWAR (4.8 rWAR) in 2013. So what do you believe then?

I believe he simply got lost for a two year period. He now has four solid years of production. He is going to bat between .280 and .300. His on-base percentage is going to be between .380 and .400 and he will add 18 to 20 homers and 35 to 40 doubles. That is kind of hard to beat.

Unless you look at fielding data. Ugh. His fielding stats are ugly. And you would smartly say that Choo played out of position for all of 2013. The Reds played him in center field. He is not a center fielder and it showed. Fangraphs.com gave him a minus 13.3 runs below average. Baseball-reference.com was even harsher and gave him -16.6. So fine, move him back to right field.

The problem was that he played 154 games in right field for the Indians in 2012 and scored -23.6 according to Fangraphs. B-R was much, much kinder to Choo in RF in 2012. My take is that if you put him back in right, he is going to be fine. He will be just below league average, which is doable with his offensive contributions. 

Oliver projections for the next five years show Choo peaking at 4.8 in 2014 and then going down a couple of notches every year for the next five, but still maintaining his on-base skills. I think that is a little conservative. I would be doubtful that Choo can maintain the .390+ wOBA he put up in 2013, but he is going to be a productive offensive player for the next five years. He has bad splits against lefties, but that does not happen nearly as often, so it is acceptable.

I do not think Choo's 2013 was a fluke season. He is a really good offensive player who is going to help whichever team he ends up with. I just wonder which team that is going to be.

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