The 2012 season has been nothing short of a re-birth to the career of Cleveland Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. After a disastrous 2011 season filled with injuries and a drunk driving incident, Choo has chugged along to his career averages and seems poised to post personal bests in several individual statistics.
Currently hitting .291/.373/.458, Choo is on pace to score 101 runs, rake 50 doubles and 19 home runs, while driving in 64 runs and stealing 18 bases. These are all fantastic numbers, but many of them could take an additional bump with his recent move to his familiar stomping grounds: the middle of the order.
From May 14 to August 2, Choo was the Indians' leadoff hitter. During that time he managed to hit .310/.382/.528 with 25 doubles, two triples, 11 home runs, 27 RBI, seven stolen bases and 54 runs scored in 284 at-bats. With the recent slide by the Tribe, manager Manny Acta finally mixed things up and moved second baseman Jason Kipnis to the leadoff role, sliding Choo into the three-spot.
Choo has struggled out of the number three-spot this season, hitting just .259/.357/.376 with just one home run and seven doubles in 85 at-bats. However, Choo still drove in 14 runs from the three-spot and still showed his patient approach, walking 10 times.
The question now is, can Choo keep up with the offensive pace that he had out of the leadoff spot with his recent move to the middle of the order? I have several reasons why he can.
Scott Boras started the wars in the Middle East, right? We like to blame him for everything that is wrong with baseball. Greed, power, terrible contracts, none of this would have happened without the devil incarnate as a sports agent, right?
Scott Boras is great at what he does. He represents athletes and gets them the best contract for their future financial well-being. With that being said, fans are never a part of that well-being, and free agency and Scott Boras continue to plague small-market teams like the Cleveland Indians.
Shin-Soo Choo made $4.9 million in 2012 and he is eligible for arbitration for the last time this winter. He will be a free agent five days after the 2013 World Series. There are one of two things will happen before the 2014 season:
1) Shin-Soo Choo will be traded by the Cleveland Indians
2) Shin-Soo Choo will sign with another club when he reaches free agency
Choo has been an excellent player, showing power, speed and patience along with a tremendous arm in the outfield. While 2011 was a dreadful season, he and his agent will be motivated to post the best numbers that he can so that he can reach his maximum potential financial earnings via arbitration and free agency.
Another season like 2011 would cost Shin-Soo Choo millions of guaranteed dollars. I don't know Choo and I can't say that he is driven by money, but when Scott Boras is in charge of your future, you can bet that finances are a factor.
Motivated by statistics or motivated by money, Choo will have pressure on himself to maintain production so that he can produce significant offers for himself via free agency in 2014.
Shin-Soo Choo averaged a .300/.404/.486 line with about 35 doubles, four triples, 21 home runs, 88 RBI and 21 stolen bases in his only two full seasons, 2009 and 2010. He was a model of consistency...for two seasons.
Two seasons is not a lot to count on, but Choo has shown that those numbers are more typical than the .259/.344/.390 line that he posted in 2011. His renewed abilities that he has shown in 2012 show that this is the player he really is.
While his sample size in the middle of the order in 2012 is small, 85 at-bats at No.3 and 43 at-bats at No.6, Choo's 284 at-bats in the leadoff role have showcased what he continues to be capable of. With more people on base when he comes up in the three-spot, Choo's statistics could take a huge bump...that is, if any other Indians are on base for him when he comes up!
The Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland A's (twice), Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers (twice), Detroit Tigers (twice), Minnesota Twins (twice), Kansas City Royals (twice), and Chicago White Sox (twice) are remaining on the Cleveland Indians 51-game schedule for the 2012 season.
Remember these names: C.J. Wilson, Tom Milone, Jason Vargas, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, C.C. Sabathia, Bruce Chen, Will Smith, Brian Duensing, Scott Diamond, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Francisco Liriano.
The players listed above are left-handed starters who currently occupy the rotations of the teams on the Indians remaining schedule. Of 50 starting pitchers on the 10 teams that the Tribe plays, only 15 of them, 30 percent, are left-handed.
Why is that important? Shin-Soo Choo is hitting .209/.313/.309 against left-handed pitchers in 2012.
Choo is hitting .333/.405/.564 against right-handed pitchers in 2012.
With a majority of games likely coming against right-handed starters, Choo could have a monster ending to the 2012. The Indians could as well, as we all know how awful they have been against left-handers this season.
That's right, I said wRC+. What is wRC+ you ask? It is a statistic used by FanGraphs.com which they define in this way:
Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. In Runs Created, instead of looking at a player’s line and listing out all the details (e.g. 23 2B, 15 HR, 55 BB, 110 K, 19 SB, 5 CS), the information is synthesized into one metric in order to say, “Player X was worth 24 runs to his team last year.” While the idea was sound, James’ formula has since been superseded by Tom Tango’s wRC , which is based off of wOBA.
Similar to OPS+, Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average. League average is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than league average. Similarly, every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average, so a 80 wRC+ means a player created 20% fewer runs than league average.
wRC+ is also park and league-adjusted, allowing one to to compare players who played in different years, parks, and leagues.
Easy enough, right? So, for those who didn't follow, league average scores a 100 on wRC+. If you're good, or at least better than average, your stat will be over 100. If you're worse than average, it will be below 100.
Shin-Soo Choo's 2012 wRC+ is 135, meaning that Choo has created 35 percent more runs than your league average player. For his career, Choo's wRC+ is 132. He even scored a 104 wRC+ in his miserable 2011 season.
Statistical nerds rejoice! Sabermetrics just ensured that Shin-Soo Choo is well-above average using the wRC+ statistic! This bit of mathematical wizardly surely enhances Choo's ability to maintain his current pace in 2012!
Say what you want to about Choo's success in the leadoff spot, but the Cleveland Indians are better off with him hitting in the middle of the order. Why? Because he can drive in Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera when he is hitting third. He was coming up to bat with no one on when he was leading off—think about it—he was either the first batter, or the likes of Shelley Duncan, Jack Hannahan, Aaron Cunningham, etc. were getting out at the bottom of the lineup when he came up to bat! No wonder he is on pace for fewer than 70 RBI!
Choo has hit third in the order in 251 games in his career, batting 1,116 times, while he compiled 54 doubles, six triples, 30 home runs, 148 RBI, 36 stolen bases and a 235:124 K:BB with a career .288/.381/.450 slash. It is his most familiar role and while he has thrived in other spots in the lineup, Cabrera and Carlos Santana can bat around him to split up all of the left-handed bats in the order.
Shin-Soo Choo is one of those players that puts up solid numbers but he does not blow you away. His struggles against left-handed pitching in his career has limited his ability to take the step to becoming an elite talent, but his ability to drive the ball, take a walk and utilize his speed makes him a valuable commodity for the Cleveland Indians.
Whether it is his agent, his spot in the order, his track record, the likelihood of facing more right-handed starters or a random, baseball-nerd statistic, Shin-Soo Choo has positioned himself into finishing the season strong for the Tribe.
Choo's name came up at the trade deadline due to the Indians payroll and struggles this season. It is not out of the question that he could be moved this winter, opening up right field for...Ellis Burks? Who knows who would fill the void if the Tribe did move one of their star players, but one thing is for sure: he will be moving on his own after the 2013 season, whether they trade him or not, via free agency.