Shin-Soo Choo is a star. I’m not sure if people recognize him as such, mainly because he somehow hasn’t reached any all-star games. Still, there’s no getting around his production. 2010 marks the third straight season in which Choo has a wRC+ above 140, and in all 3 of these seasons Choo has put up at least 2.9 WAR and at least 4.4 WAR per 600 plate appearances. Those are star type numbers, but they often get lost due to the lack of talent surrounding him in Cleveland. Let’s look at what has made Choo such a fantastic hitter these last three seasons.
2008 was Choo’s breakout season, his second year in Cleveland after coming over a deal for Ben Broussard. He showed a solid walk rate and great power, although a big part of what powered his big season was a .367 BABIP. Even without it, Choo would’ve been a solid hitter – the walks and power were there – but that performance on balls in play pushed his season from above average to elite. It’s important to remember that this was a short season for Choo, in which he played 94 games and accrued 370 plate appearances, and that may impact some of these numbers – POW typically won’t stabilize until later in a season.
2009 was a very similar year for Choo, although the power dropped off over the course of a full season. It’s hard to be too disappointed, though, given that Choo still gave the Indians a performance that lives up to many of the elite hitters in the game. Twenty home runs and 38 doubles supplied the power for Choo, which was slightly disappointing given the fact that he put up 14 homers in only 370 PAs the year prior. Still, any player that can put up any sort of decent power numbers – and a POW that was 136% of league average certainly qualifies as decent – while also putting up OBPs near .400 is a fantastic offensive player. Despite this, there’s the elephant in the room – another high BABIP, this time at .370. Even after 1000 PAs, we can’t be sure that it would stay so high, and would Choo remain at such a high level without it?
In 2010, we get the answer to that question: a resounding “yes.” The power dropped off a little bit along with the BABIP, but the plate numbers, BB% and K%, have both moved enough to compensate. A 2% increase in walk rate doesn’t seem that significant, but it moved Choo from 128% of league average to 156%. The big difference is the strikeout percentage. Choo is now striking out less than the league average after two seasons in which he was well above. This almost entirely compensates for the drop in BABIP, as the fact that he now has more balls in play emphasizes his still solid BABIP as well as his good POW score. Of course, we’re dealing with a small sample here, but after 360 PAs, both BB% and K% should start to stabilize.
The Indians haven’t had a good team this year, but Shin-Soo Choo is an excellent piece to build around. As an outside observer and a big fan of Choo, I hope that the Indians can put a solid team around him, if only so that the general public can begin to notice just how incredible a hitter he is.
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