Shin-Soo Choo Is Streaking

In an AL West where the Astros and Mariners appear playoff bound, the A’s are resurgent, and the Angels have generated their share of interest thanks to the play of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the Rangers’ season hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. A slew of early-season injuries quickly buried them, and it wasn’t until June that they posted their first month above .500 (14-11, and now 39-49 overall).

Even so, they’ve offered reasons to watch, and one lately has been the play of Shin-Soo Choo. On Wednesday, the 35-year-old outfielder/designated hitter homered off the Astros’ Gerrit Cole, extending his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 44; he later singled off Cole, as well. Alas, Choo sat on Thursday night, forestalling his chance to tie Odubel Herrera for the longest on-base streak in the majors over the past two seasons. He’s been nursing a mild right quad strain for at least a week, sitting out two games while Adrian Beltre DH-ed.

On-base streaks don’t get the same kind of love as hitting streaks, in part because of the historic primacy of batting average and the romanticization of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak from 1941, which might be one of the sport’s unbreakable records. As it happens, the record for consecutive games reaching base via a hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch (not an error or a dropped third strike) is held by DiMaggio’s rival, Ted Williams, who reached base 84 straight times in 1949. But guess who’s tied at No. 2, at least going back to 1908, the period covered by the Baseball-Reference Play Index:

Longest On-Base Streaks Since 1908
Rk Player Team Start End Games
1 Ted Williams Red Sox 7/1/1949 9/27/1949 84
2T Joe DiMaggio Yankees 5/14/1941 8/2/1941 74
2T Ted Williams Red Sox 7/19/1941 4/18/1942 74
4 Orlando Cabrera Angels 4/25/2006 7/6/2006 63
5 Mark McGwire A’s 9/16/1995 6/18/1996 62
6 Jim Thome Indians-Phillies 7/28/2002 4/5/2003 60
7 Will Clark Rangers 9/6/1995 5/11/1996 59
8T Barry Bonds Giants 6/27/2003 9/20/2003 58
8T Barry Bonds Giants 8/16/2001 4/20/2002 58
8T Duke Snider Dodgers 5/13/1954 7/11/1954 58
11T Derek Jeter Yankees 9/24/1998 6/5/1999 57
11T Frank Thomas White Sox 9/27/1995 5/31/1996 57
11T Wade Boggs Red Sox 5/27/1985 7/31/1985 57
11T George Kell Tigers 5/13/1950 7/9/1950 57
15T Ryan Klesko Padres 4/9/2002 6/14/2002 56
15T Mike Schmidt Phillies 8/16/1981 5/8/1982 56
15T Arky Vaughan Pirates 7/18/1936 9/11/1936 56
18T Stan Musial Cardinals 8/8/1943 10/1/1943 55
18T Harry Heilmann Tigers 8/17/1922 6/12/1923 55
18T Ty Cobb Tigers 4/25/1915 6/28/1915 55
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
In games where player had at least one plate appearance.

On May 14, 1941, the day before he began his 56-game hitting streak, DiMaggio went 0-for-3 with a walk against the Indians’ Mel Harder. And while he was held hitless by Harder’s teammates Al Smith and Jim Bagby on July 17, ending that streak, he did walk in his second plate appearance that day, keeping the on-base streak alive. He then collected hits in each of the next 16 games before going 0-for-4 without a time on base in the opener of an August 3 doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns.

Choo not only has a ways to go before he cracks that outstanding company, he needs to extend his streak by one more game to break into the top 100 — the first page of results — on the Play Index. Right now, he’s tied for the seventh-longest streak since the start of the 2007 season — i.e., the year after Cabrera’s fourth-ranked streak above — but he could move up in a hurry:

Longest On-Base Streaks Since 2007
Rk Player Team Strk Start End Games
1 Kevin Millar Orioles 6/20/2007 8/25/2007 52
2 Joey Votto Reds 8/11/2015 10/2/2015 48
3 Matt Holliday Cardinals 9/26/2014 6/1/2015 47
4T Freddie Freeman Braves 8/6/2016 9/28/2016 46
4T Jayson Werth Nationals 6/20/2016 8/18/2016 46
4T Michael Cuddyer Rockies 4/23/2013 6/30/2013 46
7 Odubel Herrera Phillies 9/27/2017 5/19/2018 45
8T Shin-Soo Choo Rangers 5/13/2018 7/4/2018 44
8T Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 7/21/2015 9/17/2015 44
8T Miguel Cabrera Tigers 5/14/2013 6/30/2013 44
8T Kevin Youkilis Red Sox 7/12/2008 9/10/2008 44
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
In games where player had at least one plate appearance.

Choo’s streak began on May 13 with a first-inning single off the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel. He collected another hit later that afternoon and hasn’t looked back since. He’s kept the suspense going late into games a few times; he didn’t reach base until legging out an infield single off the Mariners’ Dan Altavilla with two outs in the ninth inning on May 16 (a call that withstood a challenge from manager Scott Servais), collected a seventh-inning single of Seattle’s Ryan Cook after being smothered by James Paxton in his three previous plate appearances on May 30, singled off the Padres’ Brad Hand with two outs in the ninth inning on June 26 after going 0-for-4 previously, and working an eighth-inning walk off the White Sox’s Xavier Cedeno in his fifth PA on July 1. In all, he’s collected hits in 38 of the 44 games and multiple walks in three of the six hit-free games. His longest hitting streak within the larger streak is 12 games, from June 16 to 29.

Over the course of the streak, Choo is hitting .335/.469/.587 for a 188 wRC+, which means that he’s been slightly hotter than Mike Trout and Matt Carpenter (whom I covered last week) over that span:

wRC+ Leaders Since May 13, 2018
Rk Player Team PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+
1 Max Muncy Dodgers 175 .294 .446 .706 206
2 Shin-Soo Choo Rangers 210 .335 .469 .587 188
3T Mike Trout Angels 206 .304 .459 .601 186
3T Matt Carpenter Cardinals 205 .335 .420 .648 186
3T J.D. Martinez Red Sox 196 .320 .398 .674 186
6T Paul Goldschmidt D-backs 207 .320 .415 .646 180
6T Brandon Crawford Giants 186 .360 .441 .602 180
8 Jose Ramirez Indians 210 .306 .424 .624 179
9 Nelson Cruz Mariners 179 .292 .385 .623 177
10 Alex Bregman Astros 209 .297 .383 .604 172

Overall, Choo is hitting .289/.399/.494 with 16 homers; his on-base percentage ranks third in the league, his 144 wRC+ 11th. Both of those figures are his highest since signing a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Rangers in December 2013, a contract that it’s fair to say has not entirely panned out, largely due to a variety of injuries that limited him to an average of 117 games from 2014 to -17. On a more or less annual basis, the deal has landed on somebody’s worst contracts list.

Choo missed time in 2014 due to a bone spur in his left elbow and torn cartilage in his left ankle; the former required season-ending surgery, while playing through the latter was a major factor in his drop from career highs of 6.4 WAR and 150 wRC+ with the Reds in 2013 to 0.4 WAR and 101 wRC+ with the Rangers. He played just 48 games in 2016, serving four separate DL stints for right calf and left hamstring strains, lower back inflammation, and a fractured forearm. He managed just 0.7 WAR that year, and 0.8 in 2017 despite playing in 149 games, meaning that entering this season, he’d posted just one season out of four with at least 1.0 WAR, and a total of just 5.3 WAR for the four-year span, priced at a cool $68 million.

Even while DH-ing in 55 games and starting just 28 in the outfield (10 in left field, 18 in right), Choo has produced 2.7 WAR this year, good for 16th in the league through Wednesday. Through thick and thin over the last four seasons, he’s hit the ball hard, but too often on the ground, and his subpar speed — ranging from a high of 27.0 feet/sec in 2015 to a low off 25.6 feet/sec in 2016 — has been part of the reason for his lower BABIPs and the negative differential between his wOBA and expected wOBA:

Shin-Soo Choo Via Statcast, 2015-2018
2015 1.79 90.5 7.4 .335 .365 .359 .006
2016 1.53 91.2 10.0 .288 .334 .382 -.048
2017 1.86 88.0 7.2 .305 .339 .374 -.035
2018 1.55 89.8 7.6 .345 .385 .398 -.013
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
EV = average exit velocity, LA = average launch angle

Among the 286 players with at least 100 batted-ball events, Choo’s average exit velocity ranks a modest 96th, but his 12.5% rate of barrels per batted-ball event ranks 35th, conforming that he’s making good contact with some consistency. He’s also walking 14.6% of the time, his highest rate since 2013.

Given that the Rangers are playing out the string, the idea of trading Choo makes some sense, particularly with bat-only top prospect Willie Calhoun waiting in the wings. There are two problems with that plan, however. First, he’s owed $42 million beyond this year (plus something less than half of this year’s $20 million salary), and no team is going to take that on at anything but a steep discount; the more money the Rangers absorb, the higher the quality of their return, but it won’t be a painless transaction. Second, given his age, injury history, and defensive performance (-11 DRS and -8 UZR in 1250.2 innings over the past three seasons), Choo has to DH more often than not.

Beyond the minimal suspense about the AL playoff picture beyond the jockeying for position atop the AL East and AL West is the reality that the Yankees (who primarily use Giancarlo Stanton at the spot), Red Sox (same with J.D. Martinez), Mariners (Nelson Cruz), Indians (Edwin Encarnacion), and Astros (Evan Gattis) are all pretty set at DH, thank you very much. That leaves the A’s, with playoff odds of 10.4% and slugger Khris Davis parked at the spot, and the Angels, with odds of 2.6% and the just-returned Ohtani and their own sunk cost, Albert Pujols, sharing time at DH. Perhaps an injury creates an opening in one of those lineups over the next few weeks, but more likely, the Rangers will have to wait to deal Choo in the winter, when the pool of potential trade candidates is larger.

So trading Choo may not be in the cards. For the moment at least, the Rangers and their fans can enjoy watching the hitter they thought they were getting when they signed him four-and-a-half years ago. Next up on the franchise list for on-base streaks: none other than Julio Franco, who reached base in 46 straight games in 1993

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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4 years ago

Orlando Cabrera?

4 years ago
Reply to  darren

Seriously, I think the article should have veered off topic onto this topic as soon as his name appeared. Not a good hitter in general, not a good hitter that year, hit .282 with 51 walks for the year. The 2006 Angels weren’t a good hitting team (by 2006 standards), so even hitting 2nd in the lineup he wouldn’t get that many extra PAs.

I think I found the stretch on baseball reference, and he had the following line: .303/ .372/.418. And he reached base every game. That’s a fine enough hitting line, but still, Baseball is weird.