Last year was the worst year of Shin-Soo Choo’s career. He shrugs it off, but it was clear that he was hurt for most of the year. September brought two surgeries, one for his elbow and one for his ankle. Talk to him about those injuries, and you quickly see a central conflict in every player’s life — do you play through an injury and provide less value, or do you take the time off to get right?
In the context of the season last year, it was clear that Choo wanted to do his best to help a hurting team despite his own problems. “Everybody on the team was hurt, it was a tough season,” he admitted before a game against the Athletics. “I wanted to play, that’s all.” The Rangers last year set a new record for days lost the disabled list, with 99 more days than the 2004 Diamondbacks.
If you play through injury, your numbers suffer. That’s how Choo had his worst strikeout and second-worst power numbers since he became a regular. And then the fans tend to howl, particularly if you’re in the first year of a big new deal with a new team. “I know I was hurting, but I didn’t want to say anything, because it’s my job to stay in the lineups every day,” Choo said.
And the howling? Did it bother the player? “It’s okay, I’ll take it, it’s my job,” he said. “You’re a ball player, in any sport, people talk about your numbers, people talk bad, that’s okay, it’s our job.” Really, people are going to complain either way in this situation. “I’m okay with no numbers, I don’t want people to say he’s aways hurt,” Choo said.
But it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how the injury hurts you at the plate or in the field. “I just had to play, I didn’t think about it too much,” Choo said of how the elbow and ankle affected his play.
Projection systems are agnostic of how those injuries affect the player, too. They just see the production and weight it to project future work. And in the past, players that have played through injury often outperform their projections because the injuries were the source of the depressed numbers. Once they were healthy again, those players outpaced their slugging percentage projections by 13 points.
That’s good news for Choo! And he feels good, after he spent the offseason working on his body. “I focussed on rehab stuff, getting stronger, and how am I going to stay healthy all season,” Choo said of his work. “I lost some weight, a little bit — getting older and I don’t want to get big. Getting older, everything tightens so I stretch more and do more yoga.” That echoes some of the things that Jimmy Rollins said about staying healthy, specifically the love for yoga.
On the other hand, there’s also bad news for Choo. He missed more than 30 days on the disabled list for his elbow, which puts him squarely on this table put together by Jeff Zimmerman in his recent piece on disabled list trends:
CHANGE IN AGE-ADJUSTED OPS, ON DL GREATER THAN 30 DAYS
|Injury Location||Change in OPS|
Any of the bounce that Choo would get from projection system over-correction seems to disappear here. Not only is an elbow problem the worst for your power, but ankle problems aren’t great either, and Choo had both.
Ask him about it, though, and he’ll just shrug. All he can do is try to stay as healthy as he can, and also try to play through the little problems that come and go. After all, a 32-year-old athlete is rarely fully healthy. “If I had to be 100% in the field every time, I’d be in no lineups,” Choo smiled.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.