Big League Choo

Cleveland Indians’ right-field Shin-Soo Choo* started the season unknown to most baseball fans. The 26 year-old got 370 plate appearances in 2008, which was by far the most in his career, and put up an impressive .309/.397/.549 line. The former top prospect was given the full-time job going into 2009 despite some worries that he was a “fourth outfielder” or need to be platooned, and Choo ended up having one of the more under-the-radar quality seasons in the majors. I take a look at it at MLB Notebook. An excerpt’s below; click through for the full version.

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“Choo had always displayed solid plate discipline in the minors and in his short stretches in the majors, and he did a nice job laying off pitches out of the strike-zone – chasing a lower than average 22.3% of them -  helping him to post a nice 11.8% walk rate (18th highest in the AL amongst qualified batters). And despite striking out 151 times – the 5th most in the AL – Choo was able to bat .300 on the strength of a .371 BABIP. Normally one would think that Choo just got really lucky, but he did have a .373 BABIP last year and a .373 BABIP overall for his career. I doubt he’s a legitimate .375 BABIP guy – even Ichiro’s only at .359 for his career – but it should be reasonable to think Choo’s true talent level BABIP is at least above average. As far as power goes, Choo knocked out 20 home runs, 38 doubles, and 6 triples. His 12.7% home run per flyball ratio was down from last year’s 16.1%, but his .489 slugging percentage was still solid even for a corner outfielder. All together, Choo’s .300/.394/.489 line in 685 PA was 34.3 runs above average*. And as a bonus, he went 21 for 23 on the bases, making him the only player in the AL with 20 homers, 20 steals, and even a .260 batting average**.

* And – personally speaking – much more in line with what I though Nick Markakis would do after his .306/.406/.491 ‘08. Instead, we got .293/.347/.453. Seems like Nick got more attention for his season last year than Choo has gotten this year. Thus this post, I suppose.

** Ian Kinsler went 31-31 but hit .253; Nelson Cruz was 33-20 with a .260 (actually .25974) average; and Curtis Granderson went 30-20-.249.

Defensively, Choo was a touch below average in right at -1.4 UZR and a bit above average in left in 20 games there at +1.1 UZR. Overall, FanGraphs (which provided all this awesome data) has Shin-Soo worth 5.1 Wins Above Replacement. That was 11th in the AL this year, a rounding error behind Ichiro(!) and ahead of Victor Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, and down-ballot MVP contender Kendry Morales. If the Indians can get Grady Sizemore back healthy and Matt LaPorta starts hitting like he did in the minors, they could have quite an outfield.”