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Would the Real Shin-Soo Choo Please Stand Up?

Would the Real Shin-Soo Choo Please Stand Up?
May 11, 2012
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Shin-Soo Choo. Is there a more polarizing figure on the Cleveland Indians right now?

The right fielder’s 2012 season has not gotten off to the start that fans and the South Korean native had anticipated. In 25 games, the left handed hitter has compiled a .239/.369/.337 line to go along with one home run and 12 RBIs. Coming off a poor and injury-riddled 2011 campaign, most had Choo penciled in as an excellent rebound candidate. But as the numbers suggest, this has not been the case.

Granted, this is a small sample size. It must also be noted that Choo missed six games because of a hamstring injury. Still, injuries are a part of the game. And for the last two seasons, injuries have been a big part of Choo’s game.

The 2011 season was not kind to Choo. He played only 85 games because of a variety of injuries while compiling a .259/.344/.390 line to go along with eight home runs and 36 RBIs. He also was arrested in early May on DUI charges; an incident that Choo openly admitted was embarrassing and contributed to his struggles at the plate.

Most everyone seemed to give Choo a pass following the 2011 season. After all, this was a player who had recorded two straight seasons of a .300 average to go along with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. It seemed far more probable that the 2011 campaign was an outlier and not the start of a trend.

But what if this is the start of the trend? From 2008 to 2010, Choo hit .302/.397/.500 along with a .897 OPS and averaged 19 home runs and 81 RBIs each season. Choo’s numbers over the last two seasons pale in comparison.

It has been a sad turn of events for Choo, who, during his three-year tear, was one of the lone bright spots for the Tribe. Choo’s stardom came during a period of transition that saw the team trade away former faces of the franchise while another face of the franchise (Grady Sizemore) fell on hard times and endured injury after injury. Choo seemed destined to be the team’s new face; out with Grady’s Ladies and in with the Choo Crew.

For those three years, Choo did give the fans plenty of reason to cheer. At times, he was a dominant force at the plate, and he always dazzled with his amazing arm. Yet, those seasons seem like distant memories as Choo has done nothing but disappoint since the start of the 2011 season.

Choo’s downfall might not be the worst thing in the world because in all likelihood, the Indians never had any chance at resigning him. After Choo brought on Scott Boras as his agent in February 2010, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the Indians.

But while Choo is almost certain to leave via free agency after the 2013 season, the Indians are still no closer to solving their current problem. Choo is the team’s starting right fielder, and he must rebound if the Indians are to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Plus, let us consider the alternatives. Oh wait, there are no alternatives. As Indians Prospect Insider Editor Tony Lastoria and many IPI writers have outlined in the past, the Indians’ farm system is severely lacking in its upper levels in regard to outfield depth. There are no immediate answers and no potential upgrades.

Can Choo solve his problem and somehow recover his previous form? Time is certainly on his side. The 2012 season is only 31 games old, and there is plenty of time for Choo to find his stroke once again.

At the same time, however, there have not really been any encouraging signs. When fans talk about disappointing Indians, most of their blame is typically reserved for Ubaldo Jimenez, but the fact of the matter is that Shin-Soo Choo has been an incredibly underwhelming player since the start of the 2011 season.

Take one look at the Indians starting outfield: A former MLB star desperately clinging to his last shot of glory in left, an athletic but perhaps overexposed Major League fourth outfielder in center and then the enigmatic Choo in right. There is not much to be overly enthused with.

But of the three, there is one that still stands out. We all know the potential that Choo once had and hopefully still has. It is now up to him to tap back into that potential and show why he was once voted the MLB’s most underrated player by his peers. 

Can Choo recover his past bat magic? Who knows, but he will have to if the team has any hopes of capturing an AL Central title. For three years, what you saw is what you got with Choo; a player who was great at nothing but very good at everything. Hopefully that is the real Choo and not the borderline Major League fringe player that we have seen since 2011.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Tony
May 12, 2012 - 11:15 AM EDT
I think they should leave Kipnis and Cabrera alone at 2-3 in the order....but I think Hafner should be 5th and not 4th. I know Santana has been pressing, but he sees better pitches with Hafner behind him. And I know they effectively split up the lefties Hafner and Choo by putting Santana between them. Man, what a RH bat hitting cleanup would do for this offense.
Adam
May 12, 2012 - 11:04 AM EDT
Personally, I'd rather see him hitting 3rd again, in front of Santana and Hafner. He'll get better pitches to hit in that spot, and Hafner is probably better suited a little lower in the order at this point in his career anyways. Brantley has been hitting well lately, but pitchers are still going to be wiling to work around Choo to get to Brantley in most cases.
Ben
May 12, 2012 - 8:05 AM EDT
DUI usualy means a problem with alcohol. That could be eroding his skills.
Rich
May 12, 2012 - 6:09 AM EDT
Very subjective, but he seems to be swinging and missing more fastballs in the zone this year. Sometimes right in the middle of the strike zone. I've caught myself wondering how he missed that pitch.

Maybe he has lost some bat speed. Pitchers have been pounding him inside with fastballs and has he even hit a home run this year? His OBP is still good, however. Maybe batting 6th will help - less pressure than hitting 3rd.
Adam
May 11, 2012 - 7:02 PM EDT
I didn't consider bat speed, but that is a very good point. But at least to this point in time, he is still managing to hit as many line drives as he has for his entire career, and that's his game. Just from watching him, right before he got injured, he was noticeably hitting the ball harder. He wasn't landing a lot of hits, but he was hitting linedrives all over the field. And over these last 8 games, I think his luck is just finally evening out. If you hit enough linedrives, eventually good things will start to happen. We can only hope!
Tony
May 11, 2012 - 3:03 PM EDT
I hope I am wrong on this....and while there are some encouraging deeper stats and numbers which may suggest he may be in for a bump in performance back to old Choo....I think one of the things being lost is there is a belief in the industry he has lost some bat speed. In addition to that, and this is my own observation, he looks like he has not been keeping up with his conditioning as he looks noticeably "thicker" in the midsection this season than in season's past. If that is the case, along with the declining bat speed and pitchers just eating him up inside, I am unsure whether or not he will ever come close to old Choo. But, I'm patient enough to wait and find out. If he is still struggling mid-June, then there obviously are some true concerns.
Steve
May 11, 2012 - 2:55 PM EDT
Last years slow start and subsequent injury really cost him. His last 99 PA on the year (which is nearly 1/3 of his season) was .329/.424*.518 with (3) 2b, (2) 3b, and 3 (HR) and he had 5 SBs.

This year he is off to a slow start, but not like last year, and really appears close to breaking out of it.

I have a feeling that very soon those numbers will start creeping up and he'll return to the player he was not only in 2009/2010 but the player he was from the middle of June on in 2011.

Go Tribe! Beat Boston.
Steve
May 11, 2012 - 1:24 PM EDT
I figured the Major League fringe player might get some heat, and it is a tad extreme, I agree. Nonetheless Choo had a WAR of 1.5 last season and 0.4 so far this year. Certainly a big fall off from the 5.2 and 5.6 posted in 2010 and 2011, respectively. But you're right, he has been heating up as of late. Let's hope for the best.
Adam
May 11, 2012 - 12:00 PM EDT
I think it might be a stretch to call Choo a "borderline Major League fringe player." In by far the worst season of his career, Choo was still a slightly above average player in 2011, as his wRC+ sat at 104. And given the current run environment, Choo's numbers from this year are actually 12% BETTER than average in 2012. Yes, the average leaves a lot to be desired and his power has only recently begun to show back up, but he has a .369 OBP despite a BABIP that is almost 50 points below his career average.

I think what we're seeing with Choo is a slow start that he is just now starting to come out of. He's hitting about .320 over his last 8 games, with a homerun, a few doubles, and I believe 6 or 7 walks. His batted ball profiles are more or less identical to what he put up in 2010, as are his contact rates. He's being more selective at the plate, swinging at less pitches overall and swinging at about 3% fewer pitches outside of the strike zone.

For all of these reasons, I think he's going to be fine. As long as he keeps hitting linedrives as often as he has for entire entire career, and so far he is, we will see his BABIP come back into the .320-.330 range.

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