Shin-Soo Choo has always been a very good OBP guy, but last year he took it to another level. His walk rate was up 50% from the prior two years, and his strikeout rate was down a few points from his career norms.
That’s an unusual combination for a player so far into his MLB career — typically, higher walk rates mean a player is taking more pitches, thus working himself into deeper counts and leaving him more vulnerable to strikeouts. If you swing early in a count and make decent contact, you’re not going to strike out much (ask Pablo Sandoval).
A quick look at his plate discipline stats over on Fangraphs shows Choo saw fewer balls in the zone, took more pitches in the zone, and made contact more often when he did decide to swing. That’s how you get Choo’s mix of walk and strikeout rates.
Now a Ranger, how can we expect Choo to follow-up his career year? Really, there shouldn’t be much of a change. Both ballparks are great for hitters, both lineups were good last year, though Texas has a better order, and Choo will maintain the same lineup slot. The biggest difference is his likely increase in RBI chances by virtue of leaving the Senior Circuit.
The following chart show Choo’s percentage of PA with RISP charted against his lineup slot. The logic is that the higher you bat in the lineup, the fewer RBI chances you get (that’s why the big boys bat 3rd and 4th).
Last year with CIN, Choo saw a career-low %PA with RISP. Ian Kinsler, the leadoff man for the Rangers, was much higher!
In his years with Cleveland (orange dots), Choo saw a consistent decrease in his %PA with RISP as he moved further up the lineup. In his first year with the NL Central Reds, Choo hit a career-low, 20.2%. This isn’t surprising as NL lineups feature an automatic out batting in front of Choo in the nine-slot and an overall depressed scoring environment.
For comparison, Kinsler, the man whose lineup slot Choo is inheriting, posted a %PA with RISP of 28.0%, on par with what Choo was doing as Cleveland’s three-hitter in 2012. That 28.0% represents a 38.6% increase from Choo’s 20.2% with Cincinnati last season.
With RISP last year, Choo batted .240 while driving in 31 runs. Assuming that .240 jumps to .285, approximately Choo’s career average, that bumps his expected RBI to 36.8. Toss in the 38.6% increase from Cincy to Texas, and you get 51.0 RBI. Add that onto Choo’s non-RISP RBI total last year (23) and you get a projected RBI total of 74 for 2014.
Now, we don’t think Choo will hit that 28.0% mark that Kinsler saw last year. That’s an unusually high total. Even Jacoby Ellsbury, the leadoff hitter for the highest-scoring offense in baseball, only had a %PA with RISP of 20.9%. Coco Crisp, also exclusively a leadoff hitter, had a %PA of 21.9%. Understandably, theirs are lower as they never had PA anywhere but leadoff (OK, Crisp had a half dozen in other slots) whereas Choo and Kinsler mixed in a lot of PA elsewhere in the lineup, but 28.0% is a little crazy.
So dial those 74 RBI back a little and look at Choo’s career averages as a leadoff hitter, and you get his more robust RBI total below. He’ll safely fall in the 64-72 range. As for the rest, it’s all the same.
At A Glance
- Strengths: R, SB, BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, BB
- Neutral: HR, RBI, K, 2B, 3B
- Weaknesses: None
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2014 Fantasy Baseball Projection
2014 Projection: 723 PA, 100 R, 22 HR, 69 RBI, 21 SB, .290 BA
Overall Rank: 20 | OF Rank: 4