In 2011, injuries threw off one of the most promising players in Major League Baseball as Shin-Soo Choo missed half of the season while his performance was decimated. After back-to-back 20-homer, 20-steal seasons, Choo’s slugging percentage crashed from .484 to just .390.
Cleveland Indians fans had good reason to be concerned, they witnessed the shocking downturn to Grady Sizemore’s career after knee injuries had done him in. Choo proved to have a very different path as he bounced back in 2012 with 16 home runs, a .283 average, and a stellar .373 OBP. The power was still down a bit from previous seasons, and his .387 slugging after the All-Star break did lead to some concerns about whether he would ever fully return to the level of play he offered prior to his 2011 woes.
The Indians opted to deal Choo in-state to the Cincinnati Reds in a nine-player blockbuster deal prior to the 2013 season. The Reds then signed Choo to a $7.4 million one-year deal that turned into one of the best bargains in baseball. Now that Choo has been healthy for two straight seasons, it’s fair to assess what type of player he is. At 31 years old, he isn’t likely to improve much, but in short, he’s an on-base machine and the Rangers signed him to a seven-year $130 million deal for exactly that reason.
There are certainly many positives to Choo’s game, but one area of great struggle is his inability to fend off southpaws. After hitting .199 against them in 2012 with two home runs, Choo did lift his average to .215 in 2013, though he failed to connect on a single home-run. In fact, all 21 of his home runs came in the 69% of his at bats against right-handers. If the Rangers are hoping to contend in October, they have to be aware that a good bullpen with left-handers can neutralize their newest acquisition.
Choo vs. LHP
Another severe weakness in Choo’s game is his ability to hit off-speed pitches. After a .212 average with a .307 slugging percentage against off-speed pitches in 2012, Choo hit just .181 with a .269 slugging last season. The good news is that Choo is one of the most patient hitters in baseball. He only swung at 40% of pitches last season and chased 19% out of the strike zone. In other words, he forced pitchers to throw fastballs, which he punished to the tune of a .354 batting clip and .591 slugging percentage.
Choo vs. Off-Speed Pitching
The fear is that Choo will try to live up to the big contract and increase his aggressiveness at the plate next season. Choo should be reminded that he was brought into Texas for his patience. He has hit for power in the past, but his greatest attribute is to reach base consistently. Prince Fielder should remind him of that this spring. He was the one who was brought in to drive home Choo.