Shin-Soo Choo: Human Bruise

You like factoids, so go ahead and choose your factoid. Shin-Soo Choo has already been hit by nine pitches. Shin-Soo Choo’s hit-by-pitch total is more than twice as high as that of the current runner-up. Shin-Soo Choo has accounted for 5.2% of the league’s hit-by-pitches while accounting for 0.4% of the league’s plate appearances. No non-Reds team in baseball has been hit by more pitches than Shin-Soo Choo this season. Shin-Soo Choo has reached base more often by hit-by-pitches than Jason Heyward has reached base by hits. Shin-Soo Choo already has the second-worst UZR in baseball, ahead only of a guy with the yips. Whoops, I don’t know how that got in there. The point is this: Shin-Soo Choo has been hit a lot, already. There is a variety of ways in which this point can be illustrated.

It’s not a total negative, or even that much of a partial negative, because Choo is leading off for the Reds and leadoff hitters are supposed to get on base. When you get hit by a pitch, you are entitled to a base! Through three weeks or so, Choo has made fewer outs than non-outs, and this is a guy in the Reds lineup who isn’t Joey Votto. As long as Choo can get hit and not get hurt, it’ll be an overall positive, and Choo hasn’t gotten hurt to date.

But Choo doesn’t want to be getting hit by all these pitches. He got hit by two more on Sunday, and he’s not Carlos Quentin, seemingly getting in the way of pitches on purpose. Over time, given enough of these, there’s going to be an injury, and it could be a bad one. Choo is growing frustrated, by the hit-by-pitches and by the questions that follow, and let’s look at some snippets:

It’s part of the game, OK? This is what he says, more than a few times, until he becomes irritated at the different ways writers are asking the same question. There is no art form to being hit by a pitch, even as Choo himself has been hit more times than every team in baseball, save the New York Yankees.

His family is worried about it, he says. His manager is concerned enough to advise Choo to back off the plate a bit. “Sooner or later, he’s going to get hit in the hand or something,’’ Baker said.

Choo is worried only a little. “I worry about a sensitive area,’’ he said. “Head or bone.’’

Since Choo debuted in the majors, he’s been hit in 2.1% of his plate appearances. This is about the same rate as Josh Wilson and Damion Easley — it’s a high rate, but not extremely so. Quentin’s twice that high. Other guys are a full percentage point ahead. But Choo’s rate isn’t that far south of Craig Biggio‘s rate, and this was a big part of Biggio’s game. Choo has proven himself decidedly above-average in the hittability department, hence this quick investigation.

Here are the pitchers who have hit Choo so far in 2013:

And here is a pitch-location map, separating hit-by-pitches from non-hit-by-pitches:

choohbp

Choo’s left-handed, and, yeah, we see him getting hit over there, by inside pitches. That’s how this happens. Some of those pitches were probably just about unavoidable. Interestingly, there have been some inside pitches that missed. Here are inside pitches that didn’t hit Shin-Soo Choo and grant him a free* base:

ChooMiss1.gif.opt

This could’ve been Choo’s third hit-by-pitch on Sunday!

ChooMiss2.gif.opt

ChooMiss3.gif.opt

ChooMiss4.gif.opt

What’s fascinating about this last one is that later in the same plate appearance, Choo would be hit by a pitch. The pitch that hit him would be six inches less inside. In the next plate appearance between Choo and Locke, Locke would throw another way-inside pitch that didn’t make contact. Choo was getting pitched in; one of the pitches hit him.

* painful

Most people don’t want to get hit by pitches. Getting hit by a pitched baseball hurts, and you can’t help but flinch even if you’re completely protected and facing the ball head-on. Consider the catcher and the umpire from this slow-motion replay screenshot:

flinch

Eyes closed, because baseballs hurt. Catchers catch with their eyes closed. Umpires umpire with their eyes closed. It’s just a blink — it’s not enough to miss much critical information — but it’s telling. It’s hard to will yourself to get hurt, even if you manage to psych yourself up. Next time you’re in bed, get up on your knees. Fall forward, face-first. Odds are you’ll throw your arms in front of you instinctively, even though you’re falling into sheets and pillows. Players, generally speaking, want to stay out of the way of baseballs, and while that isn’t true all of the time, it’s true much of the time.

What’s going on with Choo? Choo is right not to take his manager’s advice and back off — as Choo says in the article linked above, that could have a cascading effect on offensive success. Where a hitter stands is a part of his batting mechanics, and if you change a little thing about mechanics, you could change a lot of things about performance. If Choo backed off, his concept of the strike zone would be different, and maybe he wouldn’t have his approach anymore. Maybe he’d be exploitable. Choo is quite good where he is, and this flurry of hit-by-pitches should have to pass at some point. You don’t want to overreact to a probable fluke.

But it’s probably not completely a fluke. As noted, Choo is an above-average hit-by-pitch-getter. According to the article, Choo asked teammates, and they confirmed that he doesn’t entirely crowd the plate. But he gets up there, and consider these example screenshots from a game between the Reds and the Pirates, selected on account of the totally bitchin camera angle:

choostand

That’s Choo. The yellow line sort of approximates the inner line of the batter’s box. Where the yellow line is, exactly, isn’t important; this is just to establish a reference. Now consider:

vottostand

brucestand

jonesstand

sniderstand

This is a very simple concept. Shin-Soo Choo’s body takes up a greater-than-average amount of space closer to the plate in the left-handed batter’s box. The closer to the plate you get, the higher the frequency of pitches. Even though Choo makes a legitimate effort to get out of the way, he has to get out of the way more often than most left-handed batters, and so he won’t get out of the way more often than most left-handed batters. The closer you wander to a target in a shooting range, the more likely you are to end up in a hospital.

Crowding the plate can be a subjective matter, because it can imply that a batter wants to get hit. Choo, from what we can tell, doesn’t. But he does objectively crowd the plate more than most, hence his hit-by-pitch rate. As for his hit-by-pitch total in 2013? He hasn’t changed his approach, so the expectation is that he’ll end up back to normal from here on out. Choo isn’t doing anything to make himself more hittable, so he’s not going to sustain a record-breaking pace. This is early-season noise, like Justin Upton‘s nine dingers in 18 games. It’s one part signal and one part noise, or something along those lines. Look at the other side of the coin. Doug Fister leads the major leagues in hit-by-pitches for pitchers, with six. He has issued five unintentional walks. He hit seven batters a year ago. Pitches get away sometimes. Over a big enough sample, we can predict how many pitches will have gotten away. Over a smaller sample, baseball happens.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


34 Responses to “Shin-Soo Choo: Human Bruise”

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  1. Phil says:

    “I worry about a sensitive area,’’ he said. “Head or bone.’’

    /giggles

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  2. AJK says:

    Lost in all of this hustle and bustle is that Jeff Sullivan knows where I sleep.

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  3. stan says:

    Has Choo ever been a lead off hitter before? I don’t think he has. If that’s the case then he has a greater incentive to get on base by whatever means than he did before. And, if I were intentionally getting hit, I would make sure to be very loud in questioning why that is in order to avoid suspicion.

    I also suspect that pitchers are throwing inside to him just to move him off the plate rather than because they want to hit him. He is a little too close to the plate, as you’ve demonstrated.

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  4. YB says:

    This may be pedantic but Shin-Soo Choo’s nine HBPs are not a factoid simply because it is, well, a fact.

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    • Neil says:

      Arguably. The definition of factoid has expanded quite a bit, and generally encompasses any fact that’s a bit silly or frivolous. Leading the league in HBP by a huge margin after 3 weeks can probably be fairly slotted into that category.

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    • Aaron Murray says:

      Yeah, the definition of “factoid” has drifted from it’s original which is kind of a shame. Can’t deny the drift in definition, though.

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      • Baltar says:

        Yes, I think the word “factoid” was originally invented for the false “facts” of Ronald Reagan, e.g. that trees cause pollution and the Indians all became rich on oil after they were forcibly moved to Oklahoma.
        I don’t like the way it has been expanded to mean almost anything that’s some kind of fact.

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  5. Mookie says:

    Speaking of being pedantic, Quentin’s is twice as high.*

    The ‘s can’t be used as ‘is’ in that statement, because it refers his rate..

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  6. Jason H says:

    So who is the player with the yips then?

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  7. isavage30 says:

    Does Choo get pitched inside more often than most hitters? I would think yes, as it seemed from 2011 on, the book on him has been to pound him inside. Which previously resulted in a broken thumb, courtesy of Sanchez. I haven’t seen Choo this year, but judging by the success he’s having, I would think perhaps he’s making more of an active effort to hang in there on inside pitches. The last couple years I have seen Choo jump back on many a strike on the inside corner.

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  8. Dingbat says:

    Another crazy early-season blip: Josh Rutledge has more runs scored (17) than hits (14), along with an OBP of .300. That’s got to be a rare feat.

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  9. Jeff Francoeur says:

    Maybe I should try to get hit by a pitch. Could be cool to be on first base, I’ve always wondered what happens when you get there.

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  10. snoop LION says:

    Choo is known for his opposite field approach and strength on outside pitches.. hence he gets pitched inside a LOT. Well he used to in Cleveland anyway and I assume thats whats happening now

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  11. Ian Roberts says:

    Every time I read an article on fangraphs I’m glad I did. This is some of the smartest, most interesting sports journalism ever written. Keep up the good work.

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    • Peter R says:

      (can’t tell if sarcastic) Ever written sir? Might be some slight hyperbole. But I concur with your sentiment that there is some fantastic sports writing on this website.

      Though we all know NotGraphs has the greatest writing ever written.

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      • Shlum says:

        “Writing” is not “written.”

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      • Ian Roberts says:

        I’m not being sarcastic. Most sports journalism is controversy driven editorialization. ESPN can’t even show a web gem anymore without arguing if it better than last nights web gem. Fangraphs transcends the landscape of vapid sports journalism by avoiding argumentative sensationalism and focusing on the dissection of weird factoids, which ends up being infinitely more interesting than any article about steroid scandals or which former superstar is coming out of retirement this month.

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  12. TKDC says:

    “Odds are you’ll throw your arms in front of you instinctively, even though you’re falling into sheets and pillows.”

    Ric Flair wouldn’t.

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  13. hoggin88 says:

    I would like to introduce Jeff to a new cool thing called a “pronoun”. I think it would really help Jeff’s article flow better. Jeff has some interesting stuff here, but the repetition of the name “Shin Soo Choo” distracts from the good info that Jeff is presenting. Jeff should reconsider Jeff’s writing style and consider using more of these pronouns in Jeff’s article.

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    • vikedawg says:

      Hey leave Jeff alone, he just really loves trains.

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      • attgig says:

        he must also love choo freeman…. if you could make a hybrid of freeman and choo, you’d have…shin soo freeman. wait… you’d have…

        CHOO CHOO!

        I wonder if choo would name his first son Thomas, and second son Percy….

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  14. Baltar says:

    If Choo can continue to get on base more than half the time by crowding the plate, asking him to back off is ridiculous.

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  15. attgig says:

    so, he’s getting on base at an insane clip….. why isn’t he stealing more?

    he’s gotten on base 37 times, and only has 2 stolen bases? I thought leadoff hitters were supposed to steal more.

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  16. Run_Angel says:

    For SB, what I think is that becuase theres Votto, Phillips behind him and with CS which might result one out it might be better off staying on first base.
    I know Votto and Phillps and JB ain’t like last year BUT its still early season. Just have to wait and see..

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  17. nnyl says:

    Midway through the season and Choo has been plunked 20 times. Little off the pace for an MLB record, but ahead of his previous season high of 17. He needs a kevlar uniform.

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