So What About Shin-Soo Choo’s Platoon Split?

And now I will present to you some known facts about Shin-Soo Choo. Most recently, Choo became a member of the Texas Rangers, for $130 million and seven guaranteed years. It’s a big investment for a team that was looking to make a big investment, and now the Rangers are probably the favorites to win the American League West. They’d long been linked to Choo, they’d long had a need, and Choo’s probably a better investment than Nelson Cruz would’ve been. He’s a splash, big enough to take the Rangers out of the potential running for Masahiro Tanaka.

Choo draws a ton of walks. He’s got a career OBP of .389, and he can run and slug, too. At .350, he owns one of the highest career BABIPs in the history of baseball. Since 1950, 797 players have batted at least 3,000 times through age 30. Choo’s BABIP is tied for seventh among them, equal to Kenny Lofton and a point above Joe Mauer. When facing right-handed pitchers, Choo’s had an awful lot in common with former teammate Joey Votto. When facing left-handed pitchers, he’s been much much worse. Choo’s got a big platoon split. He really is a sort of higher-profile Andre Ethier.

This has commanded plenty of attention, as you’d expect. Choo, in a way, is a player of extremes. He puts up an extremely high OBP. He puts up an extremely high BABIP. He hits extremely well against righties. The numbers say he performs extremely poorly in the field, and when facing lefties his numbers are worse to an extreme degree. Of course even a career is a small sample size and Choo’s own personal splits need to be regressed to some extent, but he’s developed the reputation of a guy who hits righties and can’t hit lefties. The plain and simple numbers:

vs. RHP: 154 wRC+
vs. LHP: 92 wRC+

Against righties, everything’s there. Against lefties, the power disappears. Critics like to refer to Choo as a glorified platoon player, even at his age. The splits themselves are undeniable. The question is: so what do they matter?

Intuitively, it feels like this should be exploitable. If Choo is one of the best hitters on a team, and if he struggles against lefties, you just make sure that he faces lefties in the later innings. That’s why bullpens tend to have two or three of them. Then Choo can be exploited in a way that a guy with an even split can’t. You’d expect this to show up somewhere in the clutch numbers, where an exploitable platoon guy might have trouble when it counts.

Well, as it happens, Choo has a slightly positive career Clutch score. He’s posted a 143 wRC+ in high-leverage situations, and a 135 wRC+ overall. The league, on average, is a few points worse in high-leverage situations, so right there that tells you that Choo hasn’t suffered. But we can go even deeper.

FanGraphs offers splits going back to 2002. I set minimums of 1,500 overall plate appearances, and 750 plate appearances against both lefties and righties. I wanted to compare guys with big platoon splits to guys with pretty even platoon splits. I identified 33 players with a wRC+ difference of at least 40 points. I identified 79 players with a wRC+ difference of no more than 10 points. Choo wound up in a group with guys like Ethier and Ryan Howard and Curtis Granderson.

The platoon group averaged a Clutch score of -0.3. The even group averaged a Clutch score of -0.1. This is over several seasons for each player. The platoon group averaged a 109 wRC+ in high-leverage situations, and a 116 wRC+ overall. The even group averaged a 98 wRC+ in high-leverage situations, and a 103 wRC+ overall. If there is a difference here, it’s very small. What seems like it ought to be exploitable hasn’t been successfully exploited.

So what’s going on? Let’s examine some left-handed batters from the platoon group. Here are the ten lefties from the group with the worst numbers against same-handed pitchers:

On average, overall, those players faced southpaws 28% of the time. On average, in high-leverage situations, those players faced southpaws 30% of the time. There’s hardly any increase. For Choo in particular, he’s faced 31% lefties overall, and 31% lefties in high-leverage situations. It’s readily evident right there that these splits aren’t being exploited. The key to taking advantage is to get lefties on the mound, and that just hasn’t happened much more than usual.

Why is that? I suspect there are a few reasons. For one, high-leverage situations are distributed all over, and sometimes you can even get them in the early or middle innings, when a starter’s still on the mound. If you get such a situation in extra innings, an opposing manager might be less likely to go to a specialist if he senses the game could go for a while. Pitching staffs have more righties than lefties, so there are limited opportunities. And we have to look at the ninth inning. The ninth is when the closer pitches, and closers handle plenty of high-leverage plate appearances. Since 2002, of the top 75 save-picker-uppers, 70 have been right-handed. Only Aroldis Chapman, Eddie Guardado, B.J. Ryan, Brian Fuentes, and Billy Wagner have been lefties. Right-handed closers are the norm, and though they’re closers in part because they don’t have big platoon splits, managers don’t like to remove closers to take advantage of a platoon hitter. That is, a right-handed closer won’t be removed with Choo coming to the plate, even though that would likely be best by probability. Suboptimal reliever usage means platoon lefties can still get desired high-leverage opportunities against righties in the ninth.

From the looks of things, there’s not much reason to worry. Perhaps Choo’s struggles against lefties suggest he’ll decline sooner than average, but that’s just a shot in the dark. Teams haven’t really exploited these players before. If you wish Choo were the same but more balanced, he’d be better against lefties but worse against righties, so that would even out. If you wish Choo were better against lefties, you’d just be wishing he were better, and everyone wants every player on their team to be better. Choo is what he is, and he’s good, and he happens to just pile up his biggest offensive contributions when there are righties on the mound. Righties throw a lot more innings than lefties do.

There will be times that Choo will be stuck facing a tough lefty in the seventh or eighth inning. In those situations Choo will be at a disadvantage, just trying to walk or hit a single. But he’ll also have plenty of opportunities against righties, and if you took ten hits against righties and turned them into ten hits against lefties, you’d still have the same number of hits. To focus just on what Choo struggles to do is to ignore what he does exceptionally well the rest of the time.

What’s the future hold? There aren’t a lot of comparisons for mid-power, high-BABIP types. Bobby Abreu‘s an appealing choice. Guys like Derek Jeter, Rusty Greer, Jeff Cirillo, Bernie Williams, and Michael Young also fit. On average, they posted a .342 BABIP and a 124 wRC+ through 30, and a .320 BABIP and a 109 wRC+ between 31 and 37. There’s evidence that a high early-career BABIP doesn’t regress all the way to the mean, and Choo has gotten to this point because he plainly and simply hits the ball hard on a line consistently. He’s a line-drive hitter who walks, and those should age gracefully. We don’t know so much about his strikeouts, power, and defense, and it does certainly seem like Choo is a bit of an overpay at this point in his career. He’s not actually Joey Votto at the plate, and he’s already a fringe regular defender. For now, though, Choo’s going to help the Rangers score a lot more runs, and for every big plate appearance he gets against a lefty, there’ll be two or three he gets against righties. He’s really very good, against righties.




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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.


92 Responses to “So What About Shin-Soo Choo’s Platoon Split?”

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  1. ralph says:

    Man, I remember when a tenet of sabermetrics was not to focus on what a player can’t do, but on what he can do. This a refreshing reminder of what I always thought was a very sensible position. And you stated it about as perfectly as you could here:

    If you wish Choo were the same but more balanced, he’d be better against lefties but worse against righties, so that would even out. If you wish Choo were better against lefties, you’d just be wishing he were better, and everyone wants every player on their team to be better.

    Plus the reminder that most closers are RHP is a nice counter as far as the “the opponent will just throw a LOOGY in clutch situations argument” and it’s backed up with numbers I haven’t seen before, to boot.

    And that’s not even getting to the point that managers are going to have to choose whether to throw their best LOOGY against Choo or Fielder, or let a lefty face a RHB (assuming Choo and Fielder are split in the batting order… I’m really wondering what the Rangers will decide for their lineup).

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  2. Steve says:

    Shin-Soo Choo cannot hit lefties. Just plain and simple. Cannot do it. The Rangers significantly overpaid for a Matt Joyce type player. Just call it what it is, buddy: a horrendous signing of an aging and likely soon-to-be declining platoon outfielder.

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    • A 92 wRC+ is far from “can’t hit”, plus you have to regress that number a little bit still.

      I don’t love the signing, but it’s not due to his platoon split.

      Great article Jeff, I love anything that points out suboptimal bullpen use.

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      • thecodygriffin says:

        This! He has a career 92 wRC+ and .340 OBP versus lefties. For comparison, Andre Ethier has a career 76 wRC+ and .294 OPB and Matt Joyce has a career 67 wRC+ and .270 OBP. Choo does have a lefty/righty split, but it isn’t significant enough to deem him a “glorified platoon player”, that is just ridiculous.

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        • Steve says:

          Look at his past 2 years you hooligans. Sample size of about 1,000 PAs. Look at his drop off versus lefties. It’s so significant that it beckons massive caution, especially if I am the Rangers and trying to decide whether or not to invest millions in him. wRC+ of 78 and 81 in both years respectively, wOBA of .282 and .292 respectively. Worth those millions, eh?

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        • KDL says:

          Steve there are two points being made and argued. You’re conflating the two.

          So far, every one in this thread agrees that it wasn’t or may not be a good signing. Everyone in this thread agrees with that.

          But that doesn’t mean your other point is true. You need to separate the platoon part from the contract talk.

          Choo can be both and overpay, and much more than a glorified platoon player. Nuance! I mean A-Rod was both one of the best players of his generation AND as it turns out an overpay. Talent and contract are two different conversations. There is a time and place to talk about both together…but when you just read an article that doesn’t mention talent in the context of contract, you may be barking up the wrong tree.

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        • Steve says:

          Both talent and contract terms are inexplicably and intricately tied to one another. Thus, it is difficult for me to separate them.

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        • KDL says:

          My point is NO they aren’t “intricately” tied. You can CHOOSE to tie them together, and that’s a fun conversation to have. But when we’re talking about specifically and only talent, contract is irrelevant.

          Rajai Davis isn’t a better player than Jayson Werth, but he may be a better value. The first clause is talent based. The second is contract based. You really can’t wrap your head around that?

          But you’re right on one point. it is inexplicable why you insist on combining the two.

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        • Robert Hombre says:

          If you are being overpaid, you are a glorified platoon player. Therefore, Barry Zito cannot hit lefties.

          The corrolary holds!

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        • Shankbone says:

          He has been regressing big time:
          2011: 269/336/352 (injury shortened, 119 PAs)
          2012: 199/318/286 (242 PAs)
          2013: 215/347/265 (221 PAs)

          Those aren’t insignificant #s of PAs. 199 and 215 BA… coupled with a 286 and 265 SLG… Pretty sure Willie Bloomquist has this covered. 130MM doesn’t get you what it used to.

          They’re paying a solid role player star money. That’s the bottom line. And ignoring some declining stats like his defense cratering, this platoon split going from bad to worse.

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        • Bob M says:

          And a .318 and a .347 OBP in those same to seasons. Would you feel better about him if he took fewer walks and hit more singles, to get that AVG up?

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        • RC says:

          The problem is that hes doing nothing but walking, and those sorts of players usually hit a point where pitchers realize it, and start coming after them. Then the strikeouts go up, and the walks come down, and you very quickly go from a .215/.350/.250 against lefties (which isn’t good) to being a .225/.275/.270 guy, and suddenly you’re terrible.

          For all the hate of AVG as a stat, players with high AVG and good hit tools tend to age very well. They tend to see an uptick in IsoD as their AVG declines, and it offsets nicely. Guys who low AVG and tons of walks tend to stop walking when their AVG gets below a certain point.

          Adam Dunn is a good example of this process. He’s gone from a .250/.390/.550 guy to a .220/.320/.440 guy over the last couple of years. As his hit tool has gotten worse, his BB% has gone down and his K% up. Dunn still walks a lot, but not nearly as much as before.

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        • Eric Garcia says:

          Inexplicable indeed.

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        • LHB’s in general have larger platoon splits than do RHB’s.

          Almost all of them have significant drop-offs.

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    • Bip says:

      What if Choo was Barry Bonds against righties though? You guys are citing his LHP stats as if that’s all you need to know to know he isn’t that great. If Choo hit like Barry Bonds when facing right handed hitters, he’d be one of the best players in the game even with that platoon.

      That’s kind of the point of the article you guys commenting on. You have to look at the whole package.

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      • dave says:

        Yeah, people are leaving out that he’s essentially “getting better” against RHPs at the same time, and are focusing on him doing worse against the minority of pitchers.

        In reality, we all know that Choo is a good hitter (except those looking to find fault), but he’s old, has an injury history (even if he’s not necessarily injury-prone, though he may be) and can’t really provide any value in the field. It’s an overpay, but some people are blowing it out of proportion and grasping at straws by picking at platoon stats.

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      • shthar says:

        The problem is he’s not Bonds vs LH

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  3. Charlie says:

    Where the .gifs? I need those to understand this.

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  4. Roger Fist says:

    A couple of years ago there were some articles here about properly weighting OPS by platoon split to come up with a regressed estimation of the batter’s “true talent” by handedness of pitcher.

    Is there a way to input wRC+ by plate appearances, pitcher handedness and year into a spreadsheet to make a regressed estimate of platoon skill?

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  5. For those 10 LHB with big platoon splits not facing LHP in high-leverage much more than normal. Is the proportion of relievers who are lefties lower than for starting pitchers and does this partly explain why these guys don’t face as much lefties in high-leverage as you might expect?

    Also do lefties who don’t have big platoon splits (eg. Chase Utley) do they face lefties more in high-leverage- do managers use their LOOGY even against lefties who don’t have massive platoon splits.

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  6. August Fagerstrom says:

    I do wish people would stop saying Choo is awful in the field.

    He is awful in CENTER field, because that is not where he should be playing.

    In left field, where he will be playing for the Rangers, he has a UZR/150 of 13.7 (in an admittedly small sample size). In a very large sample size in right field, he has a career UZR of -2.5. Very slightly below average.

    He can hold his own when he’s playing in the corners. Don’t fault him for Cincinnati sticking him where he didn’t belong in CF.

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    • Bip says:

      He has about 1/10 the innings in left compared to right, so I’m going to assume his true talent UZR in left is basically the same as in right.

      Left field is about -10 runs less valuable than center field by positional adjustment. So a -2.5 run left fielder is about as valuable as a -12.5 run center fielder. Left fielders are typically some of the worst fielders on the diamond, so being below average for one of them makes one a pretty bad fielder.

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    • AJ says:

      Except that his ratings were terrible in RF his last year with the Indians as well.

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    • RC says:

      2011: 3.7/150 in LF over 700 innings
      2012: -15/150 in RF over 1300 innings
      2013: -17/150 in CF over 1300 innings

      Considering Choo’s age, it’s a lot more likely that hes the player we’ve seen the last two years than the player we saw in 2010/2011. He’s been terrible in the OF the last two years, and not just because he’s been in center. There’s very little reason to expect improvement.

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      • RC says:

        If we assume that Choo’s -17 last year in CF sees a 10 run improvement moving to LF (which is doubtful in my mind), and use 5:3:1 weighting, and that Choo isn’t going through age related decline and getting worse, we’re still looking at Choo basically being a -9/150 LF, which is still really bad.

        And that’s in year 1 of 7.

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        • B N says:

          Indeed. The cringe-worthy thing is that you have to anticipate decline in the field. At least for the Rangers he can contribute as a DH, if needed… except if Prince Fielder is also the DH. Maybe if he could learn to play 1B like Gary Sheffield? … Or something?

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      • Pitnick says:

        Where are those numbers from?

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      • I thought lefties play LF better because the line is to their glove side and balls tend to slice that way, same in RF, only flies and liners drift toward their backhand.

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        • Trotter76 says:

          More often managers put lefty OFs in rightfield so that on balls down the line they can backhand it and throw it back in without turning their body. Conversely, if a lefty were in LF, he’d have a hard time holding the runner to a single on the ball down the line because he’d have to pivot to make the throw to 2nd.

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    • TF says:

      Choo was awful in RIGHT field in 2012, at least by the numbers. I wouldn’t read too much into single-season numbers, but at the same time the last evidence we have that he plays a good RF came from 2011.

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  7. filihok says:

    “Save picker uppers”. This should replace “closer” post haste

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  8. AJ says:

    Has there been a trend toward a higher LHP usage against Choo? His platoon splits have become more extreme over time and his struggles against LHP are getting far more publicity in recent years.

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  9. LongTimeFan says:

    Choo gets himself out swinging against lefties. 8 XBH against lefties, none homers, isn’t shaking anyone in their boots. Throwing strikes is the way to eliminate the only good he does facing lefties – drawing walks which is pitching failure. Eliminate that failure and Choo becomes great ally of the left-hand throwing opposition. For all the sabermetric analysis, the solution is old-fashioned common sense.

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    • John Madden says:

      “none homers” doesnt make any sense.

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      • LongTimeFan says:

        Typo. I meant no left handed homers.

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        • Trotter76 says:

          I paused on that but on re-reading think you got it right the first time:
          “8 Extra base hits, none homers” is proper. It might have been cleared if you used dashes:
          “8 XBH against lefties — none homers — isn’t shaking…”, but I think you pass this round of Super Grammar Funtime.

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    • Bip says:

      If it’s so easy, why has no one done it?

      Big league pitchers and coaches know quite well the strengths and weaknesses of a high-profile player like Choo. If Choo draws walks against lefties, it’s probably not because that pitcher hasn’t figured out that he isn’t good at hitting lefties. It’s probably because pitching is really damn hard, and even the best of them cannot avoid giving up walks entirely. A guy with good discipline like Choo knows how to extend at bats and making pitching “failures” more likely.

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      • LongTimeFan says:

        I never said pitching isn’t hard.

        Hitting, however, invites the most failure and is why a .300 BA is considered very good despite the 70% failure rate that a .300 BA is.

        A batter cannot walk unless at least four balls are thrown in any given AB. That Choo majorly struggles against lefties outside of drawing walks, provides a means to get him out by throwing lefties against him who throw quality strikes. Choo strikes out a ton despite the high OBP – 133 in 2013, 150 in 2012 – exploit it rather than fear the high OBP history mainly garnered against righties – Career .411 vs. righties, .340 vs. lefties. It’s common sense and one the opposition needs to better master when facing him.

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        • Bip says:

          My point is that they surely already know what you have said here. If Choo maintains a decent OBP against LHP, then it’s because he’s earned with his plate discipline. Whatever adjustment they have the potential to make against Choo has already happened. You don’t accumulate 3,677 PA without giving the whole league a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses.

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      • shthar says:

        What makes you think they do?

        You’re making the mistake that ‘real’ baseball people pay any attention to this stuff.

        Most do not.

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        • Bip says:

          Of course major league players and coaches spend a huge amount of time studying individual players. Even if individual pitchers don’t know this stuff, their coaches do, and their catchers probably do too.

          In short, there is no way that MLB coaches and catchers are unaware that Choo is bad at hitting LHP.

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        • shthar says:

          And these same people are now fighting over yuninsky betancourt.

          I rest, my case.

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  10. Forrest Gumption says:

    I don’t even think the flawed Choo’s signing means the Rangers are better than the A’s, who have a stunningly deep offense, arguably the best bullpen in the game, a solid rotation that could get very good if Kazmir re-breaks out like it looked like he was going to last season (he had a 3.36 xFIP last year, and now has Oaklands excellent defense behind him now, if he repeats that, he could turn in a sub-3.00 ERA), and a competent manager (Washington is one of the worst in the game).

    The Rangers needed to make a splash with pitching this offseason, and instead went with offense. Don’t like it, don’t think it makes them “probably the favorites”. A’s go 25 deep, the Rangers are comedically bad at catcher, probably won’t play Prince at DH, therefore having one of the worst defensive 1B’s in a long time playing there over the superior (but still average at best) Moreland and they even gave the A’s their second-best position player last season via WAR in Gentry, who is a massive defensive upgrade over Cespedes and Crisp in later innings or off-days, where their bats can still hurt you via the DH.

    A’s might not have the legit proven forces that Beltre and Darvish are, but they have so many 2-4 WAR players where the Rangers have 0-2 ones and yes, I’m referring to their benches. This division is still the A’s to lose.

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    • Bip says:

      There was an article on this site, which I cannot find, that basically showed that it’s a fallacy to say that a team needs to be balanced. Here’s an example:

      Team A is 8th in AL in hitting, 2nd in AL in pitching, in 2013. Traditional reasoning says that Team A should go after hitting for 2014. However, the article basically showed that even if that team focused on pitching, became easily the best pitching team in the AL, but stayed at 8th in hitting, that team would be improved by just as much as if they took a more “balanced” approach.

      Now, it also makes sense to distribute your upgrades as efficiently as possible. If a team as a 4-WAR 1B and a 0-WAR C, then it will be much more expensive to upgrade at 1B than at C. But for a team like the Rangers, who you admit has holes in its offense, they can upgrade at any of those places and add wins as efficiently as if they were to add pitching.

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      • Forrest Gumption says:

        I see what you’re saying, the Giants basically just rode Posey and a bunch of okay players to two titles, but my point is that the Rangers really needed to sign Tanaka or trade Kinsler for a closer as they lost Nathan. With the Rangers specifically, as well as the Yankees, the key to their success is finding pitchers who can pitch in the huge offensive-slanted parks they play in. I personally think its bad GMing to just go get star hitters, when league average guys can put up career years and similar numbers there. Look at the Yankees last season, they put forward one of the worst starting lineups an 86-win team ever has used, and they rode good pitching to a good season.

        Choo is a good player, but if he only has a 2-3 WAR season next year, what was the point of not getting a random non-star to get the same result?

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        • B N says:

          “trade Kinsler for a closer”

          ??? Are they allowed to trade him twice now? I’m pretty sure the Tigers are the only ones allowed to trade him at this point.

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        • Not naive says:

          Did you just cite WAR and suggest to trade a 4 win 2B for a closer in the same comment?
          In a world where he is still a Ranger…
          The rangers have Scheppers, Ogando, Feliz and Soria. I would disagree they need a closer.
          They are getting Matt Harrison back how is that not a big pitching addition?
          Anyone who watched them play last year saw that decent RHPs shut down their offense. They needed LHBs who made RHPs pay.
          The fact that they have 60% of their team under market value, if not more, allows them to “overpay” for Fielder and Choo.
          That is why you try to get bargains where you can so when you identify a guy who brings wins to your team at a weak point (LHB vs RHPs) you strike, even if it is an overpay.

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        • Bip says:

          I personally think its bad GMing to just go get star hitters, when league average guys can put up career years and similar numbers there.

          This makes no sense. A star is hitter is a star hitter because he hits better than other players. Park adjustments give boosts to all players. So if Rangers park makes an average hitter look like a star, it makes a star look like a god. The idea is to get the best relative performance.

          Choo is a good player, but if he only has a 2-3 WAR season next year, what was the point of not getting a random non-star to get the same result?

          The Rangers are definitely expecting him to do better than 2-3 WAR. If you regress his defense, he looks more like a 5-win player, a threshold he has reached in 3 of the last 5 years even with non-regressed defense. The Rangers’ outfield seems pretty thin, so he is basically replacing a replacement player, which adds 4-5 wins to the team. That is a very defensible move. And, going back to my original point, adding 4 wins on offense is equivalent to adding 4 wins in pitching, which should be obvious.

          my point is that the Rangers really needed to… trade Kinsler for a closer as they lost Nathan.

          Where does this overvaluation of closers come from? What do the 2011 Cardinals, 2012 Giants, and 2013 Red Sox have in common? All three won the World Series with no proven closer, instead just using their best relievers when it mattered most.

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  11. Josh says:

    sorry if this was mentioned in comments (did not see it in article) but isn’t it possible the reason Choo faced as many LHP in high leverage situations simply because he was pulled vs. some lefties? I admittedly have no idea how often was the case but that wouldn’t be reflected in the ABs.

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    • Stuart says:

      Out of 154 games in 2013, Choo did not complete 14 of them. July 28 was the one game he didn’t start out of those 154. In that game, he pinch hit for Cingrani in the top of the 8th and was replaced by the bullpen in the bottom of the 8th.

      Out of the 13 other games that Choo did not finish, only 4 of them were not blowouts (either by the Reds or against the Reds). Those four games:

      Sept 29: PIT @ CIN: Pittsburgh wins 4-2. This was the last game of the regular season, Pittsburgh had already clinched the top WC spot while the Reds had clinched their WC spot as well. This game was largely meaningless. Choo played GS-4.

      July 30: CIN @ SDP: San Diego won 4-2. Choo was pinch-hit for in the with Colt Hynes (LHP) pitching for the Padres. Choo played GS-7.

      July 24: CIN @ SFG: Cincinnati won 8-3. Choo was replaced defensively by Derrick Robinson. Choo played GS-9.

      Sept 20: CIN @ PIT: Cincinnati won 6-5. Billy Hamilton pinch-ran for Zack Cozart in the top of the 9th and scored the tying run. In the bottom of the 9th, Hamilton replaced Choo in CF after a double switch.

      Out of the 154 games that Choo played in 2013, he was pulled against a left-handed reliever but once that I could notice. Choo was most often pulled from a game due to a defensive replacement.

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  12. chris says:

    It’s not even about whether teams will start using more lefties against him as much as it is that he simply can’t hit them. This means he has to be amazing against righties in order to compensate and give you the production. Do you think hes a 1.000 OPS guy against righties? If his platoon doesn’t come back at least a little bit, that’s what he has to be (or close to it) from here on out.

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    • Bip says:

      Well has been excellent against righties (154 wRC+). I don’t know why we should expect that to change particularly.

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      • chris says:

        sure, he’s been great, but the gap between his righty split career vs 2013 (+29) is far bigger than his gap between his lefty split career vs 2013 (-11). This suggests to me that the aberration came more against righties than it did against lefties.

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  13. channelclemente says:

    The Ranger will need a taxidermist by the end of this contract, not a trainer, to keep Choo functional.

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  14. AJ says:

    It seems bizarre to me to say “These numbers show managers have underutilized their bullpen against Choo in the past… so therefore managers will continue to underutilize their bullpen against Choo in the future.”

    Choo’s platoon splits have grown exponentially over the past few years. If you want to pay Choo based on his numbers during years where opposing managers failed to adequately utilize their bullpen, fine, but I’m certainly not going to bank on managers continuing to do so.

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  15. A's Fan says:

    I don’t know if I’d be pegging the Rangers as “AL West favorites” just yet:

    Kinsler had a slightly better WAR than Fielder this past season, and they still might be throwing Profar into the fire too early. They lost Nelson Cruz and Joe Nathan, and their rotation after Darvish and Holland has a lot of uncertainty. They also downgraded at catcher, swapping Pierzynski for Arencibia. Heck, their utility infielder is Adam Rosales — who the A’s dumped because they didn’t need him anymore. Choo is a nice add but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and there’s a good chance he had his best offensive year in 2013. The A’s will basically have the same team (if not better), as long as Kazmir isn’t a huge downgrade from Colon. The Rangers were 48 behind the A’s in run differential and were 5 games back — did they do enough to close the gap?

    Just trying to play devil’s advocate here… :-)

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    • channelclemente says:

      Especially since 44 of those wins came against 3 teams, Astros, Marlins, and Angels.

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      • Thought-out Response says:

        Beating some of the teams they’re supposed to beat? Wondrous.

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      • A's Fan says:

        Marlins? The AL West played the NL Central last year. Neither the A’s or Rangers played the Marlins.

        Are you really questioning the validity of the A’s winning 5 more games than the Rangers? They’re in the same division — meaning, they play the same schedule!! ROFL.

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        • channelclemente says:

          Not at all, the A’s have many of the same issues as the Rangers, plus a need for full time plumbing support. One can only wonder what happens this year now that Wolff/Fisher claimed O.co’s concession rights.

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      • channelclemente says:

        My mistake, Mariners. My point is nearly 50% (~48%) of ones wins from 3 teams is not a sign of a healthy franchise. They need to put a roof on that godawful sauna they play in, if they want to compete in the summer months.

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        • A's Fan says:

          Why are you fixated on stadiums? I thought we were talking about the A’s and Rangers competing for the West title. And I’m pretty sure Safeco Field has a retractable roof.

          The A’s and Rangers play the exact same number of games against the Angels/Mariners/Astros, so what does it say about the Rangers when they lose more games against those teams? (Also, the Angels really weren’t that bad, they won 78 games.)

          The Braves had the Mets, Phillies, and Marlins in their division. The Tigers got to feast on the Twins and White Sox, who were worse than the Angels and M’s, and they still won 3 fewer regular season games than the A’s. I laugh when people point to strength of schedule after a 162 game season… everyone gets dozens of games against bad teams. SOS shouldn’t be a factor in determining how good teams were (like it is in college sports).

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        • A's Fan says:

          FWIW, the A’s went:

          3-3 vs. Boston
          3-3 vs. Tampa Bay
          5-1 vs. NY Yankees
          4-3 vs. Detroit
          5-1 vs. Kansas City
          2-1 vs. Pittsburgh
          2-1 vs. St. Louis
          2-2 vs. Cincinnati
          3-1 vs. San Francisco

          Do they look healthy to you now?

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    • Not naive says:

      Is Donaldson going to have another 8 win season? No one saw that coming last year…

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      • A's Fan says:

        Donaldson put up a 136 wRC+ in the 2nd half of 2012 (194 PA), so yes, those who follow the A’s expected him to take a step forward. (He had a 148 wRC+ in 2013.) Maybe not a near MVP-caliber season, but I saw a breakout coming. His defense was good in ’12 also, so that aspect wasn’t too shocking. I don’t expect a 7.7 WAR again in ’14, but I see no reason why he can’t be 6+.

        No one saw a 102 wRC+ season from Cespedes either, so it would be surprising if that happened again. Reddick also took a step back offensively, so a rebound with him is expected (he’s still just 26). The A’s dumped the disappointing Chris Young and get John Jaso back from injury, who was red hot before his season-ending concussion in July.

        They had a lot go right, but some things went wrong, too. Am I really the naive one here?

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        • Bip says:

          Very rarely does anything good come from making projections based on second-half splits. If a player has uncharacteristic performance for the second half of one season, it’s much more likely that next year he turns back into his old self than that he maintains that streak. For every Donaldson who makes a second-half streak look prophetic, there are many more who show it to be what it was – a fluke performance in a game full of unsustainable streaks.

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        • A's Fan says:

          Donaldson really struggled at the beginning of ’12 and was sent down, then he was called back up in early August and played very well. He clearly had figured out what the problem was. It’s not like he was mediocre for 4-5 months then had a high BABIP at the end.

          Do you have data to back up the thought that the vast majority of uncharacteristically strong second halfs are flukes? I’d be interested to see a study of how often players who finished strong the previous season have a breakout or career year. Off the top of my head, I know Nelson Cruz and Jose Bautista had excellent Septembers before their breakouts.

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  16. Dave P says:

    I don’t think the issue with Choo’s platoon split is clutch situations vs relievers. To me, it’s a case of for about 1/3 of his PAs, he’s going to suck.

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  17. BMarkham says:

    Interesting article. Very good point about the highest leverage situations being in the 9th, when almost always a RHP is in. Which actually brings me to a viewpoint I’ve developed lately.

    Eventually, we’ll get to a point where we have Sabr-centric managers. Some savvy managers are just getting into Sabr stuff with aggressive shifting, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Better understanding of Win Probability and the amount leverage in each situation could really change the way a game is managed. Teams are so sucked into the idea of your best reliever always pitches the ninth. As you mentioned, most the time those situations come in the 9th, but not always. If there’s two lefties due up in the 9th for instance, it’s probably better to throw your best LHP rather than your best reliever who is usually RH.

    An understanding of Run Expectancy by managers would also help obliterate the sacrifice bunt, and stealing in situations where you don’t have a very high chance of success. An understanding of FIP and SIERA would stop managers from “riding a hot hand” with someone who’s just experiencing BABIP or LOB% luck. wRC+ would help managers understand offense better, and who their best offensive contributors really are. It’ll be an interesting transition to watch.

    Going back to the dangers of being LH and where that can hurt you, it was on full display in the Cardinal’s postseason. During the regular season the Cardinals had a losing record vs. LH starters, which wasn’t that big of a deal since you face RHP a lot more on average and the Cardinals obliterated RHP. But in the postseason, you draw the short straw and have to face some teams with really good lefties that can start two games a piece against you. That is, it isn’t high leverage situations where it hurts you but high leverage games.

    Take the NLDS. If the Pirates didn’t have to play a Wild Card game they surely would have set up Liriano to pitch games 1 and 5 against the Cardinals. Predictably, Liriano dominated the Cardinals in the game he did pitch against them in. In the NLCS they had to deal with lefties possibly pitching 4 games against them if the series went to 7. However, apparently the Cardinals have a tell on Kershaw that no one else has picked up on or the Dodgers are super bad at hiding signs because the Cardinals hit Kershaw better than any team ever has despite the fact that he’s LH. Ryu made the Cardinals look like amateurs. Lester gave them similar problems in the World Series.

    Despite being the NL’s best offense this year, the Cardinals looked completely average against LHP. This doesn’t get exposed enough to matter in the regular season, as the sample size is big enough that the fact that you mostly face RHP means you can cover it up as long as you hit RHP well enough. But in the postseason, you can get bad luck and face lefties and a higher rate than during the season and it can really hinder your chances of success.

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    • Bip says:

      To be fair, Kershaw pitched excellently in game 2, putting up a (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) line on only 72 pitches. It was only game 6 where they really had his number.

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  18. Gyre says:

    Hmm, not a word about why he spit on the Yanks 140 million

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    • Trotter76 says:

      Perhaps the idea of being OF #7 in pinstripes didn’t appeal to him. Guaranteed platoon.

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      • Not naive says:

        Wasn’t the whole deal that the Yankees pulled the offer after Beltran signed?

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      • Reade King says:

        Texas doesn’t tax income. Neither does Washington state. New York’s maximum is 8.8% over about a $1MM threshold. MLB players are taxed by each game played by their team in whatever state whether they play or not, I believe. Therefore, he is untaxed about 90 games per year playing in Texas and Washington, or for roughly 55.5…% of each season. 55% of $130MM = $72.215MM. On that $65MM that he’s getting taxed at 8.8%, the cost to him could be as much as $6.5MM. Perhaps when the other tax situations are considered, the two offers were equivalent…

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    • browl says:

      Probably because it has nothing to do with the article.

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  19. ctownboy says:

    Observations:

    Choo is overpaid.

    1) Age (bat speed decline, hand-eye coordination getting worse) is only going to make his hitting get worse. Add in the greater chance for injury as he gets older and things don’t look good and he isn’t even “old” yet.

    2) Choo played his home games in a hitter friendly park which is really friendly to left handed hitters. He then got to play away games against division opponenets Milwaukee (hitter friendly park) and Chicago (hitter friendly in the Summer with the wind blowing out) and two neutral parks (Pittsburgh, Saint Louis). He is now going to play his home games in a hitter friendly park and play against Houston BUT his other divisional opponent away games are going to be at Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim.

    3) The Texas heat. Playing his home games in Cleveland and then Cincinnati, Choo had to play in the heat in the Summer but it wasn’t as long and as hot as what he is going to face in Arlington. So, yes, Choo’s Slugging Percentage was affected by playing in colder weather in April and May with the Indians and Reds but I don’t think it was nearly as affected (nor was his defense) as it is going to be when his strength is zapped in the heat of Texas.

    I can just imagine Choo playing the outfield all nine innings in Texas on a Sunday afternoon when the temperature is 95 degrees and then having to fly to Anaheim, Oakland or Seattle and play three night games from Tuesday – Thursday in parks where the weather or the dimensions (or both) will affect his hitting.

    With Fielder also being on the team and needing to DH more as the years go by, I can see how one, or both, of Choo and Fielder are going to struggle with the heat and NOT being able to DH. With that happening, I can see where both of those players’ offense and defense will only get worse.

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  20. Death says:

    If you thumb through the top 25 contracts signed by position players in MLB history, a few things stand out.
    Players who get these mega-deals, all of which have been worth at least $119 million or more, reached elite thresholds in a traditional statistical category before hitting the financial jackpot. They hit 30 homers. Or stole 30 bases. Or drove in 100 runs. Or batted .330.
    Well, all of them have except one.
    His name is Shin-Soo Choo and the Texas Rangers signed him Friday for seven years and $130 million. It is the 19 largest contract ever given a position player, just ahead of the disastrous extension Vernon Wells signed with Toronto in 2008 and just behind the semi-disastrous deal Alfonso Soriano signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2007.
    Forget 30 homers or steals, Choo has never surpassed 25. He’s never driven in more than 90 runs and never hit better than .310. In the parlance of scouts, it makes Choo a “complementary” player, a term used in this publication a week ago.
    What Choo does is work counts and get on base.
    In the vision of the Rangers, who have spent the off-season trying to remake the offense into a more patient and efficient group, it makes Choo worth every penny.
    “We use the term ‘good fit’ a lot when we look at players to add, but in this case, it was the perfect fit,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “His skill set, his personality and his personal goals line up with ours and what our club needed. He’s been one of the most productive offensive players in the game. I’m not sure the casual fan realizes that. But he creates run-scoring opportunities for himself and others.”
    What Choo’s contract does is put real value on on-base percentage, a statistic most baseball executives value far above batting average or any “counting” stats like RBIs, home runs and steals.
    If you measure that way, Choo’s deal actually comes out as something of a bargain. Consider that over the past five years, Choo ranks fifth in the majors in OBP. The four guys ahead of him: Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer and Miguel Cabrera. All have deals worth significantly more than the one Choo signed Friday. Of that group, Choo is the only one to have both 75 homers and 75 steals. Sheesh, he’s the only one with 50 homers and 50 steals.
    And he’s done it while seeing, on average, more than four pitches per plate appearance. Last season, for example, he saw 4.23 pitches per plate appearance. It was the third straight season the average either held steady or went up.
    “He’s the type of guy that believes in sharing,” manager Ron Washington said. “He’s that one guy that can come back and express to those other guys what he feels the pitcher has working and what he feels he doesn’t have working. Those are old-school baseball skills and he brings that.”
    The point: He’s the kind of guy who excels in getting on base and does so in a way that positively impacts the rest of the lineup. And he does it while maintaining the ability to be a well-rounded threat.
    To take one currently hot statistical category, consider weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), another catch-all formula that tries to distill offensive contribution to one number. Of the 100 players with at least 2,500 plate appearances over the past five years, Choo ranks 14 in wOBA (.374), 10 points behind Robinson Cano, who signed for $110 million more than Choo. And over the last three years, Choo has trended upwards in the stat, while Cano has trended downward.
    The Rangers have now attached a hard value to those kinds of stats.
    If Choo continues down the path he’s started the last couple of years, the value may just turn out to be a bargain.

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    • Reade King says:

      This focus on how outstanding Choo’s OBP is was an interesting write-up.

      However, the part about his uniqueness compared to those ahead of him in OBP sort of uses a couple of random milestones (50 AND 50, or 75 AND 75); a steal isn’t in any way as valuable as a HR. The fact that he can do both pretty well and none of the others can shows he is very versatile, but doesn’t somehow make him any more valuable, if AS valuable, as Miguel Cabrera or Joey Votto…

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  21. MLB TV says:

    Choo hits over .300 against left handed relievers.

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  22. Sean says:

    Platoon split is only exploitable in later innings to the extent that the opposing manager is willing to burn a reliever against you (2 really, since the LOOGY who gets you out probably then has to exit for the righty following you in the order). So unless Choo was the most feared left-handed bat in the line-up, you would save your lefties for those. In Cincy, there was Votto and Bruce… no way you burn a LOOGY on Choo (that sentence is strangely awesome when read aloud). Don’t remember about Cleveland off-hand but I believe they were lefty-heavy. In Texas, there will be Fielder.

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