Choo Your Own Adventure

For the most part, I was always terrible at those “Choose Your Own Adventure Book!” It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy them, I did, but I would pick a route, then if I didn’t like where that was headed, I’d flip back and pick a different option. Unfortunately, outside of trading or straight dropping a player, we don’t have that option in the fantasy baseball realm.

There is no denying that the 2011 season was one of disappointment for Shin-Soo Choo. He saw both his counting numbers and rate stats fall across the board. A broken thumb and subsequent surgery plus recovery time didn’t serve to help his numbers either. Just prior to his injury, Choo crushed the ball and had 10 hits in his previous five games.

Clearly, going in to the 2012 season many fantasy players held questions. Would Choo come back and be full strength? Would he struggle mightily again? For those of you who gutted it out and stuck with Choo (as I did, but I could easily be colored biased, given both his and my South Korean heritage), 2012 was vindication for Choo and his fantasy owners. When it was all said and done, Choo rated as the 26th best outfielder in mixed leagues and the 11th best in AL-only.

Choo bounced back to more or less his career numbers this past season, and given that he played his age 30 season, one should be reasonably impressed.

  AVG   BB%   K%   BABIP   HR/FB   wRC+
2011 .259 10.1% 21.8% .317 10.4% 105
2012 .283 10.6% 21.9% .353 13.2% 131
Average .289 11.4% 21.4% .353 13.3% 131

The table accurately states just what a massive comeback Choo had. Once his seasonal BABIP came back to a perfect alignment with his career number combined with a return to his normal level of HR/FB rate, we have Choo right back where many of us hoped and wished that he would be.

Not only did his rate stats come back nicely, but his relevant fantasy did too. Although Choo didn’t crack a 20-20 season — it would be his third — he did manage to set a career high in runs scored and come within one stolen base of tying his single season best. Choo did manage to set a career high in doubles; he swatted 43 doubles, five more than any other season. Sure, doubles don’t translate directly to standard 5×5 roto points the same way that a home run does, but it’s hard to argue the value of a man who hits .283 and cracks 61 extra-base hits, all while chipping in 21 stolen bases.

Choo also set a career high in GB%. As we all know, a ground ball has a higher BABIP than a fly ball. We saw that Choo hit the ball on the ground 49.7% of the in 2012, a full 4% higher than his career average 45.7%. Obviously when ground ball rate goes up, fly ball rates have to drop. This explains how his HR/FB is back to his career average, despite hitting fewer home runs. A higher ground ball mixed with enough fly balls to power doubles and home runs is what drove his batting average bounce back.

All told, Choo had an incredibly successful season and he validated — and then some — himself, his draft status, and his fantasy owners. He is above average in everything, spectacular in nothing. Overall, this varied and wide array of fantasy contributions brought Choo back to exactly where he was before: an excellent fantasy pick.




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You can catch David spouting off about baseball, soccer, esports and other things by following him on twitter, @davidwiers.


21 Responses to “Choo Your Own Adventure”

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  1. joe bananas says:

    am i the only one who wanted choo to stay in the leadoff spot? seemed like he did really well there.

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    • David Wiers says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Not at all. He is a near perfect lead-off hitter, at least in my humble opinion. He hits for a solid average, has pop, and draws his walks. He even runs a bit. What’s not to like?

      I’d love to see him get moved to leadoff permanently.

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  2. attgig says:

    Problem with Choo is that he became a leadoff hitter for the indians half way through. As a leadoff hitter, You’d expect the rbi’s to drop (which it did), but also the runs to go up (stayed the same with the averages) and sb’s to go up as well (again, stayed the same).

    For him to return to his pre-2011 fantasy value, those stolen bases and runs have to go up as a leadoff hitter. of course this could be moot if he gets traded…

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    • David Wiers says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Are you saying that you’d prefer Choo to not hit leadoff, and thus have more RBI’s?

      Or are you agreeing with Joe and thinks that hitting leadoff would be great, as long as Choo keeps running?

      Honestly, I’m totally fine with either.

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      • Stuck in a slump says:

        It sounds like he’s saying that his value isn’t as high hitting first as it would with him hitting third due to his Run and SB production not being significantly higher. The problem here is that Choo wasn’t hitting lead off long enough and he had a poor start to the season and slumped in August.

        I think I’d rather see him hit second, his doubles would help drive in a speedier leadoff man, he would still be able to steal fairly often and score more runs than a typical 3 hole hitter. The problem there is who do the Indians use to leadoff? Brantley? Kipnis? Brantley could be good if he ever showed off his speed by stealing like he did for the Clippers in 2009, and Kipnis has the potential to be too good of a hitter to leave in the leadoff spot.

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      • David Wiers says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Ahh, gotcha. Assuming that you’re right, that makes sense.

        If I were manager, I would probably have Kipnis leadoff, but then you have two lefties 1-2. Don’t most managers tend to shy away from that, due to the chance of a LOOGY-type shutting down two guys?

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      • Stuck in a slump says:

        David: That’s a major problem the Indians have in general though, too many lefties in their lineup. Last year they have Choo, Kipnis, Brantley, Hafner, Chisenhall, Damon and Hannahan getting amounts of AB’s. They were throwing out Lillibridge, Duncan, and Jose Lopez mostly because they were right handed. The only quality hitters that they have that can bat from the right side are Cabrera and Santana, both of whom hit righties better than lefties.

        Personally, I think I might go with Choo, Cabrera, Kipnis, Santana (assuming no significant FA signings) or try Brantley, Cabrera, Choo, Santana, Kipnis against a team with multiple LOOGY’s. If not, I see no reason why they shouldn’t try Brantley, Choo, Cabrera, Santana, Kipnis (I really dislike the thought of three lefties in a row).

        Part of Brantley SB issues may be due to a lack of hitting without batters on base, last year he spent a good amount of time batting 5th in the Indians order. I think that to determine Choo’s value for 2013 we really need to wait and see what happens in the offseason. If they can acquire even just one of Victorino or Youkilis in free agency, or a guy like Morales or Bourjos via trade, the lineup would be significantly improved and Choo’s spot could be moved up or down as a result.

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      • David Wiers says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Well said. I don’t really have anything to add, other than the acknowledgment and a slow head nod.

        Kudos.

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      • attgig says:

        what stuck in a slum said…

        I’m fine with him hitting leadoff…IF his runs and SB’s had increased…. but the fact that he hit leadoff, but those numbers didn’t go up seems troubling.

        If he doesn’t get the runs/sb’s numbers up, and the rbi’s go down… that’s a net decrease in his fantasy production.

        I suppose that his leadoff time was only a partial season and he slumped in aug, but still doesn’t sway my concern… if hitting leadoff is the excuse that his rbi’s went down, you can’t say he didn’t hit leadoff long enough that the runs/sb didn’t go up. can’t go both ways with that argument.

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      • Stuck in a slump says:

        Attgig, while the Indians have some decent talent on their team offensively, their roster construction is about as bad as it gets (seriously, their best hitters were all lefties or had a negative platoon split vs lefties last year). Even when Choo was moved back to hitting third Kipnis was in the midst of a horrific slump and batting ahead of him.

        While some leadoff hitters rivaled Choo’s overall RBI production but trumped him easily in R and SB, they also had a some what decent bottom of the order, the Indians meanwhile were trotting out guys like Damon, Hannahan, and Lillibridge for a while, this either left them vulnerable to LOOGY’s at the bottom of order OR put such a bad hitter in the lineup that any pitcher worthy of a MLB roster spot easily mopped the floor with these guys.

        Choo’s value is really dependent on the moves that the Indians make this off season, probably more so than most guys that are top 20 at their position in fantasy. I have confidence though, that going into 2013, Choo will be at least as good as he was in 2012 as long as he stays healthy and doesn’t do something stupid (like another DUI) simply due to the players around him growing and developing on a positive arc.

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  3. DP says:

    When March rolls around, fantasy owners should make like Ash and say “I ch-Choo you!” Thanks oh so very much, I’ll be sitting in the corner facing the wall.

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    • David Wiers says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I almost linked the Simpsons’ “I Choo-choo-choose you” video, but I think Paul Swydan has a monopoly on all Simpons/FanGraphs crossovers.

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  4. KMen says:

    I don’t think this article adequately addresses the issues. Comparing Choo’s 2012 to his career numbers won’t fully show whether he bounced back because those career numbers are dragged down by a terrible 2011 season. If you compare his 2012 numbers to his 2008-2010 numbers, you’ll clearly see that he is not at all as good as he used to be.

    Comparing 2012 to 2008-2010, you’ll see his wOBA is 25 points lower and his OPS is significantly lower as well. He’s gone from a .300/.400/.500 guy with solid counting stats to a .280/.375/.450 guy with below average counting stats. That’s going from a 1st or 2nd OF to a 3rd or 4th OF in fantasy. He’s still fantasy relevant, no doubt, and he did bounce back from 2011, but to say he’s back to his old self is just not true.

    Oh, and also, he can’t hit lefties. Check the splits.

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    • David Wiers says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Well, isn’t his 2008-2010 ballooned just as much by his 2008 season? I mean, he recorded 370 PA’s then — his best season — and recorded 358 PA’s in 2011 — his worst season.

      I won’t argue that his 08-10 seasons were better, but to nitpick over six homers and some RBI’s (which are largely dependent on guys in front of you) seems a bit pedantic. Coincidentally, 2008 was Grady Sizemore’s last great season. The stolen bases and runs are more or less identical. I feel comfortable in saying that Choo is by and large what he should be at this point in his career: an extremely useful fantasy asset.

      As for his platoon split, his career wRC+ against fellow lefties is 95. This past year, the league average (read: both left and right) against southpaws was a 96 wRC+. In 2011 league average against lefties was 98 wRC+, 2010 was 96, 2009 it was 97, and in 2008 it was 98 wRC+.

      To say he “can’t hit lefties” is laughably hyperbolic. If you adjust the league numbers, not the raw OPS/wOBA numbers, then Choo is just fine. I stand by my thoughts of him being a great fantasy player this past year.

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      • KMen says:

        1) His 2008 season is not nearly the statistical outlier that 2011 is, so I would say no, it doesn’t balloon his career numbers as much.

        2) even if you want to exclude 2008 as well as 2011, his 2012 still pales in comparison to his 2009-2010. This is certainly true when looking at wOBA, OPS and ISO. Even when looking at wRC+, he still dropped about 10 points from his average 2009-2010 wRC+

        3) his wRC+ against lefties in 2012 was 78. What I meant to say was that in 2012 he couldn’t seem to hit lefties, which is an exacerbation of his platoon split over his career, even though he used to be able to be at least a league-average hitter against lefties.

        4) “great” fantasy player is a subjective term. In 2011 drafts he was going in the 3rd round of most drafts (I think). Back then he was at least a top 15 OF, I think. Now he’s a “fantasy-league-average” OF who will probably go between rounds 7 and 10.

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      • David Wiers says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        In 2008, his SLG was 60 points higher than every before. In 2011 his SLG was 50 points lower than ever.

        Yes, there is still a difference of 10 points of wRC+ in his 2009-2010 seasons compared to last season. But if you don’t think a 131 wRC+ is great, then I guess being ranked as the 27th best player by wRC+ in 2012 (amongst qualified hitters, of course) isn’t a big deal.

        I wouldn’t stress over 206 PA’s of poor performance against lefties last year. I’m glad that you didn’t either.

        Sure, great is subjective. And per standard 5×5 fantasy rules, Choo might not have been great, but to call him league average seems harsh.

        Sounds like we both got a little too hyperbolic. I’ll concede that he won’t be great, but he’ll definitely be above average. It isn’t that I don’t handle criticism well (for goodness sake, I’d never survive being on the internet if that were the case), your initial post just seemed to rub me the wrong way.

        Like any good website, FG/RG/NG is powered by the readers and the commenters, so thank you for the inspiring debate!

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  5. Cody says:

    Great Title! Bravo David! Bravo!

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  6. KMen says:

    It won’t let me reply to your above response for some reason, but I want to thank you for your response, and just clarify that I did not mean to rub you the wrong way at all. Looking back at my first comment, I see the end especially was worded a bit harshly. I guess that’s what happens when you write while trying to half-pay-attention to the class you’re sitting in. I’m a frequent reader here and infrequent commenter (and aspiring writer) and just wanted to debate a few points respectfully.

    And just to clarify, Choo is definitely above league average in real baseball, I just meant in fantasy baseball, where you said he ranked the 26th best OF, I put him at fantasy league average because I assume the average fantasy league has about 50-60 OFs, which would make him middle of the pack.

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    • David Wiers says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      No worries, I’m glad I could provide a different point of view.

      Keep reading, and keep commenting, but most importantly start writing! I don’t have any writing tips to share (as I am decidedly amateur in this as well), but just keep writing down your thoughts, get on twitter and run with it.

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    • Stuck in a slump says:

      It all depends on your format though, fantasy baseball has so many different rules and configuration variants that even the ‘standard’ 5×5 league is barely a standard any more, sure most leagues use the traditional 5×5 stats, but many add to or remove some of them.

      In my league with total bases and OPS tacked on to the traditional 5×5 format, Choo was a great asset to have. 264 total bases and an OPS of .815 is pretty good performance by any means and depending on where he bats in 2013 (which given the change in manager could be anywhere between 1-3), he could be more valuable in certain stats that you may need to help compete. If he bats second all season he could easily have 90 runs, 75 RBI and 20+ SB along with 15-20 HR. That kind of production is really nice to have around, even if it’s just sitting on your bench in a shallower format.

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