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What To Do With Shin-Soo Choo?

On the morning of May 2nd, a fairly toasted Shin-Soo Choo flagged down a police cruiser and asked for directions home. As you know, the rest of his night went downhill from there, and for fantasy owners, the rest of his production has been pretty much downhill from there too.

While Choo isn’t the flashiest of players and he won’t single handedly carry you in a particular category, I wouldn’t blame owners if they figured they could pencil in a .300 batting average, 20 home runs, 20 steals, and 90 RBI on draft day and move on. But since the beginning of May, Choo has batted .236/.325/.361 with one home run and has struck out 29.2% of the time. Whether or not that incident has been the catalyst for such a slide, I don’t know, but Choo either presents a quandary for owners or a potential opportunity for trade mavens, so let’s dig in and see if we can’t unearth the cause.

Choo is a career .292/.385/.479 hitter with a wRC+ of 133 so his current .244/.325/.384 and wRC+ of 102 is pretty unexpected. If Choo has struggled at all in his career, it comes against left handed pitchers where he has a career line of .258/.336/.374 and a wRC+ of 94. If we look graphically at how he has fared in 2011 versus southpaws juxtaposed with his career, it’s fairly telling:

Furthermore, he’s striking out 31% of the time and walking just 3.2% of the time, both a departure from his career against lefties, and a good distance from the progress versus lefties he made last year where he struck out 22.8% of the time.

Are pitchers approaching him differently this season? A little, but it’s nothing dramatic.

So he’s seeing about the same number of four seam fastballs from lefties, fewer sliders, but more curveballs. Lefties are taking a little more of a kitchen sink approach as well, peppering in more change-ups and sinkers than what he’s seen in the past. But it doesn’t suggest that there’s been some kryptonite pitch that would explain such a drop in production.

Checking in on the luck function, Choo currently has a .296 BABIP, which would set off all sorts of alarms for most players hitting .244, but recall that Choo is one of those freakish players that typically carries a high BABIP as his career rate is .354. Based on his current hit trajectory, his expected BABIP is actually .333, so he may very well be simply hitting them where they are instead of aint. Against lefties in particular, his BABIP is currently at .275 whereas his expected BABIP is .349, so there should be some improvement on the way.

There’s no real notable change in his hit trajectory or swinging strike rate, and in fact, there appears to be no real smoking gun here other than the fact that he’s simply struggling mightily against left handers. Looking at his career trends, May is historically his worst month, and while he’s currently well below any of these averages for wRC+, it rather matches his trend thus far in 2011, and would suggest better days ahead:

What seems to be the sore thumb with Choo is that .244 batting average. His projected stats for the remainder of the season, at his current pace, has him finishing with 18 home runs, 79 RBI, 82 runs and 25 stolen bases. While probably 10-15 RBI and maybe 2-4 home runs shy of what folks may have expected, that’s not a country mile from typical Choo output. ZiPS says to expect .276/.371/.453 the rest of the season with 14 HR, 58 RBI, 57 R, and 13 SB.

The Cleveland Indians are going pretty good right now, so I can’t see where they would tinker with the lineup much and Choo ought to be right there in the three hole for some time.  There are likely some frustrated Choo owners out there, so it’s possible that he could be had on the cheap. For my money, I still think Choo can produce like the five category guy most made him out to be, and I would expect that he’ll fall back into a high batting average mold fairly soon, so if a window of opportunity exists on Choo at all, it’s probably pretty small to begin with. If Choo follows his career trends, you’ll probably be pretty happy you acquired him when it’s time for the stretch run.