Shin-Soo Choo Is a Fantasy Baseball Late-Round Gem for 2017
Spring training is a time for rookies and excitement. This is when that top prospect sees his average draft position (ADP) shoot up 40 spots in less than a week. The young pups are primed to catch the public eye, and we can't get enough.
It's not the time for 34-year-old outfielders who have never hit more than 22 home runs in a single season. Where's the upside and fun in that?
That's the profile of Shin-Soo Choo. And it's allowing him to fly criminally under the radar for fantasy baseball.
Injuries held Choo to just 210 plate appearances for the Texas Rangers in 2016, and he chugged along to a disappointing .242/.357/.399 slash. That on-base percentage is fine, but is that the type of player we want to snag for fantasy purposes?
For multiple reasons, he should be. Let's run through what Choo brings to the table to show why he at least needs to be on our watch list for fantasy baseball for spring. He may not be the world's most exciting asset, but he can get you solid production almost for free.
Batting Order Matters
In football, wide receivers get volume by being popular targets for their quarterbacks. In basketball, a high usage rate can make you a fantasy darling.
In baseball, this volume comes from a favorable spot in the batting order, and that's something that figures to work in Choo's favor.
Roster Resource currently projects that Choo will be the team's number two hitter once the regular season rolls around, batting right between Carlos Gomez and Adrian Beltre. Choo batted lower than second for only one of his starts last year, and that came on September 30th in his first game after a lengthy stint on the disabled list. This should be the expectation for 2017, as well.
This would mean that Choo -- when healthy -- would have guaranteed playing time at a high-leverage spot in the order. Can he stay healthy, though?
It would seem the Rangers are asking the same question and striving to make it happen. With the signing of Mike Napoli, the team is planning to use Choo at designated hitter more often, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. There are plenty of ways for an injury to occur, and not all are in the field, but this would at least up the odds that Choo can remain in the batter's box.
So, Choo will be getting valuable plate appearances and has higher chances of staying healthy than he did last year. Why, exactly, is his FantasyPros composite ADP all the way down at 327.3, then?
Even if Choo is getting volume, that doesn't mean it will be productive volume, leaving one hurdle left to go. Based on Choo's raw numbers last year, that would seem to be a bit of a concern. However, once we dig into his peripherals, he starts looking mighty attractive.
Bound to Rebound
In a 210-plate appearance sample, it's hard to trust what a player's slash line says. Choo's says a lot of things, and it ain't pretty. We should be looking at more advanced metrics, and they certainly paint him in a different light.
Here's a comparison between Choo and the league average for non-pitchers in 2016. Again, this is a small sample for Choo, but the these metrics stabilize more quickly, and he simply beasted out.
|In 2016||Walk Rate||Strikeout Rate||Hard-Hit Rate||Soft-Hit Rate|
Whew, doggies. Choo was better than average in every category except for strikeout rate, and he annihilated the field in his batted-ball stats. That poor slash is starting to look a little fluky.
In all of last year, there were 353 players who had at least 200 plate appearances. Only two had a soft-hit rate below 10% with a hard-hit rate above 40%. Choo was obviously one, but the other? That was Miguel Cabrera. That's not bad company to keep.
What this says is that we should feel comfortable in ignoring the triple slash that Choo posted last year. You don't post batted-ball numbers like he did and have a slugging percentage below .400, so 2017 should be a whole lot rosier. This would lead to an uptick in his batting average, runs scored, and RBIs, all while batting from a solid spot in the order. Again, his ADP is borderline criminal.
Now, the general assumption on a guy Choo's age would be that he's not a threat on the bases, and in 2014 and 2015, that was true. He combined to swipe just seven bags those years despite compiling 1,182 plate appearances. Last year, though, he had a bit of a resurgence.
In his 210 plate appearances, Choo was able to steal 6 bags last year, his highest total since he topped 20 in both 2012 and 2013. If we extrapolate that over a full healthy season, we're easily talking double digits in this department. While that's not a huge number by any means, this would be a player you can get for free who would be contributing solidly to all four of the composite stats in five-category leagues. There may not be excitement in Choo's age, but his production certainly fits.
There are always going to be concerns around Choo, but the same is very much true around all players going as late as he is. They, however, don't have the mix of talent and situation that Choo has, and that makes him a screaming bargain for this year.
A Late-Round Gem
It's hard to pass on the upside of a young gun when you're getting to the final rounds of your drafts, but when someone like Choo is available, it's the right decision to make.
Choo's 2016 season was a legitimate nightmare, both from a health and performance perspective. We've seen that the performance should tick up based on his batted-ball stats, and he'll be hitting high enough in the order to get considerable volume.
We can never predict health for a guy of Choo's advanced age, but the Rangers are taking steps to keep him on the field. Having Choo act as the designated hitter removes at least one way in which he can get injured, reducing the odds that he suffers from another string of dings. If an injury does hit, you can always dump him back into the pool and get replacement-level production elsewhere.
Everything aligns for Choo to be a big bounce-back candidate for the 2017 season. Be sure to track him throughout spring training to ensure his spot in the order doesn't slip away and that his health is in line, but as things stand right now, he's a player we need to scope out toward the ends of drafts.