How Shin Soo Choo Is Helping the Texas Rangers' Playoff Push
Until very recently, the 7-year, $130 million investment the Texas Rangers made in Shin-Soo Choo before the 2014 season didn't look too hot.
In fact, it looked like an albatross. After a 2013 for Cincinnati in which he hit .285 with a .423 on-base percentage and a .462 on-base percentage, with 21 homers, 107 runs scored and an fWAR of 5.5, Choo struggled with injuries in '14, batting just .242/.340/.374 with 13 homers, and 58 runs scored in 123 games, and an fWAR of just 0.1.
For the first half of this season, things looked even worse. At the All-Star Break, Choo had a slash line of .221/.305/.384 and a wRC+ of 84. He was essentially a below-replacement level player.
It wasn't looking good, kids. Then, 2013 Choo decided to show up.
That is a pretty incredible turnaround for Choo, and his numbers since the calendar flipped to September are even more eye-popping.
Choo is hitting .441/.568/.618 this month, with a 1.186 OPS, and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 227. During one recent stretch, Choo reached base in 18 out of 27 plate appearances. In the second half, he is ninth in fWAR (2.8), seventh in wRC+ (178), sixth in weighted on base average (.439 wOBA), fifth in batting average (.350), and third in OBP (.469). The only players who have gotten on base more often than Choo over the second half are a couple of NL MVP candidates: Joey Votto (.558 OBP) and Bryce Harper (.477 OBP).
In September, Choo is third in fWAR (1.5), with only Harper (2.2) and Chris Davis (1.7) worth more wins than Choo. He's also third in OPS (.1.186), and first in batting average (.441) and on-base percentage (.568).
There are only so many ways to say it. He's been incredibly good in the second half, well worth the $14 million he is owed this season. And it is no coincidence that, as Choo has surged in the second half, so has Texas (38-23, .623 winning percentage). In the first half of the season, the Rangers' OPS of .712 was middle-of-the-pack, eighth-best in the AL. In the second half, they've jumped to fifth (.760).
So what's the deal here? Why the dramatic shift? Here's a start.
There's a reason hitting coaches tell players to try and hit the ball through the center of the field. Good things happen when batters stop trying to be pull-happy, which is the trap the Choo had gotten himself into. In the first half, he pulled 47.8% of all his balls put in play, but in the second half, that mark is down to 36.9%.
Conversely, he's hitting 41.6% of all balls in play to the center of the field, up from 29.7% in the first half. Those numbers are closer to his 2013 numbers (32.7% pull rate, 36.7% center rate) and are part of the reason his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a robust .440 in the second half, way up from .265 in the first half.
Simply put, Choo is striking out less, walking more, hitting more line drives and staying on the ball better, hitting it to the center of the field more often, making him harder to defend.
Finally, the Rangers are getting what they hoped they would be getting when they signed him to a contract that will likely keep the 33-year-old in Texas through his 37th birthday.
It'll all be worth it if he helps Texas get back to the World Series and win their first ever franchise championship.