Shin-Soo Choo – the best leadoff batter in baseball

Shin-Soo Choo on the run...as always

Shin-Soo Choo on the run…as always

Let’s get this out of the way. Shin-Soo Choo has troubles against lefties.

I say, “So what!”

There is such value to Choo in his ability to get on base, that it far overshadows his deficiency.

Choo is not even close to great against lefties

Let’s satisfy those of you feel that Choo’s problems against lefties makes him a bad investment.

Choo Against Lefties 2009-13
PA H XBH HR BB K AVG SLUG OBP
2009 214 50 19 6 20 56 .275 .456 .369
2010 216 51 11 1 18 44 .264 .332 .338
2011 119 29 5 1 6 30 .269 .352 .336
2012 242 41 14 2 28 60 .199 .286 .318
2013 221 39 8 0 24 44 .215 .265 .347
2009-13 1,012 210 57 10 96 234 .241 .336 .342

Are you happy now?

Let’s look at OBP

Doubters you have had your moment.

Now look at the top 20 OBP leaders from 2009-13.

You won’t have to spend a lot of time scanning to find Choo, he’s eighth on the list. I made this a top 20 because I wanted you to see the quality of the ballplayer who is on this leader board and I’m a strong believer in judging a player’s numbers by the company he keeps.

OBP Leaders 2009-13
G PA H XBH HR SB BB K AVG OBP
1. Joey Votto (CIN) 715 3,112 816 326 129 39 500 583 .318 .431
2. Miguel Cabrera (DET) 780 3,370 973 385 190 18 421 483 .335 .419
3. Joe Mauer (MIN) 617 2,672 761 221 61 13 324 331 .328 .410
4. Nick Johnson (BAL) 195 774 163 48 14 4 134 133 .265 .408
5. Manny Ramirez (TB) 199 768 182 70 28 1 117 146 .287 .406
6. Mike Trout (LAA) 336 1,490 399 151 62 86 186 305 .314 .404
7. Prince Fielder (DET) 809 3,527 854 341 171 6 491 583 .290 .400
8. Shin-Soo Choo (CIN) 694 3,087 752 259 87 96 382 630 .288 .392
9. Matt Holliday (STL) 736 3,151 833 317 123 35 345 505 .304 .388
10. Lance Berkman (TEX) 508 2,022 456 178 78 14 318 347 .270 .386
11. Jose Bautista (TOR) 633 2,669 579 283 165 34 416 459 .263 .384
12. Albert Pujols (LAA) 719 3,164 816 357 173 48 371 329 .299 .384
13. Ryan Braun (MIL) 680 2,952 836 330 140 101 261 503 .317 .384
14. Matt Carpenter (STL) 278 1,076 287 107 17 4 110 165 .306 .381
15. Andrew McCutchen (PIT) 734 3,171 814 295 103 125 361 531 .296 .380
16. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD) 795 3,414 901 328 138 5 375 550 .302 .380
17. Kevin Youkilis (NYY) 508 2,167 498 210 84 14 262 431 .273 .379
18. David Ortiz (BOS) 668 2,821 694 322 142 5 366 501 .286 .379
19. Troy Tulowitzki (COL) 589 2,478 662 266 122 43 256 373 .304 .378
20. Buster Posey (SF) 456 1,850 503 166 61 6 177 255 .308 .377

I want a leadoff batter who has a great OBP

The job of the leadoff batter, more than any other batter, is to get on base. If the leadoff batter does not get on base, the leadoff batter does not score runs ahead of the big boys.

Look how much better Choo was in 2013 than the other qualified leadoff batters.

Leadoff Batters OBP Leaders 2013
G PA H XBH HR SB BB K Runs AVG OBP
1. Shin-Soo Choo (CIN) 143 669 157 56 21 18 107 122 105 .294 .432
2. Matt Carpenter (STL) 136 632 178 63 9 3 65 83 110 .323 .398
3. Norichika Aoki (MIL) 133 609 159 28 6 16 53 36 68 .296 .367
4. Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS) 134 636 172 48 9 52 47 92 92 .298 .355
5. Brett Gardner (NYY) 132 594 144 50 8 22 50 120 81 .274 .344
6. Austin Jackson (DET) 129 614 150 49 12 8 52 129 99 .272 .337
7. Starling Marte (PIT) 124 556 140 48 12 39 23 137 83 .278 .336
8. Coco Crisp (OAK) 127 580 132 47 22 21 60 65 93 .259 .332
9. Alex Gordon (KC) 119 541 124 40 16 8 42 112 74 .255 .323
10. Alejandro De Aza (CWS) 146 661 156 47 17 20 49 142 82 .263 .322
11. Denard Span (WSH) 135 611 151 36 2 20 42 73 66 .269 .322
12. Eric Young Jr. (NYM) 122 564 129 36 2 43 46 87 68 .254 .318
13. Michael Bourn (CLE) 124 569 136 32 6 22 39 131 74 .262 .314

But wait…there’s more

There were only three players in all of major league baseball last season who had an OBP over .400, hit over 20 homers, and stole over 20 bases.

One was an MVP, one could have been (should have been?) an MVP, and one is a free-agent.

Player OBP HR SB PA R H BB SO HBP CS BA
Mike Trout .432 27 33 716 109 190 110 136 9 7 .323
Shin-Soo Choo .423 21 20 712 107 162 112 133 26 11 .285
Andrew McCutchen .404 21 27 674 97 185 78 101 9 10 .317
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/24/2013.

Yes, it’s Choo and yes, Choo led the league in HBP, just another way he gets on base.

Ellsbury or Choo?

A lot folks are making this a battle between Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo.

Ellsbury is a true centerfielder and Choo should be slotted as corner outfielder. Ellsbury is a better fielder (with a weak arm) but dives for balls all the time and health and durability is an issue for him.

Choo has power and as I wrote in Nick Cafardo’s Boston Globe Sunday Baseball Notes, “In 660 at-bats in 2011, Jacoby Ellsbury hit 32 homers. In the remaining 2,252 at-bats in his career, Ellsbury has hit 33 homers.”

The ramification of this is Ellsbury is more reliant on his legs and that has an impact in the latter years of a long contract. Choo has already switched trams and has excelled, Ellsbury has only played for one team and you always have to wonder how well a player will do in a new home environment (see: Carl Crawford).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not demeaning Ellsbury. His ability to get on base created magic for the Red Sox in 2013. His season was representative of his ability (oh and he wasn’t that great against lefties either).

Jacoby Ellsbury 2013
G PA H XBH HR SB BB K Runs AVG OBP
Overall 134 636 172 48 9 52 47 92 92 .298 .355
Versus Lefties 101 237 52 10 2 - 19 38 - .246 .323

Purely in terms of offensive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, Choo was 6.3 and Ellsbury was 4.2. To better understand that differential, Choo ranked eighth in the majors and Ellsbury tied for 30th with Matt Holliday and Jason Castro.

Choo is team changer

I think that Choo can change a contending team for the better merely by his presence at the top of the lineup. I feel comfortable that Choo’s ability to get on base is an overarching factor in making this free agent a wise investment. And, think of it this way, if Choo only improves a little against lefties, this is a great investment.

Texas and Detroit seem like natural landing spots for Choo. Perhaps the Yankees or back to Cincy? And what if Ellsbury leaves? Couldn’t Boston live with Shane Victorino or the still unproven Jackie Bradley, Jr. in center and Choo in left or right?

I know Choo will not be a cheap date, but then again, it’s not my money. I like value and while the marketplace suggests that some team will overpay, I still think the team that adds Choo will get good bang for their buck for at least three years and most likely, four or five.

  • cam

    List needs more Dexter Fowler – 0.369

  • brianc6234

    Mike Trout is a better leadoff hitter. Too bad Scioscia moved him out of the leadoff spot. Maybe if he wasn’t batting in front of Pujols or Hamilton he’d be allowed to steal again too.