Sunday, May 06, 2012

Finding Someone Like Choo on A Lazy Sunday

In the midst of a Mr. Mom weekend (with The DiaBride off in the Windy City with her sister getting pedicures or massages or whatever happens on these types of trips) that will culminate in a trip down the corner of Carnegie and Ontario for me and my two boys and as the Indians continue to stick around atop the AL Central, something is starting to build.  Maybe it’s building because the Tigers are looking no better than the rest of the division (though this is when I remind you that they didn’t take off until the last quarter of the season last year) or maybe it’s because the Indians are playing some solid baseball.  Are the Indians the well-oiled machine that the Rangers look like, able to club their way to victory while enjoying solid pitching, playing in games that they just look like they’re going to eventually win?

Of course not as red flags are flying everywhere around this team, but they’ve pieced together some wins, and as their schedule remains tough this week (or at least tougher than it’s been), the Indians figure to keep pace in an AL Central that looks weaker and weaker with each passing week as the Indians (!) have highest runs per game average in their division…really, the Indians have averaged 4.625 runs per game to the Tigers’ average of 4.30 runs per game.

Despite the fact that there are obvious holes in the Indians’ lineup, the fact that the Tribe (going into Saturday night) has the 2nd most runs per game of any team in the AL Central and AL West (the Rangers are better, as is EVERY team in the AL East to date) and with the arrival of Johnny Damon to lengthen the quality of their lineup, it’s worth examining what each of the offensive regulars have done to date and compare it to the rest of the AL to provide to proper context because (as you can tell by the title) the Indians are doing this offensively with some players that have pleasantly surprised, some that have just about lived up to what was expected of them, and one player who may hold the key to the Indians season.
And with that, let’s get it going on a Lazy One…

In an attempt to really quantify what the offensive regulars have done (even if it’s just for 24 or so games), it’s laughable to use any stat that uses defense as a component for 25 games (or even 162 games), but let’s take a look at where the Indians’ regulars rank in wOBA (explanation here…and the 2011 leaderboard here to point out that it’s a worthwhile metric) and OPS, two pretty accurate measures of a players’ offensive contributions.  Remember context is important here as comparing players on the Indians to players that play their positions reveal how they stack up against their peers and, more pointedly, their peers at their own positions.

Though I have no idea why there aren’t 14 players listed in each of these categories (info via Fangraphs), since I’m pretty sure you get it, here we go:
C – Carlos Santana
.368 wOBA – 3rd among AL C
.840 OPS – 3rd among AL C

1B – Casey Kotchman
.238 wOBA – 11th among AL 1B (ahead of Justin Smoak and…wait for it…PUJOLS!)
.506 OPS – 12th among AL 1B (behind Smoak, but still ahead of Pujols)

2B – Jason Kipnis
.396 wOBA – 1st among AL 2B
.898 OPS – 2nd among AL 2B (behind Kinsler)

SS – Asdrubal Cabrera
.367 wOBA – 2nd among AL SS
.859 OPS – 2nd among AL SS

3B – Jack Hannahan
.363 wOBA – 5th among AL 3B
.844 OPS – 5th among AL 3B

LF – Shelley Duncan
.327 wOBA – 8th among AL LF
.744 OPS – 8th among AL LF

CF – Mike Brantley
.261 wOBA – 11th among AL CF
.626 OPS – 11th among AL CF (last among qualified in both categories)

RF – Shin-Soo Choo
.310 wOBA – 8th among AL RF
.665 OPS – 12th among AL RF

DH – Travis Hafner
.380 wOBA – 5th among AL DH
.878 OPS – 6th among AL DH

Certainly, I’m not going to make any grand pronouncements after 24 games on any of these players, but a couple of things stand out here.  First, Hafner has looked great (though they should be resting him more) as the numbers being put up by the other DH’s in the AL are ludicrous enough that his rankings don’t quite do justice to what he’s contributed.  Of course, some of that is based on expectations for him coming into the season, but those numbers are nice to see out of Pronk…regardless of where we are in the season.

As for the other players under long-term contracts, Santana and Asdrubal are…um, awesome.  But that’s old news

As for the other player that ranks among the Top 3 at his position, did anyone know that Kipnis was tops among AL 2B in wOBA?
Lest you forget, that’s a group that includes Ian Kinsler and Dustin PEDroia as those comparisons that Acta made in Spring Training of Kipnis to Utley, Pedroia, and Joe Morgan…OK, he never said Joe Morgan, but you get the idea that it may not be all that far-fetched.  Interestingly, in his 1st 60 MLB games, he has an .864 OPS (141 OPS+) and 12 2B and 11 HR…again, that’s in 60 games.  Extrapolating any of these stats out is always dangerous stuff, but B-Ref puts his 162-game average at 32 2B, 11 3B, and 30 HR if he would continue at this clip.  
That’s special for a 25-year-old middle infielder.

For that quartet (Cabrera, Santana, Hafner, and Kipnis) there was hope that they could carry this offense and they’ve done just that.  And although one name is missing in the parentheses from the previous sentence, in terms of players that we had high hopes for, let’s just dispense with the Kotchman disappointment.  There’s no question that he’s been otherworldly bad at the plate, but not atrocious enough for “He Who Shall Not be Named” to re-enter the lexicon…at least not to me, not yet.  Also, if we’re talking about expectations, unless you were buying that Kotchman-Lasik garbage (and you shouldn’t have been), we kind of knew that Kotchman couldn’t hit.  It’s likely that we didn’t think he’d be this bad at the plate, but expectations were never really high for him.

Keeping with expectations, Brantley hasn’t done anything to change the low expectations that he now carries around like an anchor and Duncan did about what you would have thought he’d do.  Hopefully they can maximize Duncan’s effectiveness now that Damon has arrived as he, like Hannahan (who has wildly exceeded expectations, as we continue to see how long this can last) has firmly established himself as a solid contributor on a winning team.

If you’ve noticed who has avoided being placed under the microscope’s glass (and, again, the title should let you know where this is going), the real outlier here, in terms of expectations and performance to date is Shin-Soo Choo.  After essentially carrying this team’s offensive burden on his own for 2+ years, The BLC now finds himself in an extended rut.  Certainly, his performance on Friday night offered a reminder of what he’s been and provides hope for what he perhaps could be once again, but those performances have been in short supply since the start of the 2011 season.  Obviously, Choo’s…um, “difficult” 2011 season has been well-documented, but without getting into the contract distraction, the DUI and the fallout from that (locally or, more pointedly, in his native South Korea) or the injuries, it’s interesting to look at where Choo has been in the past and in the more recent past, in an attempt to see if Choo – as we once knew him – could be coming back…because it would sure provide a spark to this 2012 team.

While this has seemingly been forgotten as Choo has struggled for more than a year, Choo’s cumulative wOBA (since we’ve already used that) from 2008 to 2010 was .390.  While that may not be all that impressive because it lacks context, how’s this for context – that was the 14th highest wOBA in that 3-year stretch, with Choo coming in just behind Josh Hamilton.  He finished just ahead of (in order) Prince Fielder, Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, Chipper Jones, Lance Berkman, and…hell, here’s the list.  During that time, Choo’s offensive contributions for the Indians so vastly outpaced anybody else on those teams (that weren’t all that good) that he was taken for granted – partly because of the fact that he didn’t have much around him, but more accurately because of his consistency.

Just to illustrate that “consistency”, here’s what Choo did in 2009 and 2010:
Choo – 2009 (156 games)
.300 BA / .394 OBP / .489 SLG / .883 OPS with 38 2B & 20 HR in 583 PA

Choo – 2010 (144 games)
.300 BA / .401 OBP / .484 SLG / .885 OPS with 31 2B & 22 HR in 550 PA

Over more than 1,100 plate appearances, that consistency (and consistent excellence) is absurd.  Now, since the beginning of the 2011 season to now, Choo’s numbers are decidedly less consistent and certainly less than excellent:
Choo – 2011 to now (103 games)
.250 BA / .343 OBP / .378 SLG / .721 OPS with 16 2B and 9 HR in 443 PA

Maybe we’re seeing a normalization of BABIP for Choo (as his BABIP was always – though consistently – high) as his BABIP has dropped significantly in the last two years (his BABIP is .280 this year after being in the .360 to .380 range from 2008 to 2010) or maybe his injuries have prevented him from getting into the groove that he occupied for the better part of 2+ years. Perhaps the injuries that have festered have robbed him of his effectiveness or aggressiveness to the point of self-doubt, although his K rates, BB rates and Line Drive rates have all stayed relatively similar to where they were when he was among the AL’s elite at the plate.

Regardless “what’s” happened to Choo, something has certainly occurred as his production has fallen off of a cliff.  And as much hand-wringing is done with Ubaldo (and justifiably so…and this piece from Zach Meisel is a terrific look and numbers while Kyle Boddy takes an actual look at his mechanics, with some astounding revelations), the offensive player on this team – other than Hafner – that has a track record of elite production in the lineup is Choo (who makes more than Ubaldo this year), production that hasn’t been seen since the beginning of 2011.

Don’t think that the Indians don’t know that Choo represents what could be the tipping point for their offense, if you’ll remember Hannahan’s comment after the KC melee, in which he said, “You hit our studs, we hit your studs” (as Gomez plunked Moustakas).  While Choo hasn’t been a “stud” for longer than a year, his performance in MLB has earned him that reputation in the Indians’ clubhouse and one has to think that Hannahan standing up for Choo could have been more about the player he was protecting (Choo) in an effort to show Choo how much his teammates think of him (and perhaps need him back) more than words can convey.

Watching the current offense rely on the production of Santana, Cabrera, Kipnis, and Hafner (with occasional offense from Hannahan or some other source) one can’t help but wonder what a Choo v2008-v2010 could do to this lineup.  Inserting the Choo that we saw (and probably underappreciated) for the better part of 2+ years would dramatically alter this offense and team.  Seeing his performance on Friday night was a startling reminder of that as the Indians (behind Choo) stood toe-to-toe with the team that could be the best team in baseball right now.

Less than a year ago, The BLC attempted to philosophize his struggles to Anthony Castrovince, famously saying, “You know a frog goes down, because he wants to go forward more?  I try to think like that” meaning that (as AC put it last June) “Choo hopes what’s transpired the last three months will prove to be his low point before a sudden surge that eclipses anything he’s done previously at the Major League level”.

If last June represented Choo in a “crouch”, he’s only slipped deeper into said crouch.  If that “sudden surge” out brings him forward and anything close to his past level of production, the entire Indians’ offense could “leap” into the driver’s seat in the AL Central and take the whole city on a summer ride that won’t soon be forgotten.


Adam said...


Great article as always. A bit off topic, but what about moving Chisenhall to 1st base in AAA. I agree Laporta is a lost cause, but with Kotchman stuggling and Hannahan performing marvelously, how about moving Chisenhall over and grooming him to take Kotchman's place if he continues to flounder. I just don't think you can afford a first baseman that's not hitting a lick for very long before it starts to take its toll.

Prof said...

Good points about Choo, etc. Getting your own player to return to stud-like levels is like making a big trade without actually having to give anyone up in return. I'm not as confident about Grady coming back, but think of what it would be like if we could pick up a pair of guys like the 2010 version of Choo and the 2009 version of Sizemore. Talk about an impact!

David said...

"I wish nothing but the best for Choo"

Paul Cousineau said...

That Chiz-to-1B is an interesting thought, at least in the short-term. The hope is that Lonnie is still the long-term answer at 3B and I had thought that a Hannahan-to-1B would make sense, but there's no reason to move Hannahan off of 3B if he's playing defense like he is.

Exactly right and I'm really interested to see what happens in the OF when/if Grady comes back.

I wondered if anyone caught that...

Spills said...

Slightly off-topic, but anyone on here look at FanGraph's PitchingFX stats? Pretty interesting stuff.

Carlos doesn't swing at anything out of the zone, but can't make contact with anything when he does swing. Also, Brantley's approach actually looks pretty good based on this info:

Spills said...

Also, our defense is atrocious this year. Started looking at this based on our WAR ranking on Had us at #23 and the pale hose at #12 before yesterday's games.