Fantasy baseball debate: Should owners target Choo or Rios?
As part of SI.com's 2014 fantasy baseball draft preview, our experts Michael Beller and David Gonos will be engaging in a series of debates. For our second debate, they argue whether you should draft Shin-Soo Choo or Alex Rios.
Michael Beller makes the case for Shin-Soo Choo:
I don't like unwelcome surprises in fantasy baseball, especially early in the draft. In those first few rounds, I want a foundation, a core of guys around whom I can build. I want players whose production isn't going to vary wildly from year to year, and who allow me to etch their statistical floors in stone.
One outfielder on the Rangers provides that sort of stability, and another does not. They're ranked just two spots apart on FantasyPros, so there's a good chance that if you're looking for an outfielder around the 40th pick or so, you'll be debating between these two. Allow me to tell you why you should take Shin-Soo Choo and not Alex Rios.
Let's go back to the 2009 season, when Choo joined Rios as an everyday major leaguer. Since then, both have put up very productive seasons. To his credit, Rios has been a top-10 outfielder in three of the last four years. He was the No. 7 overall outfielder last year, thanks largely to his career-high 42 stolen bases. Since 2009, he has averaged 18.8 homers and 26.8 swipes per season.
Choo has been one of the best outfielders in the league in that same time frame, first with the Indians and then with the Reds. He has put up 20-20 seasons in three of the last five years, and missed doing so in 2012 by just four home runs. In the five seasons that he has been a regular, he has put up an average of 17.4 homers and 19.2 steals.
Admittedly, those numbers alone seem to favor Rios. However, we have yet to take a look at rates, and this is where things start to turn in Choo's favor. Despite strong line-drive rates, Rios has never put up a reliably high batting average. He's a career .278 hitter, and has topped .280 just once in the last five seasons. Choo is a career .288 hitter. He has a pair of .300 seasons to his name since 2009, and has finished a season hitting worse than .280 just once. In addition to that, Choo is a remarkably patient hitter, posting a double-digit walk rate every year of his career. That has allowed him to compile a career .389 OBP. He set a new career high with a .423 OBP last year. Rios' career walk rate is a below-average 6 percent. He has had a single-season OBP higher than .350 just once in his 10 years in the majors.
The case for Choo improves when you look at a couple of favored sabermetrics. Choo has never been a detriment to his team offensively. Despite rating as a minus defender each of the last five seasons, Choo has posted positive WAR in all of them, racking up at least 4.8 WAR three times. He also has nothing but pluses in weighted runs created, registering a 135 wRC+ for his career.
Rios, on the other hand, has had two terrible seasons in terms of WAR and wRC+. In 2009, he was a replacement level player, totaling exactly zero WAR and producing 23 percent fewer runs than average. Two years later, the story was even worse. He had a -1.1 WAR and just 60 wRC+. For his career, he's barely better than average in wRC+, creating 101 runs where the average is 100.
This is where that foundation and predictability referenced at the beginning of my argument comes into play. If I take Choo, I know I'm getting a guy who will hit about .290 with a .380 OBP, 18 homers and 20 steals. Those are floors for Choo. He may not surpass those amounts by much, but I know I'm getting that rock-solid production from him. All I know for certain with Rios is that he's going to drag down my rates, regardless of whether my league uses batting average or OBP. He could go 20-30, or he could go 15-20. If it's the former, he will have earned his keep. If it's the latter, he will be one of the most overpriced outfielders in the league. Either way, I don't want to roll the dice on a player I don't trust that early in the draft.
Yeah, Choo is a black hole against lefties. But Rios has a nasty platoon split, too. He hit .267/.311/.403 against righties in 502 plate appearances last year. Choo was worse against lefties, but just 221 of his 712 plate appearances came against southpaws. Meanwhile, he destroyed righties to the tune of .317/.457/.554.
One final point in Choo's favor. He could very well lead the league in runs. On the strength of his .423 OBP last year, he scored 107 runs for the Reds, the third-most in the majors. This year, he's hitting at the top of one of the most potent lineups in the league, with a lethal 3-4 combo of Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder. He's a lock to score 100 runs, something just nine guys did last season. If he even approaches last year's OBP total, he could push up into the 120s. Choo is going to be an elite contributor to runs and OBP, and a plus contributor to home runs, steals and batting average. I'll be happy to lock in a four-category player with the 40th overall pick, and let someone else take the chance on Rios.
David Gonos makes the case for Alex Rios:
I'm telling you right now -- Alex Rios is a fantasy gem.
Still not convinced?
Choo, 31, picked up his stats after being traded from Cleveland to Cincinnati and posted a career-high .423 OBP in 2013. This season, Choo leaves the fantasy frying pan (Cincinnati) and enters the fantasy fire (Texas), as he goes from a great lineup to an even better one in Arlington, with a similarly helpful hitter's ballpark. The question is -- can he repeat or even improve on that as he returns to the American League?
On the other hand, Rios, 33, is coming off a huge season, with 18 homers and a career-high 42 stolen bases with the Rangers and White Sox last season. While he has hit 20 or more home runs in three different seasons, you're not drafting him for his power. The fact that a smallish center fielder has flashed more power than Rios in recent seasons doesn't help my point, but I do point to Rios' speed from a power hitter's position as a reason to draft him over Shin-Soo Choo.
Rios has hit 70 doubles in the past two seasons combined, and while Rios' OBP might come closer to .325 this season, his run production is better than Choo's (who will hit leadoff for the Rangers). With Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder hitting ahead of Rios, pitchers will be more than happy to give Rios a chance at parking one before the two before him.
Choo had the benefit of a full season at Great American Ball Park last year, while Rios spent two-thirds of last season with the White Sox. Now, Rios will get a full season in Texas, after coming over from one of the most dismal offenses in the AL last year. Things are looking up for Rios, who will be back with a team that's in the playoff conversation as well. Working through bumps and bruises is easier when your team is battling for a division title -- and not a high draft pick.
Admittedly, it's strange to predict that the leadoff hitter (Choo) will end up with more home runs than the 6-foot-5 ballplayer, but that's only matched by knowing that Rios' will outrun Choo on the basepaths, too. Rios stole 16 bases in 17 attempts once he joined the Rangers, and we have to expect that to continue in 2014.
I'm confident that Rios will end up with better stats across the board -- outside of home runs. Rotisserie owners will reap rich rewards with Rios.
SI.com Fantasy Baseball Debate Series:
I. Robinson Cano vs. Jason Kipnis
II. Shin-Soo Choo vs. Alex Rios
III. Adam Wainwright vs. Stephen Strasburg
IV. Prince Fielder vs. Joey Votto
V. Evan Longoria vs. David Wright
VI. Carlos Santana vs. Joe Mauer