2008 stats: .309 AVG, 68 runs, 14 home runs, 66 RBIs, 4 steals, .946 OPS
2009 stats: .279 AVG, 9 runs, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs, 2 steals, .953 OPS
The left-handed hitter torched righty pitchers last year for a .992 OPS, clubbing 24 doubles and 11 homers in 240 at-bats. Some of that hitting line was due to an 18-game stretch from Aug. 27-Sept. 12 in which Choo did practically everything but breathe fire at the plate. He batted .438 and posted a .514 on-base percentage with a 1.326 OPS, accumulating five homers, 16 runs and 16 RBIs.
That, in a microcosm, is what has fantasy owners so excited about Choo's possibilities this season. That jubilation is becoming exacerbated now that Choo is a part of a fantastic Indians batting order. The squad is tied for second in on-base percentage (.380), slugging percentage (.495) and OPS (.875). They are also tied for second in home runs (22) and tied for third in RBIs (79). (They've had three double-digit run efforts aside from that 22-run pasting of the Yankees on April 18.)
Choo got his first extended big league playing time last year as the Indians racked up injuries and sunk in the standings, finishing with a middling 81-81 record that left them third in the American League Central. At the time, Choo was just another outfielder, perhaps with promise, but without a doubt looked on with a skeptical eye by the fantasy world.
Once a pitcher in his native South Korea, Choo was signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2000 and promptly turned into a hitter. It took him several years to hone his batting skills before he saw extended big league action in 2006. Of course, he was traded to the Indians that July in a deal for Ben Broussard. Choo hit .373 with a .473 on-base percentage in 167 plate appearances, showing the first signs that he could attack big league pitching the same way John Kruk would attack a hot dog.
After barely getting in two sips of his cup of coffee in '07, and then injuring his left elbow later that season to the degree that it would require Tommy John surgery, Choo returned to the Indians fresh and ready to go in late May last year.
He started out well in June, racking up nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (14) and tasering the ball for eight doubles and a pair of homers. A massive July slump during which he hit .222 and struck out more than twice as much (25) as he walked (11) precipitated newfound patience and a more confident hitting stroke. Choo hit .359 the final two months, lacing 15 doubles and 10 homers. Those aren't outstanding power numbers, but they prove he knew what plate adjustments to make and succeeded in doing so.
Choo operated primarily as a pull and up-the-middle hitter, nearly splitting 88 of his 98 hits in both directions. What was very promising was his high percentage of line drives. Nearly 23 percent of his batted balls were liners, showing that he made contact with the ball quite often. He posted a 24.3 line drive percentage in 2006, so it seems last year's line drive percentage wasn't just a mirage. Even though his Batting Average on Balls in Play was a tough-to-repeat .373, his .309 batting average, if it corrects downward, shouldn't fall too far. Line drive hitters are likely to experience higher batting averages since those types of hits are harder for defenders to corral than ground balls or fly balls. (His line drive percentage this year is at 27.8 percent.)
Another key statistic to enjoy is that Choo has simultaneously improved his walk percentage (from 12.2 to 17.3 percent) and decreased his strikeout percentage (from 24.6 to 18.6 percent) this season. He's finally into positive BB/K range, walking 1.13 times for every strikeout. (He walked 0.56 times for every whiff last year.) Yes, the sample sizes are small. But he's already accrued three multi-walk efforts, including two in his last three games, after posting just six in '08. Also noteworthy is his 4.16 pitches per plate appearance, up from 3.83 last season.
Feasting on righty pitchers hasn't been the case so far, but sporting a .257 batting average in 35 at-bats against right-handers isn't cause for too much concern. Any sample size at this point in the year is too small to take to the bank, although fantasy owners might be frightened by his home/road splits. He's 5-for-11 (.455) at Progressive Field, but just 7-for-32 (.219) on the road. The fact that he hit .333 with a 1.083 at home last year against a .289 batting average and a .830 OPS everywhere else shouldn't surprise: His road splits should improve, though. He proved he could hit on the road last year, even if they did take a back seat to his home statistics.
Here's the stat on which I could lay my head comfortably at night if I were a Choo owner: He hit .386 with a 1.076 OPS in 107 plate appearances with runners in scoring position last season. Forty-eight of his 66 RBIs were manufactured this way, and that's very good news for a hitter who has batted sixth in seven of his 12 games. If Travis Hafner (DH, CLE) or Victor Martinez (C/1B, CLE) need a day off here or there, Choo will likely jump to the four or five spot, as he's done four times. With the Cleveland lineup hitting the way it is, Choo should be in line for at least 80 RBIs. His homers won't likely stray too far past 14 considering he operates primarily as a line drive hitter, but 15-18 seems about right. And in case you were wondering if he likes to choo-choo around the basepaths (I'm sorry, but I had to pull that out), he has that capability. He averaged 28 steals in five minor league seasons from 2002-06, so the 26-year-old still has enough dance in his legs to swipe 10-12. (He's already 2-for-2 this year.)
There's a lot to like about Choo. He's a line-drive hitter still working on going to the opposite field, but he hits well with runners in scoring position and his plate patience has improved. It's not like he's so relaxed that he'll perform yoga at the dish, but his offensive growth is evident. He should be owned in all but the most-shallow mixed formats, so poke around to see if the Choo owner in your league is willing to talk trade.
*All statistics referenced are through April 20.
Kyle likes to deconstruct players, but he wants to know what you like as well. If you have any questions, comments or suggestion for future players to deconstruct, send him an email at email@example.com
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