What To Do With Choo

choo
Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is the marquee free agent left on the open market. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers are believed to be the two clubs most actively pursuing the 31 year old, with a rumored seven year contract for $142 million dollars desired by Choo and his agent, Scott Boras. After being traded by the Cleveland Indians last off season, Choo generated his most productive season since 2010, yielding a slash of .285/.423/.462 with an OPS+ of 143.
In regards to free agent contracts this off season, fans seem to have the propensity to immediately deem the deal as an egregious overpay. Many seem to have a conservative viewpoint, and dismiss the notion a player is worth such an exorbitant deal similar to the contracts recently signed by Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury. However, the game of baseball has never had such an influx of money. Beginning in 2014, all 30 MLB teams will receive $25 million dollars in additional revenue due to a new television contract. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-new-national-tv-contracts-and-2014-payrolls/ Teams also have exclusive television deals which pay large sums of money, including the Rangers, who have a television contract with Fox Sports Southwest which pays them around $80 million per year beginning in 2015.

There is also a huge financial advantage in making the postseason. Due to missing the 2013 postseason, the New York Yankees missed out on a reported $40-$60 million dollars in additional revenue.http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22353 Other teams will not receive the type of luxurious gift in a golden coffer the Yankees receive for making the postseason, but the financial benefit of making the playoffs is enormous for each team, which is why teams like the Mariners feel taking the plunge to sign Robinson Cano to a 10 year $240 million dollar deal is beneficial. The growing trend in baseball is to back load contracts similar to what the Angels did with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in hoping the player provides more value than what he is being paid at the genesis of the contract, and then accepting the albatross at the end. What was once believed to be in the $5 million dollar range, wins are now believed to be worth around $7 million dollars.http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/10/15/4818740/how-much-does-a-win-really-cost

That being said, and with Choo being regarded as the top free agent left on the market, I thought investigating whether signing Choo to a seven year contract worth $142 million dollars would be a prudent economic decision.

In the last three regular seasons, Shin-Soo Choo has improved his batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS+, and walks. Choo’s outstanding .423 on-base percentage was second in the National League, trailing only teammate Joey Votto. Choo’s .389 career on-base percentage is 62 points higher than the perceived potent weapon, Nelson Cruz.

Choo’s most impressive skill is his plate discipline, and is improving as he ages, which is what makes Choo so desirable. Choo walked in 15.7% of his plate appearances last season, which was also second in the National League to his teammate who apparently needs to focus more on driving in runs, Joey Votto.  

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If one is not aware, O-Swing and O-Contact are swinging at pitches outside of the zone and making contact with pitches outside of the zone. Z-Swing and Z-Contact are swinging at pitches inside the zone and making contact with pitches inside of the zone. Choo’s approach at the plate has been to swing less, and make the pitcher throw him strikes. The improved discipline has improved Choo’s contact%, reduced his whiffs, and improved his walk percentage, which will lead to a higher OBP. This is the type of skill teams pay large sums of money for, and is about to make Choo a very rich man.

Due to his birthday being in July, Shin-Soo Choo officially just completed his age 30 season. During his age 27-30 seasons, Choo produced a 132 OPS+, accumulated 15.2 bWAR, walked 304 times, and committed larceny 75 times on the base paths. Choo is not an excellent base runner as he has only been successful 71% of time during this time span, but he is still a threat on the bases.

To give the reader an idea of how Shin-Soo Choo might age in the future, I decided to find some comps for the 31 year old outfielder, and see what type of numbers he might produce in the future. I searched for outfielders who yielded an OPS+ greater than or equal to 130, accumulated 15 or more WAR, walked 300 or more times, and stole 70 or more bases from their age 27 through 30 seasons. The list includes some rather well known names. Here is the list: Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Frank Robinson, Bobby Abreu, Minnie Minoso, Jim Wynn, Bobby Bonds, Tim Raines, Roy Thomas, and my childhood hero, the flamboyant Rickey Henderson.

Choo is nowhere close to the player Bonds, Cobb, or Robinson was. So, I averaged the seven remaining players most productive seasons from age 31 until they no longer produced to try and provide a decent prognostication as to what one could reasonably expect from Choo in the future.  

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Raines, Thomas, and Minoso began to decline after their age 35 seasons, but were productive for five years. Wynn and Bonds did not stay productive as long, but were over four win players for multiple seasons. If Choo were to sign a seven year contract, the hope is he would be able to remain productive through his age 37 season similar to how Henderson and Abreu did (Henderson’s games played would be higher if not for the strike in 1994), but that is probably an unreasonable expectation. If Choo is able to be the average of these seven players and produce 3.8 bWAR in five seasons, at the current rate of $7 million dollars per win in today’s market, Choo is aready worth the near $142 million dollar contract he currently aspires to ink with a team.

Choo is not a perfect player. He has his flaws as he is not exactly a spectacular defensive outfielder, and as previously mentioned, he could certainly improve his base running. From 2011-2013, Shin-Soo Choo posted a -26 in defensive runs saved, including -17 in ’13. However, Choo played out of position in center field for Cincinnati last year, which could have diminished his defensive numbers and made them look putrid. His UZR and UZR/150 since 2011 have been well below average too. His -1.1 BsR since 2011 also leaves more to be desired. Choo also does not hit left-handed pitching very well, but he still possesses a .340 OBP against southpaws in his career, and with his improving plate discipline, and proclivity to take free passes, you should overlook his lack of power and batting average against lefties. Choo also would force a team, including the Rangers, choosing outside of the top 10 in June’s draft to forfeit their first selection as Choo declined the qualifying offer the Reds provided him in November. Giving up potential cheap cost-effective value is obviously never ideal.

Fangraphs projection specialist Steamer projects Choo to produce 3.2 fWAR in ’14. Dave Cameron wrote an article last month in regards to how he likes to evaluate free agent contracts by projecting a player’s future value.http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/an-early-look-at-the-price-of-a-win-this-off-season/ Basically, he uses the Steamer projection and subtracts half a win from the player’s fWAR until the contract expires, adds up the total fWAR, and then divides the total by the dollar amount to find out how much per win the player will be worth. If one subtracts half a win per year from the 3.2 fWAR until Choo’s seven year contract would expire in 2020, and adds up the total, one would have 11.9 fWAR. Divide the total by $142 million dollars, and a team would be paying close to $12 million per win, an overpay in today’s market, but with the amount of money flowing through baseball now and in the future, $12 million per win could be a bargain down the road.

Shin-Soo Choo is a good baseball player, and with his skills, some team will offer him what appears to be an overpay. I am not sure I would go 7/142, but I would not be exactly perplexed if he signs something close to that number. If the deal is back loaded and Choo provides more value than what he is paid up front, a team would be willing to accept a potential miserable ending, especially if Choo’s addition helps a team earn a postseason berth or two during his productive seasons.

What do you think? Would you sign Shin-Soo Choo, or decide to go with another option?  

Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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