A Quick Note on the Shin-Soo Choo Signing

The Texas Rangers have reportedly signed Right Fielder Shin-Soo Choo to a 7-year, $130 Million deal. Choo, 31, finished last season with the Cincinnati Reds and posted strong offensive numbers, while struggling to make the transition to Centerfield. He is known as a player with slightly above-average speed, but more importantly, Choo is an on-base machine. His ability to get on base is easily his best asset, as he consistently posts strong OBPs and carries a .389 career OBP. Before Choo’s signing with Rangers was announced, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs wrote an article arguing that it would be more worthwhile to trade for Andre Ethier of the Dodgers, who has 4 years and $72 Million remaining on his deal, than to sign Shin-Soo Choo for nearly $20 Million per year. Sullivan also argues that whoever signs Choo will have to forfeit a draft pick, but trading for Ethier would likely cost little in talent, as the Dodgers would likely take a lesser player if the team takes on his entire salary. However, I am not convinced that the Dodgers are that eager to trade Ethier. They would definitely deal him for a legitimate prospect, but they may also need him as insurance if Kemp continues to miss substantial amounts of time.
In the article, Sullivan pointed to the many similarities between the two players. After reading his post, I looked deeper into the two players to see whether Choo was actually that similar to Ethier. It would not be accurate to only look at each player’s 2013 statistics, as Choo far outperformed Ethier and it is not nearly a large enough sample size. Looking at their career numbers is a good place to start, but it is important to note that Ethier has over a full year of service time more than Choo. Their slash lines are very similar, as Ethier has slashed .288/.362/.470 and Choo has slashed .288/.389/.465.
While Ethier’s career slugging percentage (SLG) is higher than Choo’s career SLG, Ethier’s SLG has drastically declined from .510 in 2008 to .423 in 2013; whereas, Choo’s SLG has increased each of the past three seasons. Ethier’s power numbers have been declining for quite some time, as he has hit 20 HRs just once in the past three seasons, compared with the 3 straight seasons of at least 20 HRs from 2008-2010. Despite Choo not having as many career HRs as Ethier, he has been more consistent with his power numbers. More importantly, Choo profiles more as a leadoff hitter where power is less important and OBP is highly valued. Comparing their OBP, shows a pretty substantial difference of .027, even though their Batting Averages have been identical. This is largely due to the fact that Choo has 2.5% higher walk rate than Ethier and Choo has been hit by pitch 33 more times in his career than Ethier. Both outfielders are below-average defenders at their position, but Choo has been better over the course of his career. Also, it is easy to overlook, but Choo has compiled 4 seasons with at least 20 steals, whereas, Ethier’s career high is 6 steals in a season.
To look at their more recent production, I looked at their past three seasons. Choo has improved each of the past three seasons in many statistics, including HRs, Runs, BB%, K%, Isolated Power, Avg, OBP, SLG, wRC+ and WAR. Ethier has not shown similar improvements, as his statistics have not shown such a steady increase. While Ethier is considered the better power hitter, his 3-year HR total of 33 HRs is lower than Choo’s total of 45 HRs. Choo has also accumulated a higher WAR over the last three years.
It is important to note that Sullivan was suggesting that Ethier would be a better option because Ethier would likely be less expensive and for a shorter period than Choo. I believe Choo is far better than Andre Ethier and worth the difference in both years and dollars, but more importantly, Choo seems to be improving, while Ethier has been declining for some time. I believe the Rangers’ deal with Choo should be worthwhile, as he seems to be aging well. Also, OBP is a skill that usually lasts as the player ages, which means Choo will retain most of his value as he continues to get older.

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