September 5, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (17) makes a catch of a ball hit by Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Comerica Park. Photo by Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

How Will Shin-Soo Choo's Defense Affect The Reds In 2013?

The Reds made an important offensive upgrade this winter when they shipped Drew Stubbs out of town, along with shorstop prospect Didi Gregorius, in a trade to acquire Shin-Soo Choo from the Cleveland Indians. Compared to the Reds’ leadoff hitters in 2012, Choo was off the charts. In fact, only two hitters in the MLB had a higher batting average than Choo from the leadoff position- those two are Derek Jeter and Mike Trout (and Choo’s OPS blew Jeter’s out of the water.) Here are Choo’s numbers from the leadoff spot compared to Reds leadoff hitters in 2012:

Name AVG OBP SLG OPS
Reds’ Leadoff Hitters .208 .254 .327 .581
Shin-Soo Choo .310 .389 .493 .882

Obviously, this is a huge upgrade. We really have to applaud Walt Jocketty here- the Reds had two glaring weaknesses in 2012. Those weaknesses were center field and the leadoff spot, and Walt took care of both…

Well, kind of. 

The only problem with this acquisition is that Shin-Soo Choo isn’t a center fielder. He only has 10 games in center field for his career, and the last of those came in 2008. Okay, that’s fine, position changes happen fairly regularly in the MLB. Perhaps Choo is an incredible right fielder who has been misused by the Indians, so his move to center is completely natural..

Well, not really.

The reality of the situation is that Choo is a below-average right fielder who the Reds are going to call upon to play center. This has the potential to be disastrous, and Choo’s defensive statistics in right field don’t really help to quell those feelings. Before we dive in to those stats, though, I want to take a bit of time to explain what exactly they mean  for those who don’t know or aren’t entirely sure.

UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating. This refers to how above (or below) average a fielder is in terms of runs. This is a compilation of range runs, arm-based runs, double play runs, and error runs.  This measures a fielder’s ability at getting to balls in his zone of the field. For the purposes of UZR, the field is divided in to 64 zones (technically, there are 78, but  infield line drives, infield pop flies, and outfield foul balls are ignored, as well as the pitcher and catcher.)

RngR= Range Runs. This calculation is used in the UZR calculation. This is simply a fielder’s ability to get to balls hit around him, presented in runs above or below average.

ARM= Outfield Arm Runs. Outfielders are graded on an individual play basis, depending on what the runners do on a hit or a fly ball out. A runner can stay, advance, or get thrown out. An outfielder will not only gain runs saved if he throws out more runners than average, but also if he keeps more than an average amount of runners from taking extra bases. This is also presented in runs.

In 2012, Choo had a UZR of -17. Even without full knowledge of what exactly that means, it doesn’t sound too promising. Here are the 5 best outfielders in 2o12, and the 5 worst based on UZR:

Best-

Player UZR Pos.
Michael Bourn 22.4 CF
Jason Heyward 21.5 RF
Josh Reddick 18.5 RF
Ben Revere 16.4 RF
Alex Gordon 14.1 LF

Worst-

Player UZR Pos.
Curtis Granderson -17.8 CF
Shin-Soo Choo -17 RF
Dexter Fowler -13.9 CF
Josh Hamilton -12.6 CF
Brennan Boesch -12 RF

This is particularly disturbing in the case of Choo. Having a -17 UZR wouldn’t be as bad in center field as right field, and most of the fielders on this list are center fielders. This is because there is less ground to cover in right, therefore less room for error. In the case of Choo, he had the worst UZR for any right fielder in baseball last year, and moving to center could, theoretically, cause this to get worse due to the increased ground needed to cover. If we factor in Drew Stubbs’ UZR from last year of 6.8,  the Reds are giving up 23.8 runs more runs in the center field than last year, and that’s just from one position. There’s a general consensus that 10 runs lost/gained is equal to 1 win lost/gained. So, we could look at this as Choo’s defense costing the Reds about 2.3 wins alone from what they had last year (and this doesn’t even include the loss in range from going to center.) Obviously, this is a point of concern.

What part of Choo’s defensive game caused this terrible UZR last year? Was it that his arm was subpar, or that he made too many errors, or perhaps that his range was not very good? While all 3 are important in their own way, the most important in a move to center field would have to be range. If Choo’s range value was good last year, then perhaps his transition to center might not be so bad.

Well, his RngR was -16.8. This was the major reason for his bad UZR, as his errors were actually better than average, and his arm was only slightly below average. Let’s take a look at the 5 lowest RngRs in baseball last year:

Player RngR Pos.
Curtis Granderson -19.4 CF
Yoenis Cespedes -16.8 CF
Shin-Soo Choo -16.8 RF
Jeff Francouer -14.7 RF
Matt Kemp -13 CF

Again, a list made up mostly of corner outfielders. Notice how this list, aside from Granderson and Choo, is different than the UZR list. The fielders who aren’t on both of these lists have a part of their game that’s a real positive, whether it be their range, arm, or amount of errors made. The exceptions are Choo and Granderson, who would probably qualify as the two worst outfielders in baseball. No part of Choo’s defense is redeeming.

Now, aside from the obvious, how else can this hurt the Reds? The answer is that their pitching could take a fairly big hit as a result of this. Particularly, breakout pitcher Homer Bailey, veteran Bronson Arroyo, and stud Mat Latos could see potential ERA hits next season. My reasoning behind this is that these pitchers have fairly high flyball rates- 35.45%, 37.5%, and 36.1% respectively. Having Drew Stubbs in center definitely helped them pitch effectively last year. With Choo in center, this means more gap shots that might have been fielded by a more competent center fielder, more doubles, and overall more runs given up for these pitchers.

In fact, the Reds might have to turn to Jay Bruce to play center, in the event that Choo is as bad as he appears he will be. Jay Bruce has more experience in center field, but the results wouldn’t be too much better with him in center. However, while Jay Bruce has offered to play center, Dusty Baker shot him down, saying that Choo was the guy in center for right now.

Choo adds balance, pop, and on base ability to the Reds’ lineup, making it one of the most dynamic in the National League. Will the offense he provides balance out the negative effects of his defense? Only time will tell.

 

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