Wednesday, December 12, 2012
How much does Choo upgrade the Reds?
By David Schoenfield
Shin-Soo Choo, who has a career .381 on-base percentage, gives the Reds a legit leadoff hitter.
1. The Reds needed a leadoff hitter and a center fielder. They got their leadoff guy in Shin-Soo Choo, who posted a .373 OBP with the Indians in 2012 and owns a career mark of .381. But did they get their center fielder? Choo has played eight innings in center field since joining the Indians in 2006, and his defensive metrics in right field -- once respectable -- were terrible in 2012, as he had minus-12 defensive runs saved (DRS).
Before we get to defense, let's compare Choo and Drew Stubbs, whom the Indians acquired in the trade, offensively. In 2012, Choo created about 104 runs in 686 plate appearances, Stubbs about 50 in 544 PAs. Prorating each to 600 PAs, Choo is at 91 runs created and Stubbs is at 55 -- a 36-run difference (and that's not accounting for ballpark effects). Defensively, Stubbs graded out at plus-2 in DRS -- which falls in line with his career numbers. If we believe that Choo will be a disaster in center field -- say, minus-20 runs (which would be a lot, as only two players rated that poorly in 2012, Rickie Weeks and Chris Nelson) -- the aggregate still favors the Reds to the tune of plus-16 runs. So we're talking about a two-win improvement, if you factor in ballpark and the idea that Choo will be more awful than completely incompetent.
2. Reds manager Dusty Baker can minimize some of that potential defensive problem, however, by playing Chris Heisey at times in center field. Choo hit just .199/.318/.216 against left-handers in 2012 (.249/.338/.358 in his career), so you could argue a platoon is in order. Or maybe Heisey plays center in the bigger National League parks on the road -- San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado and so on -- with Choo sliding over to left to give Ryan Ludwick some days off. Or maybe Heisey plays center when Bronson Arroyo, the most extreme fly ball member on the Reds' rotation, starts. Heisey isn't Stubbs out there, but he projects as a better fielder than Choo. With a little creativity, Choo ends up starting maybe 100 games in center and 30 or 40 in left, and the Reds don't take as big a hit in the field.
3. The Reds gave up shortstop Didi Gregorius to Arizona in the three-way deal. Arizona GM Kevin Towers compared the 22-year-old to -- ahem -- Derek Jeter in this story, saying, "When I saw him he reminded me of a young Derek Jeter. I was fortunate enough to see Jeter when he was in high school in Michigan and he's got that type of range. He's got speed. He's more of a line drive-type hitter, but I think he's got the type of approach at the plate where I think there's going to be power there as well." Now, I'm pretty sure that Towers doesn't really think Gregorius is going to turn into Derek Jeter, since it's pretty obvious he won't. At age 22, Jeter hit .314 in the American League; at age 22, Gregorius hit .265 between Double-A and Triple-A.
4. As Buster Olney put it: "The question for Arizona is this: Is the upgrade of Gregorius over [Cliff] Pennington worth Trevor Bauer?"
8. Interesting that the Mariners drafted Danny Hultzen and the Diamondbacks took Bauer ahead of Dylan Bundy in the 2011 draft. While Bundy has ascended to the consensus No. 2 prospect in baseball behind Jurickson Profar, Bauer has now been traded and Hultzen has to regain his control (supposedly his strong suit coming out of Virginia) after walking 43 batters in 48 innings in Triple-A.
9. The Reds are already good and I think the Diamondbacks could be very good. I wouldn't be surprised to see the NL West develop into a three-team race. Arizona now has depth all over the diamond -- multiple options at third, two shortstops (Pennington and Gregorius, plus Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald), four solid players in the outfield (Upton, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra and Adam Eaton), depth in the rotation and in the bullpen, especially if Heath Bell bounces back. They lack the Clayton Kershaw/Matt Cain rotation anchor, although Kennedy was at that level in 2011. The Diamondbacks finished 13 games behind the Giants in the standings in 2012, but only 23 runs behind in run differential. Arizona has improved; the Giants haven't.