Choo Wasting At Leadoff?
July 31, 2012 By Mark Leonard
As presently constituted, the Cleveland Indians have a multitude of problems. This one does not necessarily rank highly upon such a list, but it seems to me Shin-Soo Choo is being wasted at the leadoff spot, amazingly as he has performed in that role.
I would guess a preliminary examination of the team's record since he was moved to the spot would only confirm his outstanding numbers have not translated into increased winning for the team and that is what it is really about, after all.
Choo did not have a customarily fine season in 2011. He was not hitting well at the start of this one, either. He really began to rebound personally once he was moved into the one-hole.
His batting average and OBP, as well as his homers and runs scored, are all significantly up since that May 14 adjustment was made.
However, that he has but nine rbi from his four July homers and only 27 from his 11 since ascending into that assignment suggests to me he's being wasted atop the Cleveland order.
No wonder. As the player himself is willing to remind, he only leads off once per game. Thereafter, he is following some of the worst batsmen in MLB, guys struggling to reach .235, players who do not draw a lot of walks, run well, hit for average, accomplish fine OBPs, score much or instigate offense. Too many of Choo's hits are coming with too few runners on base.
It is time to return him---his outstanding production as the leadoff guy notwithstanding---to a more meaningful run-generating slot in the order. Position some better table sitters in front of him and provide protection behind him. Maybe he can again be the force that went 20/20 for successive seasons in 2009 and '10, when 20 dingers, 20 steals, 95+ rbi and a .300 BA were characteristic. That is the sort of middle-of-the-order athlete this club needs ASAP. A five-tool RF seeking a boost in pay is precisely what might vault this collection into legitimate contention, so long as he gets reasonable assistance from his teammates.
Jason Kipnis, who like Asdrubal Cabrera, was somewhere in the low 40s for rbi at the point of his 11th homer. Some of this is attributable to Choo's having been on ahead of them. It may logically be true no one will table-set quite as well as has Choo for Choo in the three-hole, but it is time to find out.
Neither Kipnis nor Cabrera has maintained their fast starts, Jason particularly less potent as the three-hole bat. Manager Manny Acta has expressed the preference for utilizing Kipnis as his two hitter. However, it seems preferred and recommended Cabrera's switch-hitting bat be situated between the two lefties. So, maybe it should go: Kipnis, Cabrera, Choo....
Shin-Soo is the most established, the most proven, the most senior and the most consistent of the three. He has demonstrated the capacity to produce in the three-hole. Inasmuch as he is hot at a time when the club is struggling, it only makes sense to investigate moving him into a more advantageous slot in the order. This writing is to encourage Acta to consider now as the time.
It is lunacy to continue negating Choo's hot streak by requiring him to follow the likes of Damon, Kotchman, Hannahan, Marson, Cunningham and the rest of the motley assemblage understandably deployed as low in the order as possible. Place Choo behind guys who can get on base, hit for average, draw a walk, run a bit and score some runs. That seems only fundamental.
It's not as if what is presently in place is working for anyone but Choo individually. Use him to help make better the rest of the order and use his best qualified mates to enhance his impact.
No matter how you look at it, however, this order would be far more effective if it also included a potent RH stick at 4 or 5, particularly since it seems clear Hafner's days in those slots are over---barring a potential rebound.
The team's record when they score first, lead after six or exceed three runs all argue for starting pitching---dreadful as it has been at times---being much less the problem than the attack. This squad needs to play to its few strengths and one of them is the relative consistency of Kipnis, Cabrera, Choo and Brantley. Bunching them, as well as aligning them in an optimal order, would be a significant start toward maximizing their potentials.
Following them with a bonafide run producer who hits from the right side ahead of what would then figure to be a parade of platooners from whom only timely contributions should be expected may be this team's best shot at winning this division.
As it is, Choo's presence atop the order, though impressive, is largely going to waste.