When Shin-Soo Choo found his forever home over the 2014 offseason, Texas signed him for his rare combination of power and speed. In three of the five previous seasons, Choo had both hit twenty home runs and stolen twenty bases. His efficiency on the basepaths had deteriorated, and his speed never translated to particularly good defense, but he was coming off a 5.0 fWAR season and had racked up 20.3 fWAR since 2009. That sustained level of production typically brings with it generational wealth in free agency and Choo was no exception. He joined a Rangers team that was expected to compete again for the World Series. He joined a Rangers team that would implode.
Choo's disappointing 2014 season was a microcosm for the Rangers as a team. He was almost exactly replacement level (0.1 fWAR), coupling poor defense with an average bat (wRC+ 99). The Rangers played like a team of replacement-level players and posted the worst record in the American League.
Choo's ankle injury likely contributed to his offensive woes and sapped his speed. Unfortunately, this season began even worse than 2014 ended. Through the All-Star break, Choo was pitiful at the plate, posting a meager 85 wRC+. Of regular right fielders, Choo was ahead of only Gregory Polanco (81) at the plate.
Typically, using a first/second half split is born of convenience. It's right there for you on any of the baseball stats sites you choose to visit, begging to be compared. For Choo, however, it was truly after the break that everything changed. After the Rangers' game on July 12th, Choo's batting average and on-base percentages were lower than they had been since early May. In his first game after the break, Choo went 2-4 with a stolen base, and he was off to the races.
Choo went from one of the worst offensive right fielders to one of the best, trailing only Nelson Cruz (190) and Bryce Harper (177) in wRC+ in the second half. The other statistic that rose almost as dramatically was his BABIP. While the rate at which he's currently reaching base on balls in play is likely not sustainable, it's not terribly far off from his career average (.342). Most of that was accrued before last season's ankle problems, but his speed score this season (4.3) is also near his career average (5.0).
Choo has also added some power -- not through home runs, which he is hitting at roughly the same pace as he was in the first half, but with doubles and triples. He has also dramatically improved his walk rate, adding five percentage points in the second half.
The key to Choo's resurgence has been his plate discipline. Of those with at least two hundred plate appearances in the first half and one hundred in the second, only Evan Gattis (-12%) and Chase Headley (-8.1%) have cut down the number of pitches they chase outside of the zone more. For Choo, the results have been more dramatic. Of the same group, only one has improved his contact percentage or reduced his swinging strike rate more.
The interesting thing is that Choo's batted ball distribution by type of contact hasn't varied much with his increased control of the zone. What has changed is the spray pattern. In the first half, Choo was pulling nearly half the balls he struck in fair territory (48%). Since, he's hit just as many to center as right field (39.4%), closer to the distribution in his good seasons.
Choo has returned to the formula that made him so attractive to the Rangers in the first place, the formula that perhaps will bring the sustained success he once enjoyed. Thirty-three, after all, is still quite young. Right?
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Matt Jackson is a 33-year old featured writer for Beyond the Box Score and staff writer for Royals Review. By reading this you are contractually obligated to follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu and reassure him that he is still in the prime of his life.