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Baseball Prospectus' take on Choi


nc marlin
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Off In The Distance: It's funny how quickly prospects--even the best prospects--can fall off the proverbial map. A year ago, Hee Seop Choi was among the best young hitters in the game, and for all intents and purposes was ready to contribute at the major league level in a big way. Mix together a concussion, a low batting average, and just dash of Dusty Baker's veteran loving, however, and you've got yourself a one-way ticket to Florida and a boot out of prospect discussions all together.

Well, just because Chicagoans weren't able to appreciate Choi's burgeoning talent doesn't mean that he's worthless. As the mighty Korean has shown with his hot start this season (.765 SLG through first week of play), there's reason to believe that stardom is still part of his future. PECOTA, after all, pegs Choi for an AVG/OBP/SLG of .252/.353/.465 this season--a particularly strong projection when one considers the conservative nature of PECOTA and its handling of players with little major league experience.

 

So Choi's a polished hitter who's likely to hit the ground running; you knew that already, right? The bigger question is, how will he fair in the long term? After all, if this is a franchise that's concerned with competing today and in the years to come, it's going to need an offensive centerpiece to build around. Can Hee Seop Choi be that player, with some assistance from this Miguel Cabrera fellow we've been hearing so much about? Let's break it down.

 

Like we said, Choi's short-term outlook is strong. With an abundance of power and a Gilesian command of the strike zone, there's a better-than-even-money chance that he'll be among the most productive corner men in the National League in 2004. Everything in Choi's minor-league profile points to this conclusion, and we see no reason why he shouldn't fulfill expectations set for him in Florida. He's an All-Star waiting to happen.

 

Problem is, in the long-term, Choi doesn't appear to have nearly as much room for growth as his Floridian counterpart, Cabrera. Thanks to a profile that's already heavily dependant upon secondary skills, PECOTA forsees minimal growth for Choi over the next few seasons (five-year projected WARP: 2.0, 2.1 2.2, 2.0, 2.0), despite major-league ready skills in a number of departments. Observe:

 

 

 

Of course, it's not so much the advanced control of the strike zone or the fully-developed power stroke that's holding him back--it's the deficiencies in the other areas like "speed" and the ability to put the ball in play, where Choi ranks among the lowest in the game. This should be of no surprise to those of you who have followed Nate Silver's work over the years; as the Wise One concluded in one of his more memorable "Lies, Damned Lies" columns last year, speed is perhaps the most important factor in determining how a position player will develop over time. From Rickey Henderson to Steve Finley, players who maintain value well into their 30s are almost always those who were light on their feet as youngsters.

 

Another mark against Choi's chance for development is his age. Despite accumulating just 252 at-bats at the major league level, Choi is already 25 in baseball years, and at the beginning of his prime. All major growth, it is safe to say, is probably behind him.

 

Another disconcerting bit about Choi's long-term outook are the individuals who populate his PECOTA Comparables list. From Paul Sorrento to Mo Vaughn to Pete LaCock to Sam Horn, this is a list mostly comprised of players who suffered through a precipitous decline in their early 30s, and were out of baseball by their mid-30s. Each of these players were corner men like Choi, and all of them possessed a skill-set that was heavy on the Take & Rake, but light on the Run & Gun. Of course, correlation does not equal causation, and this isn't determinative for Choi--but it's certainly not a point in his favor, either. Historically speaking, players with his profile have not aged particularly well at all.

 

All that being said, none of this matters in the here and now. Choi does the important things well at the plate, and will serve as a more-than-adequate replacement for his predecessor, Derrek Lee. On top of which, he'll be cheaper than Lee by a significant amount--enough to justify the marginal difference in their production over the next three years. Marlins fans can only hope, however, that management realizes their new first baseman's long term outlook, and doesn't sign him to any long-term deals just yet. It's a long road ahead, and Florida should take full advantage of Choi's indentured servitude while they can.

 

c/o baseballprospectus.com

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about his longevity. there's been plenty of players without much speed who have been succesful late in their careers. one example of this is the player that must compares to lee IMO, Raffy Palmeiro.

Good call.

 

I agree, as long as he take care of his body and don't turn into a Mo Vaugh (gains weight), he should be OK.

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It's an interesting comparison, because DLee drew a lot of walks too, hence his usually high OBP, but Choi should strike out fewer times.

 

It's difficult to explain how Derek could walk so often, yet still K so much. For example thus far he's got 7 K's already but 5 walks too, so his OBP is almost .400.

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It's an interesting comparison, because DLee drew a lot of walks too, hence his usually high OBP, but Choi should strike out fewer times.

 

It's difficult to explain how Derek could walk so often, yet still K so much. For example thus far he's got 7 K's already but 5 walks too, so his OBP is almost .400.

I cant explain it that well...but it involves taking more fringe strikes to look for pitches to drive...whereas players in the mold of castillo/pierre dont walk or strikeout much and are less selective. But the plus side to power hitters like Derek and others (thome, bonds, berkman, etc, etc) is that they have a good command of the strikezone and can lay off if nothing is given to hit. Not sure if that helps, but its the basic idea.

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