Valuing Shin-Soo Choo's Brilliant Second Half

We all know how Shin-Soo Choo's saga started with the Rangers: 7 years, $130 million. At the time people seemed really focused on the dollars, because something about nine-figure contracts still does that to people, even if in reality Choo was being paid more as a solid regular than a superstar.

It's easily forgotten a year and a half later, but Shin-Soo was awesome for the Rangers out of the gate. From Opening Day to May 6th, 2014, Choo slashed .370/.500/.554 (194 wRC+) in his first 120 plate appearances, with an astounding 18.3%/17.5% K/BB rate. (Obvious small sample size disclaimer.) For a team that would inevitably finish the 2014 campaign with the worst record in the American League, on May 6th they were 17-16.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Starting May 7th, Choo nosedived for the rest of his regular season. Before being shut down on August 26th to remove bone spurs in his elbow, he batted an anemic .209/.293/.328 (72 wRC+) in 409 PAs, with an 8.8%/26.9% BB/K rate. A few weeks later Choo underwent ankle surgery as well.

So, no, optimism wasn't exactly brimming as 2015 got underway, and Shin-Soo's not at all inspiring first half (.221/.305/.384, 85 wRC+) had Rangers fans making all the necessary Internet jokes, and Ken Rosenthal exploring the idea of Texas moving Choo during the offseason. For all intents and purposes Shin-Soo was done for in Arlington, written off as the biggest contract flop in franchise history. This was only two months ago!

But then, something weird happened.

After the All Star Break he came out firing, slashing .333/.418/.632 (180 wRC+) between July 18th and August 9th (arbitrary endpoints). On August 10th Evan Grant wrote of a diary entry Choo posted for Korean Blog Navar Sports, expressing frustration with his performance, adding "If I want to play, I have to play better," which is some pretty heavy shit when you really think about it. 

Since that day, he's been similarly dominant, generating a .353/.478/.528 (177 wRC+) triple slash line, which has overlapped with the Rangers ascension into first place in the American League West. 

In a nutshell it boils down to this: Between May 7, 2014 and July 12, 2015 -- spanning 757 plate appearances -- Choo batted a weak middle infielder-esque .215/.299/.354 (78 wRC+), and since the All Star Break -- spanning a shade under 300 PAs -- he's hitting a star-caliber .350/.465/.559 (179 wRC+) with a more Choo-like 14.7%/20.5% BB/K rate. He's been worth +3.2 fWAR over the last two-plus months and his 179 wRC+ is tied for 5th in Major League Baseball in that time, behind only Joey Votto (224 wRC+), Edwin Encarnacion (192 wRC+), Bryce Harper (188 wRC+), and Josh Donaldson (180 wRC+).

His post-ASB production is obviously unsustainable to many degrees (that .433 BABIP has sure been nice, though), but the walk and strikeout rates are absolutely sustainable, even if Shin-Soo's batting average levels off into the .250 range. Pitchers pitch and hitters hit, and Choo has a gift at getting on base, an extremely rare and valuable tool to possess in this New Deadball Era.

Describing Choo's time in Texas as a roller coaster is a bit cliché for my blood, and in my opinion misleading. As iffy as I originally was of the Rangers giving Choo a seven-year commitment, I was confident he could generate enough production over the first 3-4 years to justify to ultimate dollar amount. 

We may never know just how much the injuries had to do with his lack of performance last year... as well as the conundrum he was for much of this season. But if his game over the last two months -- at least as far as his BB% and K% -- is able to be maintained moving forward, then the Rangers won't have any business moving Shin-Soo this offseason. That's how far we've come even within a season. 

Choo's turnaround has been remarkable to say the least, running parallel to that of the team he plays for. The 2015 season is chalk full of good narrative, but for Shin-Soo the production on the field has done all the talking. He is the Rangers second half MVP by a mile, and for once this season it's nice to point to actual hard evidence for why something is the way it is.