The Rangers are about to start a new era in Arlington with the additions of Prince Fielder and Shin Soo Choo. Add Jurickson Profar as the everyday second baseman and the team has a very different look from 2013. There has been a lot of chatter regarding the addition of Fielder, who was traded by the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Rangers mainstay, Ian Kinsler. Fielder, who is coming off of a down year by his standards, is primed for a bounceback year. Choo, however, may be a more important cog in the Rangers machine with his ability to set the table for the sluggers behind him.
In 2013 Choo was fourth in all of baseball with a .423 on-base percentage, including getting plunked by a Major League best 26 pitches. The new Ranger left fielder was also second in all of baseball with 112 walks and grounded into a shockingly low three double plays. With Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios and Mitch Moreland all hitting behind him, Choo could score more runs than his total of 107 from 2013, which was third in the Bigs.
While Fielder is no doubt the big bat the Rangers needed to acquire, Choo could very well make Prince and Beltre that much more potent at the plate. If Choo gets on base even close to his career .389 or better, like last year, that gives the sluggers behind him many more opportunities to drive in runs. Former Ranger lead-off hitter Ian Kinsler has a career on-base percentage of .349, and his career best of .382 in 2010 does not even equal Choo’s career average.
One thing lost in the Choo discussion is his power. He’s never been a 30+ home run producer, but he is a 20 home run guy and his move to Arlington could and should increase those numbers. Add in 34 doubles and 20 stolen bases and Shin-Soo looks like a perfect fit for the 2014 version of the Texas Rangers. Choo benefitted from a guy like Joey Votto in 2013 and Votto benefitted from Choo. Look for a lot of that for the Rangers this season with Choo and Fielder.
With Elvis Andrus hitting second in Ron Washington’s lineup, he could also benefit from Choo’s ability to reach by having the pitcher in the stretch and the first baseman holding Choo at first. With Elvis’ ability to punch a ball through the right side, the Rangers could have a lot of runners for Fielder and Adrian Beltre to drive in this year.
Choo’s ability to reach base, hit for power and steal bases is something the Rangers missed last year with Kinsler's struggles. The Rangers offensive struggles were compounded with a slow start from Andrus. Texas will have games in which the offense will look anemic, but with this lineup it won’t be very often. A word of caution, however, is while Choo does many great things on the diamond, he strikes out too much (133 K’s in 2013) for a lead-off hitter and he’s not great defensively.
There are several teams in baseball with great lineups, and the Rangers are in that conversation. When talking about lead-off hitters, the Rangers have one of the very best.