Hee Sop Choi Goes East (If I were as brilliant as Theo Epstein)

It wasn’t that long ago – pre-season 2003 (?) – that I hadChoi in the top five of my published prospect list. I suppose I should kick
myself and crawl back into the cavern of despair, but then, there are those far
wiser than I that talk about learning from mistakes more than successes, and
something about what doesn’t kill will make us stronger. Choi’s fall from grace
isn’t going to kill me, and I doubt Paul DePodesta either. I admit one thing on
my over appraisal of the big Korean – I ignored a bump in his batting average
when he hit Triple-A, instead leaning toward another element of my methodology
on social issues substantiated by scouting reports and statistical analysis
that suggested he was still very raw and packed with unrealized potential. And
guess what? Hammerhead still thinks it exists….

I like to talk about David Ortiz finally being freed from
the Tom Kelly school of thought on young hitters when he became a Red Sox.
Perhaps we’ll see that in Choi as well for it seems he hasn’t been given enough
consecutive at-bats to draw a final conclusion. Yes, he turned 27 years old
last week — too old to still be a prospect — but maybe the move is the
birthday present that sets him up for a career.

He appeared in 133 games last season –his highest total ever
– but had just 320 at-bats, 369 plate appearances. And he posted an 80/34
strikeout-to-walk ratio, which isn’t fabulous but hardly the hit-and-whiff
numbers to justify what many are currently portraying. But you should hit more than you strike out,
something he isn’t doing that well in the present.

As to the current theme that his power won’t be realized in
Fenway, I’ve never been smitten with that assessment of left-handers in Boston.
I’ve read all the analysis on ballparks, seen the dimensions, and yet go back
to a more basic thought. Two of the most prolific power hitters in Boston since
1990 were Mo Vaughn and David Ortiz. In 11 combined seasons they managed 396
doubles and 447 home runs. (The splits for retired players are difficult to
obtain for free and I’m not being paid to write this blog). Both were, or are,
left-handed pull hitters who adjusted for the Green Monster to an extent, and given the
right field initial dimension begins at 302 feet with an insignificant
three-foot fence, and a difficult layout to cover as it deepens. I’m not certain I agree with the appraisal as a flat
statement in any event. If you wanted to say it skews to right-handers, Ok. But
does it skew to all right-handers? No. If you’d like to include a physics genie
into the equation to assess how the average major league right fielder will
move and how he can react to the gaps and make the near pesky Pole grabs to
steal home runs away, and how the overall human performances will take away the
doubles and home runs from the left-handed power hitter significantly more than
another park, then I’ll rethink my occasional disregard for generalized park
equations. "Genie," btw, is one of those pathetic misuse words you pick up from
bad TV and never lose. In this case it was a conversation between Christine
Applegate and the Joey character (who later moved to Friends and then geez,
Joey!) on Married With Children. A show I liked in the Stone Age because Ed
O’Neil (Al Bundy) was a decent football player in real life.

To conclude, it is conceivable that Choi could begin the
year in Triple-A and I’d probably make the journey to see him if it occurs. But
I think it’s a possibility the Red Sox have duplicated the David Ortiz move. It
may not loom quite as large, but still a risk I would have taken, if I were as
brilliant as Theo Epstein. And yes, my view is obstructed. I desperately desire
another “I told ya so.” I need them some days to keep me going…

Dan Quon


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