Choo at the Top of the Order and Leading Tribe Offense
By Mike Brandyberry
It’s always important to get off to a good start. But despite a slow beginning to his season, Shin-Soo Choo has been getting the Indians offense started since being inserted into the leadoff spot in mid-May.
Choo was off to a slow start this season, struggling with teams pitching him inside, a hamstring injury that had him miss a week and needed a jump start to his season. Indians manager Manny Acta needed a jump start to the Tribe offense and inserted Choo at the top of the order hoping to spark both on May 14. Choo had only hit leadoff for two major league games, both last August.
“The last time I hit leadoff was when I came back from injury (last season) and then in 2006 at Triple-A with the Seattle Mariners I hit there all season,” Choo said.
Since Acta’s bold decision to move Choo to the top, he has thrived in the top spot. Since May 14 Choo is hitting .306, 15 doubles, five home runs, 12 RBIs and 30 runs in 34 starts. Last night he was two for four against Bronson Arroyo and the Cincinnati Reds, scoring another run and helping lead the Tribe to a sweep of the Redlegs with an 8-1 victory.
Choo has raised his batting average from .235 to .276 since the move, but promises he has not changed his methods at the plate. He is still aggressive at the plate. “I don’t do anything different,” Choo said. “Swing at the first pitch you see that is good. I don’t change anything or any approach.”
A lot of leadoff hitters feel the need to go to the plate and see several pitches, both to make the pitcher work and to see the pitcher’s repertoire to help aid the rest of the team. However, Choo sites his potential to strike out and slow down the offense as his reason to stay aggressive at the top of the order.
“I have a lot of strikeouts, so if I take pitches, I lose a good strike,” Choo said. “The first good one I see, I swing at.”
Choo’s aggressive approach has helped him because hitting in the leadoff spot, pitchers have been more aggressive early in the count. Pitchers don’t want to fall behind with their off speed pitches, so Choo has seen many more fastball’s early in the count.
“Still I see a lot of inside pitches, but I see more fastballs early,” Choo said. “I still see a lot of off speed pitches later in the count, in hitter’s counts.”
Early in the season, before Choo was hitting leadoff, he felt pitchers were pitching him very closely inside so that he could not get extended and use his strong, opposite field power.
His power at the top of the batting order has given the Indians a boost, much like Grady Sizemore has done when he was healthy from 2005-08. Choo loves the comparison and the role and looks forward to Sizemore’s return to the lineup, regardless of who would hit at the top of the order.
“Why not, he’s a great player,” Choo said of Sizemore. “When he is in the lineup, it’s different. The lineup is different, whether he is doing well or bad. He affects everyone in the lineup.”
While Choo doesn’t change his approach depending on where he is in the order, or worry about where Acta writes his name on the lineup card, the results are clear that he is thriving on the top line. Choo feels the biggest change in his game over the last six weeks isn’t where he hits, but how he feels. He’s healthier now than he’s been since the start of the 2011 season.
“I don’t feel any different baseball wise, but I feel much better health wise,” Choo said. “Last year I had thumb surgery and oblique problems, I wasn’t playing, I was just trying to stay healthy. I’m much more comfortable playing baseball.”
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images