Sunday, August 29, 2004

Free Hee Seop Choi Part 1

Day two of the Fourth Outfielder Baseballl Blog, and Hee Seop is already on the bench. I guess this is because Robin Ventura is “hot” (.250/.368/.438 in 19 PA) in August while Choi is “cold” (.175/.314/.250 in 52 PA) and because Robin Ventura’s career numbers against Benson are better than Choi’s (.353/.421/.765 in 19 PA vs. .333/.333/.444 in 9 PA). Let’s revisit the last time Ventura hit against Kris Benson: June 25, 2000. Ventura hit .232/.338/.439 that year; going into that game, he was hitting .246/.360/.512 on the year and was a few weeks shy of his 33rd birthday. Benson was a 25-year-old with 304.2 major league IP under his belt at the time, brandishing a career 3.66 ERA. I think it’s fair to argue that the Ventura’s 19 plate appearances against Benson in 1999 and 2000 are not a great basis for starting Ventura over Choi.

When a player’s only hitting .175 in a month, benching him a few times might be a good idea. But when a player’s hitting .175 for the month of August while being repeatedly benched after putting up a .270/.388/.495 line in the first four months of the season, giving him more playing time is probably a good idea. I'll admit I haven't done any research nor seen any that talks about relative success of players based on the amount of playing time they're given while slumping, but my fan's intuition tells me that players will improve with more playing time, and I'd love to see Choi have more opportunity to develop his hitting.

Today, Robin Ventura came up with runners on 1st and 2nd and two out in the first and fouled out to first. In the fourth he came up with Green on first and none out and reached on Cliff Floyd’s error, scoring the second of the Dodgers 3 runs in the inning. Had Floyd caught it, the Dodgers wouldn’t have scored any runs. In the fifth inning, Ventura hit a grand slam. He did this by hitting Kris Benson’s 97th pitch of the game just over the right field wall after Benson had just walked two hitters and had yet to retire a batter in the inning. I appreciate the grand slam, but I’d have to say that I’d like Hee Seop’s chances in that situation. In the seventh Ventura flew out. So as of this moment, Ventura is 1 for 4 with a home run. Through Ventura’s first four plate appearances today, here is how Choi’s Dodger career compares to the players who have taken plate appearances from him while with the Dodgers:

As PH / Late Game Replacement40000000000
As starter528911400.34620.23080.21352.037
PH for Choi620000.33330.33330.23333
Lineup spot after PH501000.200.090
Non-Choi/Green Starters vs RHP255100110.240.360.1981.555

Now, that's certainly a tiny sample size, and Choi has been bad, but given that Choi has outperformed his replacements in both the small sample size of July 31-present and in the large sample size of the entire season, and given that he's the best defensive first baseman on the team, sitting Choi against RHP just doesn't make sense. I understand the desire to get Jayson Werth into the lineup, but Choi is a high-ceiling young player with a high-probability of reaching his ceiling. Werth, on the other hand, has been productive in the minors but is not a strong bet to be an above average major league starter. Almost all of his perceived value comes from his dominating Vegas this year and his .267/.343/.511 line in just 197 PA this year. He's likely best suited to being a (here it comes) Fourth Outfielder to platoon with a big-platoon split lefty (his 2004 GPA splits: .345 vs. LHP, .245 vs. RHP). Given the choice between developing Choi and developing Werth, there's no question the Dodgers should focus on developing Werth. Pinch-hitting for him against left-handed relievers in high-leverage at bats does make sense, but pinch-hitting for him whenever there's a southpaw on the mound (Choi has only 4 PA against LHP while with the Dodgers) doesn't seem beneficial since Olmedo Saenz and Jose Hernandez aren't exactly God's gift to hitting and Dodger hitters occupying Choi's lineup spot after he was pinch-hit for (the "Lineup Spot after PH" line above) aren't doing to well (most of these PA came from Robin Ventura).

Hee Seop Choi is the better Dodger for the future and the better Dodger for the present. The more playing time he receives, the happier I will be.

Excellent thoughts about Choi. I wonder if Tracy and DePodesta are seeing eye to eye on Choi.

Maybe Tracy is waiting for Choi to hit a home run. Of course, it's really hard to hit one from the bench.

I'm sure Choi will be sitting Tuesday in Arizona when Randy Johnson pitches. Very few of the Dodgers now have had much success against him although Green has homered off of him twice.
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