Choi’s fast start has U.S. jaws flappingThe Chicago Cubs are leading the National League’s Central Division with 13 wins and eight losses, and one of the prime reasons for this success has been the stellar play of first baseman Choi Hee-seop, who is already being mentioned as a candidate for Rookie of the Year.
On Monday, CBS Sports named him the fourth-best first-baseman in the major leagues, and the third best in the National League. Only one other rookie was named to the top-10 for any position, Lyle Overbay of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who also plays first.
Choi is the first Korean to be a position player in Major League Baseball. As early as it is, his statistics seem worthy of Rookie-of-the-Year consideration. Although his batting average is only .261, his slugging percentage stands at .518, the highest on the team after Sammy Sosa’s .672.
Choi’s slugging percentage is a true indicator of his performance, for he has to share playing time with Eric Karros. The Cubs’ manager, Dusty Baker, has decided to alternate the two, using Choi against right-handed pitchers, while Karros is inserted into the lineup to face southpaws.
A slugging percentage is calculated by dividing the total number of bases gained from all hits by the number of at bats.
So, considering Choi’s limited playing time, his slugging percentage shows that he is delivering when he gets to swing the bat.
His batting average against lefties is, at .167, considerably lower than his .342 against righties. But those numbers are misleading. In the 11 times Choi has faced left-handed pitchers, he was walked five times. That’s one-third of all the walks he has received so far this year.
Also consider this: Many lefties who faced Choi were relief pitchers, paid to get out left-handed hitters, but they chose to walk him.
I don’t think it’s safe to assume that Choi can’t handle left-handed pitching. When Choi was playing for Chicago’s Triple A Iowa Cubs last season, his batting average against lefties was .301.
Certainly he’s not as capable as Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners, who is a contact hitter. Still, thus far Choi appears comfortable facing any pitcher. At 192 centimeters (6 feet, 5 inches) and 109 kilograms (240 pounds) he’s certainly big enough to hit for power. Two years ago, Choi led all Cub minor league players with 95 RBIs.
One of Choi’s four home runs came off Tom Glavine of the New York Mets, one of the best lefties in the game and a future Hall of Famer.
If Choi gets more playing time against lefties, I think he will do a solid job, for he will have had more time to see those pitchers’ stuff.
A question further down the road this season will be whether Choi, 24, can make the All-Star team. If he continues to put up similar numbers for the next couple of months, I’d say his chances are pretty good.
The National League’s manager this year is Dusty Baker, and because the game will be played at US Cellular Field, home of the American League’s Chicago White Sox, that means the team will need a designated hitter. First basemen are often selected as DHs. Even as a back-up, Choi chances are better than fair to make the team.
by Brian Lee