To Live and Die in LAby Aaron Gleeman
May 23, 2005
It's the City of Angels and constant danger
South Central LA, can't get no stranger
Full of drama like a soap opera
-- Tupac Shakur, To Live & Die in L.A.
Hee Seop's Revenge
Early this season, the sports pages in Los Angeles were filled with pot shots, mean-spirited one-liners, and insults intended for Dodgers first baseman Hee Seop Choi. You see, Choi was an easy target. He went into a major funk immediately after coming over to the Dodgers in a midseason trade last year, hitting just .161/.289/.242 while spending most of the second half on the bench, and then began this season hitting a very similar .200/.294/.311 through LA's first 19 games.
He finally broke through with a big game April 26, going 4-for-5 with a homer against Arizona, and hasn't looked back since. Choi is hitting .365 with five homers, four doubles, and 16 RBIs in the 23 games since then, bringing his season totals all the way up to .296/.397/.519. He ranks tied for ninth among all major-league first basemen in Win Shares and, wouldn't you know it, his name has stopped being a punchline in the local (and national) media. Funny how that works. In fact, Choi's coverage in the local papers has flipped 180 degrees, as he is now actually getting some favorable press.
One particularly good article on Choi, written by Dodgers beat writer Steve Henson, appeared in the Los Angeles Times last week. In the piece, Henson describes how Choi has started to "blossom into the offensive force the Dodgers envisioned when they acquired him last season in a heavily criticized trade." Henson also writes about how general manager Paul DePodesta stuck by Choi, remaining one of his biggest supporters throughout the struggles, and how Choi hasn't yet quieted his critics:
Misgivings seem to accompany Choi even on his increasingly frequent home-run trots. Dodger fans chant his name when he comes to bat, yet doubters outnumber devotees. He is an amiable 6-foot-5 question mark who could as easily become an encumbrance as an exclamation point.
People who bashed Choi in the past will continue to be skeptical of his success because they have too much already invested in him failing. Of course, the flip side is that those of us who were believers in Choi from the beginning stuck with him through his struggles in part because of the investment in him succeeding. In other words, people on both sides of the fence want to appear "right."
My fellow Choi supporters and I can finally start wiping the egg off our faces now, and the tables have turned enough to where the people who look silly are those who made Choi the scapegoat for all things wrong with the Dodgers and DePodesta (which sounds funny for a team that has done nothing but win since he took over as GM). But even more so than those who simply mocked Choi, the people who look especially silly are the ones who tried to offer "evidence" that not only wasn't Choi succeeding, he was incapable of doing so.
I can't begin to tell you how often I read that "scouts say Choi's swing has a hole in it" or "insiders believe Choi's swing is too slow." (For just a few examples, click here, here, here, here or here.) What has always seemed strange to me is that similar flaws could be touted for nearly every player, but rarely are. Yet, so many mainstream writers covering Choi or the Dodgers chose to parrot the always unnamed scouts' take on his specific flaws. One writer in particular, ESPN.com's Buster Olney, seemingly wrote or quoted something about Choi's flawed swing on a weekly basis.
My point isn't to say that one side is right or the other is wrong, because Choi doing well so far this season is no more "proof" of his ability than his doing poorly in the second half of last season. Instead, I think the interesting thing about his hot hitting of late is the reaction it has received from the same media that wrote him off, repeatedly highlighted his supposed flaws, and openly mocked him. Which is to say there hasn't been much of a reaction from them at all, because Hee Seop Choi doing well doesn't fit the story.
Panic in the Streets of Anaheim
I ranked Angels rookie third baseman Dallas McPherson as the #10 prospect in baseball heading into this season and wrote, among other things:
Because of his strikeout totals, Dallas McPherson is one of the more controversial prospects around. There are many who feel that a player who strikes out as often as McPherson did in the minors last season (31.6% of his at-bats) will have too much trouble making contact in the majors, but I don't think it necessarily means he can't become a dominant hitter.
The early results are in and they are not very encouraging. McPherson has struck out in 26 of his 83 at-bats (31.3%) and is hitting just .217 in 27 games with the Angels. Those numbers are poor, but they are also somewhat expected. What has come as a big surprise is the fact that, along with the strikeouts and low batting average, McPherson hasn't flashed any of his substantial power.
McPherson has just one home run on the year, along with five doubles, and his Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .096 is actually well below the American League average of .148. This from a guy who hit 43 homers and racked up 94 total extra-base hits between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors last season. So is it time for panic with McPherson? Well, it appears as though Mike Scioscia thinks so, because McPherson, who had already been platooning, has started just three of the Angels' last seven games.
I tend to think teams should show quite a bit of patience when it comes to prospects though (Jason Bartlett, anyone?), perhaps even too much. And so when I saw the following note the other day from Angels blogger (and author of THT's Angels preview) Rob McMillin, I was somewhat reassured:
Note To D-Mac: Don't Panic
The Press-Enterprise has an article about D-Mac wherein somebody-or-other is concerned that he isn't Troy Glaus. Oh, fooey; of course he is Troy Glaus, just not the 2005 version. Let's look at D-Mac's ESPN stats page for his career to date versus Troy Glaus's 1998 rookie year Retrosheet.Player AB Line K BB HR ======================================================== Glaus 117 .231/.298/.316 35 12 1 McPherson 118 .220/.270/.373 42 8 4Not too bad, considering, and really fairly similar, if a little more strikeout-prone and a little more homer prone. That is, don't panic, kid. Some of us know better. You may not be Troy Glaus in 2005, but you look an awful lot like him back in 1998.
I couldn't have said it better myself (which is why I didn't try). For those of you wondering, Troy Glaus "rebounded" from his slow start in 1998 to hit .240/.331/.450 with 29 homers, 29 doubles, and 71 walks in 1999, and then led the AL with 47 homers while making his first All-Star team in 2000.
Aaron Gleeman is a freelance writer whose work can also be found regularly at AaronGleeman.com, Fox Sports, Rotoworld, and Insider Baseball. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions via e-mail.