When the Indians announced that right fielder Shin-Soo Choo would be out for at least six weeks on Saturday, Cleveland’s collective heart sank.
Despite being in a down year, Choo’s on-field contributions have been immensely valuable (he’s on pace for 3.6 WAR over 162 games), and the last thing a perennially disappointed fanbase needs in the midst of the Tribe’s cold streak is for the franchise’s most beloved player (sorry, Grady) to go down with a gruesome-looking injury
Even putting aside the basic human empathy we ought to feel for someone who gets his thumb fractures by a hard sphere traveling 89 mph, there’s no question that losing Choo is a serious blow to the team.
But that doesn’t mean that no good can come of it. A break like this (pun most definitely not intended) could be just what the doctor ordered for Choo (that one was).
Part of Choo’s slump this year has just been bad luck—plug in his .343 xBABIP for his career-low .302 BABIP and his slashline jumps from .244/.333/.353 to .275/.364/.398—but even his luck-neutral numbers aren’t quite up to his normal standard. Something isn’t quite right.
Choo has publicly acknowledged that something is wrong; earlier this month he said that this season has been a mental struggle for him:
“There’s been a lot of stress this year,” Choo said on Sunday. “My wife has told me not to worry about it. I mean, I know. But it’s hard to do it.” (…)
“I know what the problem is right now,” he said. “I’m thinking too much. I’m trying too hard. That’s just my natural thought. I talked about it in Spring Training. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it makes it worse. It’s given me a lot of stress.”
In particular, Choo has been distracted after his DUI arrest in May. “I wanted to play good in the field,” he said. “I show better play and then try to make people forget about that happening.”
If the decline in his power and plate discipline is really all in his head (the latter would especially make sense), this injury may be a blessing in disguise for Choo and the Indians. If he’s going through a serious crisis of confidence, a day off or two—the usual prescription for a physically healthy player who isn’t sure of himself—wouldn’t be enough to get his mindset back to normal.
Choo certainly won’t be relaxing for the next month-and-a-half, but he’ll be rehabbing and recovering away from the cameras. As he nurses his fractured thumb, he can also work on rebuilding his self confidence.
For the Indians this year, it’s still a bad tradeoff—a return to his normal level of play when he comes back probably wouldn’t make up for losing him until mid-August—but Choo’s thumb isn’t the only part of him that’s out of sorts, and if he can use the time off to get his head on straight that would be a huge boost for the Tribe in the stretch run.
Choo, we believe in you.