Gil LeBreton

Rangers’ Choo leaves a hole that Elvis, Profar can fill

Texas Rangers' Shin-Soo Choo is hit in the left forearm by a pitch from Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Ross Detwiler on Monday night. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Texas Rangers' Shin-Soo Choo is hit in the left forearm by a pitch from Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Ross Detwiler on Monday night. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) AP

The gloom is understandable.

Shin-Soo Choo is scheduled to be examined by Dr. Keith Meister today to determine whether his broken forearm needs season-ending surgery.

"It’s a gut punch," manager Jeff Banister said, understandably.

Choo fills a vital role in the Texas Rangers’ division-leading lineup.

Of all the leadoff hitters in the American League this season, Choo’s .369 on-base percentage ranks behind only Houston’s Jose Altuve.

Banister called the task of replacing the right fielder, "very challenging news." And I don’t dispute that.

But the Rangers have played 120 games this season, and Choo had missed 76 of them. This is his fourth trip to the disabled list.

It’s hard to consider a player irreplaceable if he’s already had to be replaced for 63 percent of his team’s games.

What Banister is tasked with doing now is replenishing all of the things that Choo quietly and efficiently contributed.

The typical Choo at-bat, for example. No one in the Rangers clubhouse knows the strike zone better. Thus, his trips to the plate seldom ended with anxious flailing.

Choo was seeing an average of 4.02 pitches per plate appearance, which would have ranked him around 18th in the league if he had enough trips to qualify. He routinely finishes in the top 10 in the league in the category.

A long at-bat means a longer look at the opposing pitcher for the Rangers who bat behind Choo. The organization, in fact, would like all of their young players to take a cue in plate selectivity from Choo.

So, yes, that will be missed.

"We need to find someone who can solidify the leadoff spot for us," Banister told the media after Monday’s 5-2 win over Oakland.

As noted above, he has already tried to do that 76 times.

The Rangers have used six players in the leadoff spot in their 120 games. Choo batted first 39 times, and Rougned Odor is next with 31.

In the 45 games that Choo has played, the Rangers have a 25-20 record. In the 75 without him, however, the team is 45-30, a .600 winning percentage. They’ve won more often without him.

With Choo as leadoff man, the Rangers are 22-17 (.564 percentage). With Odor, they are 16-15 (.516). With Delino DeShields batting first, the team is 13-9 (.591).

The leadoff man with the best winning percentage? Jurickson Profar, who’s 17-9, a.654 pace.

Feel free to connect the dots.

Profar has been seeing 4.23 pitches per plate appearance. If he had more than 222 trips to the plate, that rate would place him around seventh in the American League. Not bad for a young player.

Profar’s slash line remains solid -- .277/.339/.396. But he’s been having trouble with left-handers, batting .224 while hitting righties for a .299 average.

What is all adds up to is that Banister is going to have to be creative and flexible as he tries to fill Choo’s shoes over the next two months.

The trade with the Yankees for Carlos Beltran doesn’t seem so superfluous now, does it?

Beltran makes the most sense as Choo’s replacement in right field. Banister can use the designated hitter spot to try to replace Choo’s power and on-base contributions.

Against lefties, I’d try Elvis Andrus in the leadoff spot. Elvis is batting .333 against left-handers with a .369 on-base percentage. He’s become a much more mature and selective hitter in his eighth year as a big leaguer.

I’m not a proponent of the leadoff hitter being a speed guy and trying to steal bases ahead of the sluggers behind him. Just get on base.

Andrus’ lefty-righty splits suggest that he can do the job.

The other set of splits that can’t be ignored is at first base, where Mitch Moreland has raised his average against lefties to .267. Banister has been using him selectively against left-handers, and it’s reflected in Moreland’s numbers. Mitch batted .339 in July with seven homers.

The replacement leadoff man against righties? Profar. As with most things that have been tossed in his lap this season, he’s shown he can handle it.

The historical numbers show that the leadoff man in the lineup comes to the plate an average of 4.8 times a game. The No. 9 hitter bats only 3.9 times.

Why put a .215 hitter in the No. 1 spot, therefore, just because he’s quicker on the bases? Profar, remember, is a .299 hitter against righties.

In the aftermath of Choo’s broken arm Monday, the Rangers summoned Ryan Rua from Triple-A, which makes sense. Rua was in an extended slump with the Rangers and has no extra-base hits and only one RBI in the second half.

But he may get more playing time in Choo’s absence, and the additional at-bats might regenerate his offense.

If not, in two weeks the roster will expand and Banister will have a variety of options, including Joey Gallo.

While the Rangers were beating the Athletics on Monday, Gallo and Rua were both homering for Round Rock off Tim Lincecum.

Note to Banister: In 82 games at Triple-A, a half-season, Gallo has 43 extra-base hits, 23 homers, 59 runs batted in, 64 walks and a .967 OPS.

Prince Fielder was given 370 plate appearances to try to turn his season around. Gallo has been called up twice and has been given only 16 at-bats.

Just sayin’.

Some Rangers fans howled when general manager Jon Daniels elected not to make an expensive trade at the deadline for a starting pitcher. Daniels instead added the two bats – Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy.

It’s hard to criticize that decision now.

But this team has survived its share of gut punches before.