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Ji-Man Choi brings joy

The Rays would not be in playoff position without the Korean slugger.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last night Ji-Man Choi hit a key three-run homer to cut the Red Sox lead to 4-3, and it’s not the first time he’s came through with a big hit.

On August 1 the Rays had a choice to make. Who would make the roster for the rest of the year as the left handed bat that played first base or designated hitter. The choice between Choi and Nate Lowe didn’t have a clear cut winner at the time.

The advantage of choosing Choi was keeping both players on the roster. You could still have Lowe as an option coming up from Durham where you would’ve had to designate Choi for assignment. Keeping both kept the team’s depth in case of injury, even though it ended up being the one spot that the Rays didn’t really suffer any injuries down the stretch.

Lowe hit well in his first taste of Major League Baseball hitting .294/.365/.510 and putting up a 133 wRC+ over 115 plate appearances. At the time Choi was hitting .264/.354/.419 and put up a 109 wRC+ over 322 plate appearances. Lowe had been the more productive hitter at the time even if it was over a relatively small sample.

The Rays chose the Choi option and he rewarded them. In 154 plate appearances he has hit .244/.377/.496 and put up a 131 wRC+. In other words, he added power to his OBP skills. He’s hit seven homers and has a .252 ISO over this stretch.

It’s not just the overall numbers, but he has came through in big spots. As mentioned he started the fourth inning homer barrage last night and came through with a big hit off Kenley Jansen in the comeback against the Dodgers.

On the season Choi is hitting the ball as hard as anybody on the team. Of the players with 200 plus plate appearances only Yandy Diaz hits the ball harder. Choi is tied with Brandon Lowe at 90.9 mph just ahead of Tommy Pham’s 90.8 mph.

Since August 1, he has really started to smash the ball. Choi leads the team with a 93.1 mph average exit velocity of anybody with at least 5 balls in play. This has helped his ISO rise almost .100.

Currently it’s hard to argue that you would want anybody else at the plate, outside of Austin Meadows, than Choi right now. Austin Meadows has been on a tear carrying the Tampa Bay Rays offensively in the month of September. Meadows deserves all the accolades he gts with a .400/.489/.800 line and 235 wRC+ in 88 PA for the month.

However he isn’t the only one that has been leading the way. Without Choi’s production the Rays likely wouldn’t control their destiny in the wild card race.