Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Ha-Seong Kim could be what the Padres need

On the eve of the new year in 2020, the San Diego Padres inked infielder Ha-Seong Kim to a 4-year, $28M deal after being posted by his KBO club, the Kiwoom Heroes, where he had put up an impressive career line of .294/.373/.493.

His first season as a Padre did not hold a candle to his KBO stats, finishing the year with .202/.270/.352 slash-line that would carry a disappointing 70 wRC+. Kim struggled to make hard contact, hitting only nine barrels all year (a 4.5% rate) despite making a fair amount of contact, striking out 23% of the time while walking at 7.4% of the time. With Fernando Tatis Jr. seemingly out until at least early June, the Padres have a hole at SS that Kim, looking to build off of a strong spring training, is looking to fill.

The Breakout

Coming from a non-fantasy baseball perspective, Ha-Seong Kim is a good baseball player despite what 0.6 fWAR from 2021 will tell you. Although spring training is typically a write-off for most, Kim’s early improvements at the plate have been encouraging for a team that just lost its MVP-caliber shortstop.

Over 36 plate appearances in the spring, the 26-year-old had a 5:6 walk to strikeout ratio while slashing .367/.472/.600, providing perhaps a glimmer of hope that the bat can turn around. Despite a lackluster .270/.265 wOBA/xwOBA split in 2021, a pwOBA of .298 indicates that there was probably more to love in the bat than some of his metrics let on.

Graph Via Max-Sporting-Studio Leader-boards

In the image above, I compared the pwOBA of Kim with two other hitters that debuted at the age of 25 who also didn’t barrel up the ball well in their rookie seasons. Both players have played well after breaking out late in their careers, sporting an fWAR of 8.3 (Wendle) and 5.0 (Urshela), respectively, and both while typically splitting playing time. Both Wendle and Urshela had their “breakout” years at the age of 28, while Kim is entering his age-26 season with still plenty of room to grow. Kim came to the major leagues with 133 career home runs in the KBO and finished his rookie season in 2021 with eight while also stealing six bases.

Kim has the power to reach double-digit home runs as he has shown in Korea, and his speed is also a weapon that has room to be utilized, ranking in the 82nd percentile in sprint speed in 2021. Considering the Padres weren’t able to throw Kim out there every day last season, the 302 plate appearances, usually stretched over periods of Tatis’ absences, aren’t a large enough tell to fully close the book on his potential.

Video Source:

Kim finished the 2021 season with a swinging strike rate of 88%, while also carrying a 21.7% whiff rate. One of the driving forces in Kim’s struggles was a 68.5% first-pitch strike rate, which ranked 5th highest in the league among hitters who made 200 PA’s, sitting only behind Yadier Molina, Luis Robert, Erik Gonzalez, and Aledmys Diaz. Since coming over to MLB, Kim has been subjected to higher velocities which have resulted in many questioning if he can handle the velocity change. On pitches 90+ MPH, Kim hit a discouraging .203/.294/.350 line, however, his on base did increase as velocity increased.

The Glove

Kim has the ability to play all over the infield despite signing originally as a shortstop. The Padres experimenting with Tatis in the outfield last season might be a sign that fans could see more of the defense that helped Kim to that 0.6 fWAR despite his offensive woes.

Image Source:

The numbers for Kim in the field were as advertised when he came to MLB. Kim finished the year with +9 DRS, ranking 35th in the major leagues across the infield while also finishing with +3 OAA, sticking in the 82nd percentile in the category.

The exclusion of Tatis means that Kim will be seeing more time in the field, allowing for a larger sample size for his glove to accrue some value for him across the infield. Kim was slotted in as the team’s starting shortstop for the season and will now likely split time at that position with Padres top prospect C.J. Abrams, and will probably play some second base when the Padres eventually decide to treat Hosmer as a sunk cost and shift Cronentowrth over to first base more often.

The Padres are unlikely to give Kim a full-time role, especially when Tatis comes back this season. The call-up of C.J. Abrams does make it a bit harder to claim a position, and he will likely be kept to a similar utility role, playing every other day unless injuries come calling for the Friars once again, or if Abrams gets sent down. If Kim can use his added playing time to adjust to the higher velocity and make solid contact more consistently, it will be hard for the Padres to justify keeping him out of the lineup as they look to bounce back after failing to make the playoffs last season.

Murray Brown

Murray is a student at Humber College and can be found on Twitter at @_MurrayBrown