MLB Betting Inquiry: What Will Jung Ho Kang do for the Pirates?

Posted by Mila Anderson on August 14, 2015 in

Last winter, when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed 27-year-old Jung Ho Kang away from the Korean Baseball Organization, they paid a posting fee of $5 million to his former team and gave him a four-year, $11 million deal. However, the Pittsburgh press was cynical about his signing, although the shortstop had put up a .739 slugging percentage the year before. When Kang had come to the plate just 27 times in spring training, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook lamented that Kang would have to start the regular MLB betting season in the lineup because of the team’s contract commitment – not because of Kang’s performance. Of course, four years and $16 million in money is a paltry sum given what teams are giving to other players.

MLB Betting Inquiry: What Will Jung Ho Kang do for the Pirates?



It’s true that many players come from the Asian leagues and fizzle here. The Korean Baseball Organization is less well known than the Japanese leagues, and there are no MLB-quality position players who have come from that league so far. Given the fact that Kang would be 28 by the time he appeared as a Pirate, there was little to chance that he would continue to grow as a player. So his age and his origins made him a real mystery for the team. Things got ugly when the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi complained that Kang should not take the position of the incumbent second baseman Neil Walker, more because of Walker’s roots in western Pennsylvania (and Kang’s roots across the Pacific) than anything that had to do with performance on the field.

It turns out that all of that pessimism was unjustified. It did take Kang about a month to figure out how the major league game worked. Because Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison have spent time on and off the DL, Kang has played shortstop and third base, ringing up 323 plate appearances but not taking anyone’s job. Kang has hit .291, easily outperforming Neil Walker.

But did the Pirates overspend? FanGraphs reports that if you look at what Kang has provided, he has been worth $22.6 million (when the deal cost the team $16 million), based on dollars per Wins Above Replacement. So at least to this point, the deal with Kang was a great one for the Pirates. And what’s even more surprising is not just that Kang has lived up to expectations but the way that he’s done it. Kang is not hugely talented in any one particular area, but he has a wide range of talent. He can play anywhere in the infield and appear anywhere in the batting order without seeming to be in the wrong spot. He does hit left-handed pitchers a little better, but he can also hit righties. In a way, he has become the National League’s answer to Ben Zobrist, and if the Pirates make it back to the playoffs, having such a versatile player on your playoff roster is a huge option to have on your bench. Now that Jung Ho Kang is producing, no one is talking about where he’s from – or whether he costs the team too much money.

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