01 April 2016

How Well Did Hyun Soo Kim Handle Fastballs In Korea?

The growing concern around the Orioles spring training camp with Hyun Soo Kim was largely about his inability to hit MLB quality fastballs.  When he cheated and quickened his swing to catch up to mid 90s heat, he was particularly susceptible to breaking balls.  However, when he sat back and hit like he did in Korea, fastballs would simply eat him up.  It made me wonder how exactly did he fare in the KBO.  Is there anything that indicates that this is just a rough patch and that the professional hitter is still alive and well? Those 40 spring training at bats simply are not enough to show his soft skills.

Dan, over at MyKBO, pointed me toward this database.  My Korean is poor and my translation software is spirited, but I had to ask a friend what certain categories were.  For instance, what I thought was bottle flesh was actually Grounded into Double Play.  To say the least, it was a learning experience.  Anyway, from this database I was able to see how Kim performed against all of the pitchers he has faced over the past five seasons.  From there I was able to cross reference pitchers that appeared in both my Pitch F/X source and in this spreadsheet.  Of course, the velocities are not from the same time period.  In fact, most of the velocities are taken about one to four years before Kim ever faced them, so we can tentatively assume that the values probably overstate velocity.  Still, I think it gives us some idea.

The second issue was that there is not much crossover between my MLB Pitch F/X values and what one may find on the mound in a KBO game.  In fact, I was only able to come up with 139 plate appearances where Kim faced a pitcher for which I had fastball velocities at some point in his career.  I wound up doing a simple batch approach.  I would compare pitchers at the halfway point for average fastball velocity, which nicely coincided with 90 mph.  Mind you, pitchers in the Majors with a fastball velocity on average of 90 and below constitute about 15% of the pitching population.  In Korea, it appears that it may be closer to 80%.  An overwhelming majority of 90+ mph throwers in Korea are foreign players and many of them do not throw that hard either.

Keep in mind that these values do not establish true talent levels.  You need about 200 PA for that.  However, it is plausible to consider extreme differences as suggesting underlying concerns.

>90 mph 70 1 0 .245 .400 .264
90 or less 69 3 8 .365 .406 .794

Perhaps, the most interesting thing that stands out is that Kim was teeing off on pitchers throwing less than 90 mph.  Kim averaged a home run in a little less than nine plate appearances against soft tossers.  Add a little heat and the only extra base hit he mustered was a double.  It appears, based on this small sample, that Kim had a different approach when facing harder fastball throwing pitchers, which was to work the count and be more defensive.  It appears to have resulted in more walks and a collapse in power.

Of course, all batters fare worse against higher velocity pitchers and it may be in an environment like Korea that one gets use to the range of velocity there.  In other words, perhaps elite bats are able to adjust and adapt to higher velocity environments when they encounter them.  With this in mind, I did the same thing for Jung Ho Kang.  With Kang, the same size was worse with 84 total plate appearances.

>90 mph 30 0 2 .154 .233 .385
90 or less 54 3 7 .364 .426 .909

In comparing the two players, they both struggled mightily against higher velocity competition.  In this very small sample size, Kang gives some hope as he did flash the ability to take high velocity pitchers deep.  However, these numbers would have to improve for him to be a viable bat in MLB.  And, he did.  Some of his hitting last year was a tad on the fortunate side, but he did show a MLB quality bat while what we see above would find that to be highly questionable.

So what does it all mean?  If anything, start Hyun Soo Kim against Marco Estrada.  We should feel pretty confident there.  The rest?  The warning signs are there and it still seems possible Baltimore might try to see what Kim can do, begrudgingly.


RED said...

I think he just needs some time to adjust.

Jung Ho Kang (2015 ST): 9 for 45 (17 SO)
Hyun Soo Kim (2016 ST): 8 for 44 (6 SO)


~BA against fastballs 95 mph or higher ('15)~

1. 22 for 50 Jung Ho Kang 0.440
2. 20 for 50 Shin-Soo Choo 0.400
3. 24 for 60 Manny Machado 0.400
4. 16 for 41 Dave Freese 0.390
5. 19 for 49 Prince Fielder 0.388
6. 17 for 44 Alcides Escobar 0.386
7. 16 for 42 Eric Hosmer 0.381
8. 17 for 47 Dee Gordon 0.362
9. 22 for 61 Ben Revere 0.361
10. 23 for 65 Buster Posey 0.354

Roger said...

One thing that data suggests is that Kim should not take the different approach against higher velo pitchers. Kang seems to have sacrificed contact for power in his approach and Kim the opposite (albeit in a small sample). Kim's game was not really that much into power until recent years. He needs to be taught to be more aggressive - swing harder, miss some, be an Oriole hitter...... LOL He will still be good against fosh ballers and his BA/OBP might look worse like Kang's against hard throwers, but he might do a little real damage. And, like I said before, it wouldn't hurt him to do a few Pilates and some weight training.

Jon Shepherd said...

Kang did show promise in Spring Training with a couple home runs and a couple doubles. He flashed that value. Hopefully, Kim can do the same. Of course, just because Kang did it does not mean everyone can do it. Perhaps more worrisome is that there is not much adaptation for Kim's defense, which has been quite dreadful.

Anonymous said...

This needs more time, people, he'll still be better than that 32 year old stiff that was released by 2 VERY COMPETANT organizations in 2014!

Jon Shepherd said...


Anonymous said...

Blue Jays and Arizona are alot more competent than the O's!

Roger said...

Arizona??? Have you looked at their trade history???? Puhleeze......

Anonymous said...

Kim is Dan Duquette's mess. Dan hasn't done very well since he didn't get the job as President of baseball operations in Toronto. He didn't replace Cruz and Markakis with quality players. He gave Chris Davis a Ryan Howard contract when some of that money should have gone for starting pitching. Our starting pitching this year is worse than last year. I don't know what he did in the Dexter Fowler cluster f*** or the or the Yovanni Gallardo fiasco, but a troubling pattern is evolving with his decision making. I was in Florida following the Orioles for a month and got to see Kim play 6 times, and i watched him in warm ups and batting practice. He is not very fast, has a very weak arm, and no range. The outfielders I have on the 16 to 19 year old American Legion team I manage have better arms. He has no chance to hit at the American professional baseball level. This situation will get worse and it could cost Duquette his job.

Gil said...

I meant to leave my name on the previous comments about Kim and Duquette. It's Gil.

the muse said...

Well here it is Aug. 2nd. Kim hits safely 1 out of every 3 at bats. Not a lot of power but every team needs a table setter. Something the O's are woefully short of still.We have enough guys who can nail 20 a year (now if they would start hitting them,that would be nice), a guy who can get on base, has an OBP of .409, a OPS of .851 has a place on this team. His defense, which did look horrible in spring training, has become respectable. The O's have trotted out a whole bunch of people over the last couple of years to left field who you just wished and prayed no one would hit it out to them. Kim is at least competent. Great arm? No. But once again, competent. So we have Mr. Kim for another year. As a platoon player, I think he will continue to add value to the lineup. tim in san jose