30 June 2016

Hyun Soo Kim Has Been A Revelation

Depending on what you believe, Hyun Soo Kim's first year with the Orioles was close to not happening. Before he ever played an inning of regular season baseball, the Orioles were exploring how to get out of his contract (signed just a few months prior). As Roch Kubatko of MASN wrote in late March, "I checked again last night and the Orioles definitely are open to moving Kim, whose performance hasn’t met expectations." That would be his highly scrutinized spring training performance.

Kim did not hit well in spring training, and that, combined with other concerns (defense? baserunning? money?), put Kim's Orioles' career in jeopardy before it ever really started. The Orioles wanted Kim to start the year in Triple-A. He justifiably declined. Some fans foolishly called Kim selfish, and some even made the puzzling decision to boo him on opening day. Adam Jones rightfully admonished fans afterward.

That brings us to Kim's actual production during his debut season. Here's a summary: He just keeps hitting. Kim didn't make his debut until the O's sixth game, when he collected two singles in three trips to the plate. He appeared in the lineup sporadically through mid-May. Because he kept hitting and getting on base, he finally started seeing his name in the lineup regularly starting on May 25.

Overall, it's hard not to be impressed by the numbers. In 137 plate appearances, Kim has posted a 148 wRC+. That's second-best on the Orioles, behind Manny Machado (159 wRC+). Kim is almost certainly not this good -- a BABIP of .390 is propping up his numbers to some extent -- but he has been excellent so far and has given the Orioles way, way more than they thought they were getting in March. (Seriously, go through Kubatko's post above comparing Kim and Rickard. It's amusing.)

At the time Kim's signing was announced, fans were hoping that Kim could provide an on-base threat. He's done exactly that, with a .438 on-base percentage. That's the highest among all major league hitters with at least 100 plate appearances (David Ortiz is second at .433). Kim has walked exactly as many times as he's struck out (16), and his walk rate of 11.7% trails only Chris Davis (13.6%).

One of the amusing parts of the Orioles trying to get out of Kim's contract before the season is that not only did it seem like a reasonable deal at the time, but it only looks better now. The Orioles signed Kim for two years and $7 million, and based on his production (0.9 fWAR, 0.7 bWAR), he's essentially been worth his contract so far with a season and a half to go. Even if Kim performs at replacement level for the rest of his deal, his contract has already been worth it.

You probably couldn't have predicted it based on how the season started -- Kim buried on the bench; Adam Jones battling an injury; Joey Rickard receiving an extended stretch of at-bats as the team's everyday leadoff hitter -- but the Orioles have stumbled into an effective left field platoon with Kim and Rickard. This is how the two have performed against opposite-handed throwers:

Kim vs. RHP: 152 wRC+
Rickard vs. LHP: 129 wRC+

That is very strong production, especially considering how terrible O's left fielders were just a season ago. Perhaps Kim should be playing even more and given a chance to show what he can do against lefties, but it's hard to argue with the results.

Kim has exceeded all expectations, even before taking into account the drama during and after spring training, combined with being chained to the bench for a while. Kim hasn't reached (and likely won't reach) the point where it's expected to see him bat about 50% better than the league average. But at least 10-20% is certainly within play, and if anyone would have guaranteed you that before the season, you would have been thrilled. The same goes for the Orioles, who are surely just as surprised.

All I know is that I'd be just fine with more moments like this:


Roger said...

Yep. Agree with all of this. I do believe that the option to get some ABs in the minors might have made everything go smoother and we'd be right back a the same results. And Kim's swing still looks kinda ugly. But the SD HR you showed was no fluke and he is starting to hit doubles along with his singles. BABIP and all, there may be better yet to come. I'm glad to see you guys saying that Rickard has some value too. He, too, is not as good as he was purported to be but he seems to have made some adjustments after his slump and is hitting OK again. He's a keeper and likely to get better, too, in the next few years.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I don't know if anyone here ever said Rickard was a complete disaster or hopeless cause. But his strong spring seemed to get many fans way too excited, and we did our best to temper those expectations. I'm still skeptical on how good of an outfielder he is, but if he at least can consistently hit left-handed pitching, there's a role for him on the team. It's not like there's a bunch of great options behind him, at least.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think the worst I have called Rickard is a 5th outfielder. The best compliment I have given him is that he is a decent platoon partner. I am not aware of anyone here saying anything worse than 5th outfielder. I do not recall anyone saying the club should offer him back to the Rays. I think the 5th OF to platoon player remains a decent projection for Rickard.

Is he a keeper? For this season, sure. Next season, he is on the bubble, but I would lean to keeping him. Like McFarland or Flaherty, guys like that have a role and have the potential to be more than what they are even if that higher level potential has a low probability.

Roger said...

OK, maybe it was just my impression because all the commenters were so high on Rickard. I'm just glad Kim had all his "bad luck" during Spring Training and all his "good luck" in the regular season. :-) I'm glad to see Reimold holding his own too. With everyone healthy, the team is pretty well set on position players with a good rotation for everyone to get playing time. At this point, if Jay Bruce were dropped in as a gift, I'm not sure who would be left out. Who would we drop for Walker, Mancini, Sisco, or anyone else in the system? Next year is a different story but the 13 position players we have now (14 including both Joseph and Pena) make a winning team.

Anonymous said...

Kim's spring training was not disastrous. In fact, he really started to come around, and in his last couple of weeks he was hitting .400. And the, the Orioles inexplicably benched him for the next month of spring training. It was a real debacle.

Rickard's on base percentage is about .300, and his slugging is also in the .300s. That's not acceptable; that's not a major league ball player. Sorry.

Considering that Kim leads the majors in on base percentage, he was a star in Korea and he's putting up *huge* numbers in the US (is the next Ichiro? at any rate, he's a veritable hitting machine), he needs to be played every day. Period. That's a no brainer.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

It was disastrous in terms of results only, at least to the extent any spring training can be disastrous for a recently signed player. The Orioles did not really handle it well.

Rickard's overall offensive numbers are acceptable for a bench outfielder if he's bringing more to the table (plus baserunning and defense, etc.). His baserunning has been fine, but his defensive skills have been somewhat underwhelming.

I'd have no problem with Kim playing more against LHP. I said as much in the post.

Roger said...

To Anonymous. I hope you weren't one of the anonymous guys declaring Rickard to be the God of Baseball in Spring Training. At any rate, if you saw Kim's hits at the end of Spring Training (all singles, all weak ground balls, no extra base hits), you would have concluded that a few weeks in the minors would be a good thing. Now Kim is really stinging the ball (2 homers in last three games in large pitcher's parks). I guess folks were correct when they said his prep routine was naturally longer (based on Korean baseball norms) than in the majors. I don't think he really be the next Ichiro but his swing looks similar and his plate discipline is excellent. If anyone remembers, I insisted in Spring Training that, if he performs as expected, he should be the O's #2 hitter which he is now.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Roger, that's looking like a nice call. I don't think anyone expected Kim to hit this well, but hopefully he keeps it up.

Preferably, Kim would bat leadoff with Machado batting second. But with the offense rolling and Jones looking more like himself, Showalter will likely keep Jones in the leadoff spot for a while.

Regardless, the O's offense has been fantastic lately. It's fun to watch.

Anonymous said...

Trumbo is best suited to DH.....and Joey Rickard could be a gold glove level Right Fielder. Kim's OBP could prove valuable in the # 2 spot in the order....Buck Showalter is probably one of the top two managers in MLB so it seems he'll mix up the line up for good reasons.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Agree with everything you said except about Rickard as a Gold Glover. He is not on that level.

m3tan said...

Maybe he will improve but NO WAY Rickard is a gold glover. I've watched about 50 games this year and from what I've seen, he hasn't shown great instincts and often doesn't take the best routes. He doesn't have a standout arm and he's not using his speed to his advantage. Kim and Trumbo look comically slow out there but at least they catch everything they can get to. Sabermetrics, pretty much confirm my eye test. Jones is just an average center fielder (still good overall) but he's flanked by some fairly serious liabilities to his left and right. Overall the O's outfield defense this year leaves a lot to be desired. It's probably the one glaring weakness this year, but not sure how you fix it. It doesn't really make sense to trade for a De Aza type outfielder when Trumbo, Alvarez, Rickard, and Kim are all hitting right now. The perfect fit was Fowler next to Jones and Trumbo as the full time DH. Then I'd be a little more convinced with this theory that the O's can win the division and make a playoff run without ever trading for a starter...