12 April 2017

What Is Up With Buck Showalter's Usage Of Hyun Soo Kim?

Up to this point, Hyun Soo Kim has had a very strange season-plus with the Orioles. To summarize, the Orioles wanted him! They signed him last year, after all, for two years and $7 million. Then, Kim performed poorly during spring training and Buck Showalter et al. seemed to sour on him. The Orioles reportedly "talked internally about potentially trying to" get out of his contract, and when that didn't happen, they tried to convince him to accept an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk.

That didn't happen, either, so Kim made the opening day roster, was booed by fans, and sat the bench. He barely played in April and early May, but started to play in late May as he kept producing. The Orioles didn't have better options, and he forced their hand. An average defender at best, his skills are with the bat, and he posted an impressive 119 wRC+ with an on-base percentage of .382 that was the best on the team. I've written a couple other posts about Kim detailing his accomplishments. Jon also wrote a post last October that examined Kim's KBO splits and posited that he should get more of a chance in a full-time role.

Let's just get right to it: Why are the Orioles not looking to play Kim more? They do not have very many on-base weapons, and they need to get better in that department. Last year, the Orioles ranked ninth in the American League with a .317 OBP. Against right-handed pitching, who Kim almost exclusively played against, the O's were tied for sixth (322). Kim doesn't get all the credit for that -- it's well-worn territory that the Orioles were much better against right-handed pitching last season -- but his 129 wRC+ vs. right-handers was second on the team only to Mark Trumbo (146). So far this season, the O's are second worst in the AL in OBP; Kim has the 10th most plate appearances on the team.

Showalter views Kim as a platoon bat, period. That sounds fine, even if it disregards the possibility that he could still get on base at an effective enough clip against same-handed throwers. How low is the bar here? Craig Gentry is getting leadoff at-bats!

But, three things. First, Kim isn't in the lineup against every right-handed starter (he is not in the lineup tonight against Steven Wright, who's a knuckleballer, but he still throws that pitch with his right hand). Second, Showalter frequently removes Kim from games around the sixth or seventh inning for defensive purposes, especially when the Orioles have the lead. That occasionally robs Kim of a plate appearance per start. And third, despite working his way to the second spot of the lineup last year and excelling in that role, Kim has been slotted seventh in the batting order so far this year despite his on-base prowess.

Part of the issue why Kim doesn't play more is roster construction. The Orioles re-signed Trumbo, and he's almost always going to receive his at-bats at DH. That is pushing someone like Trey Mancini to be an inexperienced outfielder, and he's trying to learn on the job. It would also help Kim if Showalter trusted him more in the field, but that just doesn't seem to be an option at this point.

It's early in the season. Players get hurt, and things can change quickly. But it does seem clear that Showalter, or Duquette, or some front office members didn't really want Kim around in the first place and won't give him a chance in an expanded role.

What exactly is going on? If the Orioles were planning to use him this way, why didn't they try harder to trade him during the offseason to at least get something in return? Kim is not a star, but he's useful, and this seems like a poor use of resources.


Boss61 said...

Timely blog with great rhetorical questions. Something else could be afoot: Mancini.

The O's need to learn whether or not Mancini is a trustworthy defensive outfielder, and as quickly as possible. This on-the-job research project is occurring at the expense of playing time for Kim, Gentry and Smith.

I believe it is happening now, during the season, because the O's did not really expect Trumbo back. They thought Mancini would be the primary DH. Now with an embarrassment of riches at the DH position (its Kim's, Mancini's and Trumbo's best position, skills-wise), they need to see whether they can "hide" Mancini in the outfield with any measure of credibility.

Again, great blog and timely.

Roger said...

I agree with Boss61 but would add that Kim did not do well in his opportunities against LH in Spring Training. I feel bad for Kim because it seems like he's never going to be a good Spring Training player. They need to get Mancini ABs because when Tillman comes back someone's going to have to go out. I disagree that Mancini's ABs are at the expense of Gentry and Smith. Both are getting their ABs, especially Smith who's very hot right now. Gentry had a good spring but hasn't done much in season. And, on top of all that, there's Rickard. They need to figure out which of Gentry or Mancini or Rickard will stay on the ML roster. I think two of those three will eventually go out and then Kim's ABs will pick up. The scuttlebutt last year was that KBO players have a lot longer Spring Training and Kim's prep took longer. If the O's believe that still then they may plan for his ABs to pick up later in April/May. Further, the defense issue is rather important. If Mancini can prove his defensive value then Kim becomes a one-trick pony (OBP). To me, his swing looks very weak and it doesn't seem like he'll ever have much power. The O's value power at every position over OBP.

Unknown said...

I agree with a lot of your commentary and would add that I am left with a lot of questions about what the Orioles wanted from Kim when they initially signed him. We're talking about a guy who averaged 40-50 XBH/season in the KBO, which is not only an "easier" league than MLB but also a more offensively-biased league. Realistically speaking, even with the longer MLB season, this should have been seen as the ceiling for his power output. Maybe you might expect 35-40 XBH in a full season facing better pitching in bigger parks in MLB. Then he went out and hit 23 XBH in basically half a season, at the same time maintaining a .300+ average and an excellent OBP. This is pretty close to the best-case scenario one might reasonably have expected from him. Given that the Orioles have baseball people in the front office, they can't have expected numbers better than he put up. You wouldn't think they were expecting this much in year 1. And yet a year ago they thought he was worth investing in, and then this offseason they made roster moves indicating that even though he worked out they still aren't ready to trust him. So what did they sign him for if the best-case scenario wasn't good enough?

That said, I don't necessarily buy into the trade idea. History suggests that good platoon players are worth more than their trade value. Look at the trade markets that Danny Valencia has attracted. I just don't think you'd have gotten much for Kim, and the reality is that if he can get 400 PA this year as a platoon starter from day 1 and put up similar numbers to last year, he's going to provide significant value to this team. I suspect a lot more than he would return in a trade.

I would also add that I do agree that Kim batting 7th feels wrong to me, particularly with Smith batting leadoff. But Smith gets on at a pretty good rate historically himself, so it's not awful.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Hey all, thanka for the responses. You've made some great points.

There is no way the O's won't have Rickard on the roster if he's health. Buck loves him. I think if anyone has to go from the outfielder group, it is Gentry. I think his days are numbered with Michael Bourn recently re-signing, but that is still an extra outfielder. What to do with Mancini is a good problem to have.

Jacob, I agree with you. I don't know that they could get fair value in return for Kim, or how much value he really has anyway since he'll be a free agent soon. He will likely still play a decent amount and is certainly a useful bench bat, but it kind of clogs the roster this way. It just seems strange, but it looks really smart when Mancini showcases his power. I wonder if that can continue.

In terms of the lineup, I'd have Smith and Kim both in the top third of the lineup. Buck would never do that, though, and the team's production looks better after a game like last night's. It will be interesting to see how Jones does batting second all season long.

Roger said...

I have to agree that Jones batting second (or first) is just weird. I can't figure out why Manny doesn't go back to batting second. The O's offense did very well with him hitting #2. But it is true that Kim at #2 makes a lot of sense. Buck has his left/right thing so he won't put two lefties next to each other and with CD batting 4th that would make three of four. On the other hand Smith/Machado/Davis/Trumbo/Jones/Kim/Castillo/Schoop/Hardy would be a pretty logical lineup. Against lefties, you just swap Rickard and Mancini for Smith and Kim and it still works. And Bourn and Gentry make nice injury subs with Smith and Rickard already having injury issues.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but to have Gentry starting a game anywhere in the lineup over Kim is inexcusable. Even if it's against left handed pitching. Gentry is well over 30 and at no point during his career has he been able to hit. He should be on the bench for late game defense, pinch running and sacrifice bunt situations - that's it.

H. Diggs said...

Kim pretty much doesn't start against left handed pitching, but will be in the line up against righties, unless it's a knuckleballer on the mound. Kim struggles against the Mike Wright's of the world. You also can't discount the fact that Buck may view Kim as valuable bench tool. Kim is a proven commodity with the bat and has come through in the clutch in multiple situations in his short career.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

What do you mean the Mike Wrights of the world?

It's undoubtedly nice to have someone like Kim on the bench that you could use in a pinch. The point, though, is that he should be in the lineup more since he's one of the best on the team at getting on base.

Cars ans Car Reviews Care Care said...

Kim defense is horrible,,he catches what he gets to but has zero range and a very weal
k throwing arm..i am hoping o's trade him but has very little if any trade value.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

"He catches what he gets to" also describes Seth Smith and Trey Mancini. Kim has the worse arm of the group, but those two are playing because of their bats, not their gloves.

Cars ans Car Reviews Care Care said...

Matt K...Mancini and Smith can hit long ball and have better throwing arms..Kim has got to go.........

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Phil, Smith is a better outfielder than Kim, but not by a large margin. Mancini, I don't think we can accurately gauge yet. Trumbo also has a good arm; that does not make you a good outfielder.

Smith will and should play against RHP. He's a platoon bat. Should Mancini be playing every day, and is he an outfielder? I guess the O's want to see how good he is, and it's hard to blame them. But when you have an on-base machine like Kim, well, you should use him near the top of the lineup. It's a good problem to have if they can all hit, but I still think Kim should be in a regular role.

Unknown said...

Kim did better than Rickard against LHP this spring. He was 4-9 including his hit in the exhibition game vs. the Dominican Republic.

Unknown said...

Agree that Gentry getting any AB's over come Kim is a bad decision. Hopefully Gentry is moved once Santander comes off the DL. At this point its clear Buck doesnt want Kim.