Pittsburgh Pirates: What To Do With Jung-ho Kang?


Sep 8, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer (10) and second baseman Neil Walker (18) congratulate each other at the conclusion of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Pirates defeated the Phillies 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh media has many different theories on what to do with newly acquired Jung-ho Kang.  My colleague has penned a great article detailing one possible solution as regards the Pirates’ infield which involves a reality in which Neil Walker shifts over to first base.  Not a bad idea, especially if Pedro Alvarez struggles defensively and/or offensively.  However, I have a different take on things.

I cannot see the Pittsburgh Pirates moving one of the best power-hitting second basemen in all of baseball to first base for an unproven implant from the Korean Baseball Organization.  Walker won the Silver Slugger award in 2014 thanks in large part to his 23 home runs and a solid triple-slash of .271/.342./.467.  That would be reason numero uno.

Sure, there are those who can (and will) argue that his numbers shouldn’t drop because of a position change, but that’s a difficult argument to make.  Sure, they shouldn’t suffer, but consider the discomfort of playing a position you’ve never played before at the highest level of professional baseball (although he did see some action at 1B at AAA Indianpolis).

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Secondly, Neil Walker isn’t given enough credit as a defender.  Statistically, Walker is an above average defender at second base, namely in 2014 with a WAR of 3.6.  Sidenote – If you don’t know anything about WAR and want to know everything you don’t know, you can check out this article.

In case you haven’t had the opportunity to take a look at Kang’s abilities, here is a highlight reel from 2013:

So, where is the more likely destination for Kang in 2015?  Well, until the need arises for Kang to shift over to second base (Walker will win his arbitration case and stick around for another year), which is where he will spend the majority of his Major League career, he’s going to have to earn the starting shortstop spot in Spring Training over Jordy Mercer

Defensively, Mercer probably has the edge due to arm strength and range, but Kang’s expected offensive output will trump his defensive shortcomings.  That’s the best case scenario for Kang and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I still don’t see Kang as a starter when the club breaks camp in March unless Walker or Mercer sustains an injury during Spring Training or if Kang absolutely goes nuts on Grapefruit League pitching.  The more likely case is that Kang will become a sort of utility infielder (through the first 40 games of the season, anyway).

During this span, one could expect Kang to get a couple of starts every two weeks to give Mercer and Walker an off-day, as well as to afford Clint Hurdle an opportunity to get a solid look at him at both positions.  It would not be much of a surprise if Mercer is playing second fiddle by the time the All-Star Break comes around.


– I am really surprised at Kang’s ability to go opposite field with so much power considering the high and long leg kick and the timing such a routine must demand.

– It is a mistake for Neil Huntington to declare that the Pirates have zero intention for Kang to spend time in the minors before seeing MLB action.

– I wish MLB would unseat the bottom half of all TV/Radio announcers and replace them with implants from the Korean Baseball League announcer booth.  To me, they seem much more exciting to listen to, despite not knowing what they are saying.  Listen to the video and tell me you don’t get pumped when Kang goes yard.

Pedro Alvarez dabbled a bit with a new position in 2014 appearing in five games at first base where he did hit three homers in 17 at-bats.   Five games is hardly enough data in which to establish any accurate trending to debunk my argument about discomfort impacting offensive production.

– Whenever I hear a story similar to the signing of Jung-ho Kang, I automatically think of the movie The Scout with Brendan Frasier.

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