Starting 9: Kang’s success presents paradox for Pirates
1. Jung Ho Kang has emerged as one of the steals off the offseason. He entered the weekend with an .826 OPS, already having produced four wins above replacement — All-Star level production. The Pirates signed Kang to a four-year, $11 million contract in the offseason after winning the rights to negotiate with the South Korean star, and he has produced $25 million to $28 million in open-market performance value.
2. As played out with Yoenis Cespedes and Ichiro Suzuki, the first team into a new market — Kang was the first Korea Baseball Organization position player to migrate to the majors — takes on risk but also potential for tremendous upside.
3. The Pirates’ success with Kang makes it unlikely they will sign the next big thing out of the KBO. The next KBO import likely will sign a more lucrative deal because perceived risk decreases. Consider, after Cespedes signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the Oakland Athletics in 2012, Jose Abreu signed a six-year, $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox in 2014. The Seattle Mariners’ winning bid to negotiate with Suzuki was $13 million in 2000. In 2006, the Boston Red Sox paid $51.1 million just to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. (Posting fee restrictions since have been put in place with Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball). Expect the next KBO star to far exceed Kang’s $5 million posting fee and contract.
Should Bucs target next KBO star?
4. One of Kang’s goals was to be a trailblazer, to pave the way for other KBO position players to migrate to the majors. Does Kang believe there are others who could make the jump? He mentioned one name with certainty: Byung Ho Park. The Pirates are among the teams that have scouted Park, a 29-year-old slugging first baseman. Kang said Park has more power than him. Without the aid of his interpreter, Kang said Park has “big power.” Park is expected to try to jump to the majors next season. Would Kang lobby for a pact between his former Nexen Heroes teammate and the Pirates? Kang did not answer. But he smiled and shrugged, turning his palms toward the clubhouse ceiling.
5. Park is of interest to the Pirates because they have a muddled situation at first base going into next season. Will Pedro Alvarez be back? Will Josh Bell be ready? The outfield is set. The Pirates have infield depth along the left side and at second base. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart should return at catcher. The big question mark is first base.
6. But will Park make the transition as well as Kang? Clay Davenport’s statistical translations for different pro leagues have been accurate in predicting production for a number of high-profile signings. Consider:
Actual 2011 Cuban Serie Nacional performance: .333/.424/.667
Davenport Translation of 2011 Cuban stats: .297/.358/.488
MLB rookie totals in 2012: .292/.356/.505
Actual 2013 Cuban Serie Nacional performance: .382/.527/.735
Davenport Translation of 2013 Cuban stats: .305/.395/.582
MLB rookie totals in 2014: .317/.383/.581
Actual 2014 KBO performance: .354/.458/.733 (39 HRs)
Davenport Translation of 2014 KBO stats:.289/.359/.497 (17 HRs, 429 at-bats)
MLB rookie totals in 2015: .288/.357/.467 (15 HRs, 403 at bats)
Actual 2014 KBO performance: .305/.436/.692 (52 HRs)
Davenport Translation of 2014 KBO stats: .249/.323/.443 (24 HRs)
MLB rookie totals in 2016: TBD
7. There are no Davenport Translations yet for the 2015 KBO season, and Park has improved his contact ability. His average is up 50 points this season. But for his career, Park is just a .281 hitter and has had strikeout issues.
Cole lined up, Burnett returns
8. The Pirates have lined up Gerrit Cole for the wild-card game start, and it makes sense because the Chicago Cubs have been better against left-handed pitching. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the Cubs have lined up their ace, right-hander Jake Arrieta, for the start.
9. A.J. Burnett’s return Thursday should leave the Pirates feeling encouraged. Burnett’s velocity clocked between 89-92 mph, in line with his season average. His fastball command improved after a rocky first inning.