How Much Can Jung-ho Kang Help the Pirates?


A lot has already been said about Jeong-ho Kang, and a lot more will be said in the coming months as the season gets going. The signing of Kang put the Pirates in an unfamiliar place – in the offseason’s national headlines. At the end of the day the Pirates had paid $5 million to talk to him and then inked him to a deal that guaranteed Kang $11 million more, so that’s a $16 million signing (plus whatever you have to pay a translator for a 7+ month season), which you don’t see often from the Pirates.

Now there are two real questions remaining: Can Jung-ho Kang perform against the world’s best? And how the hell do you spell and pronounce his name properly?

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We’ve all heard the awe-inspiring stats he put up in the KBO last year, hitting 40 home runs in 418 at-bats, a staggering 10.5 AB per HR ratio (last year’s MLB home run leader Nelson Cruz had a AB per HR ratio of 15.4 for comparison). You’ve seen his sweet-swinging highlight reel, you’ve heard Pirates optimists salivating over his upside, and seriously, you’ve seen his name spelled a dozen different ways each with their own pronunciation. But what does any of that tell us about what will come of his first season in the Major Leagues?

To me, the statistics from the Korean leagues don’t mean much. Sure, this guy is undoubtably one of the best hitters that league has ever seen, but who’s to say that any ole International League power hitter couldn’t go over there and do the same?

Here’s a fact that might lower some of your expectations. Felix Pie played 119 games in the KBO last year and hit 17 home runs – matching his total for his entire big league career (425 games). I’m not breaking any new ground telling you that it’s significantly easier to hit in the KBO than in the MLB, but it gives reason to temper your enthusiasm for Kang.

The good news is that the Pirates don’t have much riding on Jung-ho Kang. He was a good depth add (although an expensive one), and if he doesn’t perform it’s not going to make more than a couple-win difference in the standings (if that). At best, the Pirates added a very capable big league infielder with pop. At worst, they threw away $16 million on a risk, and last I checked none of that $16 million belongs to me so I’m cool with it.

Either way, it’s good to see the Pirates diversifying and raising the payroll while still trying different things to be stay competitive. And if anybody can find an official pronunciation please call my cell phone immediately.

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