Jung Ho Kang needs to be in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting lineup
By Tyler Waite
Jung Ho Kang may not be the answer to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ recent offensive struggles, but he sure isn’t the problem. Kang is batting .281 over 32 at-bats (admittedly a small sample size), but the Pirates just endured a gut-wrenching weekend sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. Change is needed to jump start this offense, and Kang can help.
Inserting Kang into the lineup is in part due to his recent hot hitting (he started off the season 1-13 with zero RBIs, but has since gone 8-19 with seven RBIs), but is also due to the poor batting of infielders Jordy Mercer (batting .197 with four RBIs and zero home runs) and Josh Harrison (batting .188 with six RBIs). Kang isn’t an ideal fit in the outfield, so he probably isn’t replacing Andrew McCutchen in the lineup (who is batting .193 on the year). But between those three players, someone needs to come out of the lineup to get Kang at-bats sooner rather than later.
So, who should come out to make room for Kang? There can be a case made for each of the three aforementioned players.
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Mercer is off to another rough start. Last April, the shortstop batted .167 between March and April, and this April, Mercer batted .197 and is currently batting .200 in May. Last season Mercer was able to turn his game around month-by-month, and finished with a .255 average, 12 home runs, and 55 RBIs. The team needs Mercer to turn it on like he did last year, or else his seat as the starting shortstop for this team will get very warm.
Shortstop is Kang’s natural position, and the one he played the most in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). By sitting Mercer, McCutchen could remain in the lineup with the hopes that he will return to his all-star form, and Harrison could remain at third as he tries to get better defensively there. Mercer also has yet to hit a home run and is slugging a mere .224; no, that’s not a typo. Of his 15 hits, two have been doubles, and the rest have been singles. That’s not a recipe for success.
Harrison is coming off an all-star season in which he batted .315 and raked with runners in scoring position. This year, after earning a four-year, $27.3 million extension in early April, Harrison is batting .188 with just six RBIs and a .313 slugging percentage. He’s been very similar offensively to Mercer so far, and he clearly isn’t playing to the expectations the team had for him when he signed that contract.
By giving Harrison some time off, Mercer could be given time to try to break out of his early season slump that he managed to dig himself out of last season. Harrison also has made many miscues at third defensively this year, so a seat on the bench could give him time to recover in that regard. This decision, again, would also keep McCutchen in the lineup. Kang’s power could translate well to third, potentially better than Harrison’s has.
Jung Ho Kang may not be the answer to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ recent offensive struggles, but he sure isn’t the problem…Change is needed to jump start this offense, and Kang can help.
McCutchen hasn’t been the same player this season that he has in the past. There are those that say he always gets off to slow starts, but that isn’t the case. His batting averages over his career in the month of April from 2010 until now are as follows: .299, .219, .302, .247, .284, and .194 in 2015. Thus, he has had just as many good months of April as he has bad, in terms of batting average. However, this April is the worst start to a season he’s had yet, and he’s been battling a lingering knee injury all season, which could be part of the explanation for his poor play.
A short stint on the disabled list might not be the worst thing in the world for the face of the Pirates. Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco could man center field, while Harrison and Kang could play either the remaining corner outfield spot or third base. McCutchen would have time to recover, which could benefit the team the most in the long-run.
So, who seems like the most likely candidate to be left out of the lineup? I don’t think McCutchen will be taken out any time soon, and he’ll battle through the pain he’s been experiencing. In a choice between Mercer and Harrison, I’d give Harrison the time off. He could take that time to not worry about his defense for a few games, while Jung Ho Kang could be given time at third to put his power to use. In the end, though, either choice makes sense, but someone needs to sit down to put Kang’s bat in the lineup.