2016 Pirate Position Preview: Third Base


We are getting closer to the start of the Major League Baseball season and to finishing our position previews here at Rum Bunter. Today we take a look at a position that saw the rise of the Pirates’ breakout star of 2015 – third base.

The breakout star I am talking about is of course Jung-Ho Kang. Last year was Kang’s first in the Majors after leaving the Korean Baseball Organization, and Kang wound up being one of the best rookies in the National League and quickly became a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. Kang played in just 126 games last year but slashed .287/.355/.461/.816 to go with a .356 wOBA, 130 wRC+, and a 3.9 WAR.

Kang was also an above average defensive third baseman in 2015. Kang’s overall defensive WAR for the season was 2.9, but that was bogged down due to the time he spent at shortstop where he is a poor defender. At third base last season Kang was responsible for four defensive runs save, and posted a UZR/150 of 3.6. The league average for DRS and UZR/150 is 0, so both of these stats indicate that Kang is an above average defender at third base.

After needing about two weeks to adjust to Major League pitching, which is remarkable in itself that it only took him two weeks to do so, Kang took off. After collecting just one hit in his first 14 career plate appearance, Kang posted an OPS of .830, wOBA of .361, and wRC+ of 133 from April 20 through the end of his season.

Kang’s season was cut short via a dirty slide by Chris Coghlan of the Chicago Cubs on September 19. Due to the severity of Kang’s injuries and the surgeries that were required, he will begin the 2016 season on the disabled list. However, Kang played 5 innings at third base in a Minor League game at Pirate City yesterday. The Pirates have also said all along that Kang was ahead of schedule in his recovery, so a mid-April return does not seem out of the question.

When it became clear that Kang would not be ready for the start of the season the Pirates appeared to be heading in one of three directions. Playing Josh Harrison at third base with Alen Hanson at second base until Kang was healthy, play utility man Sean Rodriguez at third base, or corner infielder Jason Rogers. It appeared it would be one of these three options until March 11, because on March 11 the Pirates signed former St. Louis Cardinal All-Star and World Series MVP David Freese.

Mar 20, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman David Freese (7) catches a fly ball during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2016; Dunedin, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman David Freese (7) catches a fly ball during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Last season with the Angels Freese slashed .257/.323/.420/.743 a .325 wOBA, 110 wRC+, and a WAR of 2.2. Freese was also a slightly above average defender at third base last year with a DRS of 0, but a UZR/150 of 0.6. Offensively, it was Freese’s best season since 2012 when he had an OPS of .839 and a wRC+ of 132.

At this point of their careers David Freese is not the same caliber player that Jung-Ho Kang is, however he is still a slightly above average Major League third baseman. Honestly, I am shocked it took Freese as long as he did to sign with a team. It is possible though that Freese turned down other offers as he has said he wanted to play for a contender and that is a big reason why he chose to sign with Pittsburgh.

David Freese would be the starting third baseman for many Major League teams. The fact that he will be primarily a bench player for the Pirates when Jung-Ho Kang returns speaks volumes about the amount of depth and talent the Pirates have on their roster.

Make no mistake about it, when Kang returns from the DL he will be the everyday third baseman. David Freese will shift to a bench role and could become John Jaso’s platoon partner at first base. Freese only has 21 career innings in the Majors at first base, and his defensive metrics there are atrocious, but Neal Huntington has said that Freese playing first base will be a possibility. Personally, I’d just have Jaso platoon with Michael Morse.

Third base should be a strong position for the Pirates in 2016. The Bucs have arguably the best third base duo in the Majors in Jung-Ho Kang and David Freese, plus there are solid options behind them such as sliding Josh Harrison from second base to third base if need be. When Jung-Ho Kang returns from injury I expect him to pick up where he left off last season. In the meantime, I believe David Freese will be a more than capable replacement for Kang.