Jung Ho Kang Set To Make Season Debut
By Marty Leap
Jung Ho Kang missed the first 28 games of the season for the Pirates, but that is set to change this weekend.
After missing the first 28 games of the 2016 Major League Baseball season recovering from offseason surgery, third baseman Jung Ho Kang is set to come off the disabled list and rejoin the Pittsburgh Pirates this weekend in St. Louis. According to multiple reports, Kang has rejoined his teammates in St. Louis and will be activated off the disabled list today. To make room for Kang, the Pirates have optioned 1B/3B Jason Rogers to AAA.
As a rookie last season Jung Ho Kang burst onto the scene posting great offensive numbers. Kang slashed .287/.355/.461/.816 last season to go with a .356 wOBA, 130 wRC+, and a WAR of 3.9. Kang also played above average defense at third base last season finishing the season with four defensive runs saved and a 3.6 UZR/150.
With Kang returning to the lineup, David Freese will see his playing time cut. The Pirates signed Freese in March when they knew Jung Ho Kang would not be ready for the start of the season, and Freese has played very well for the Pirates. This season Freese owns a .291/.376/.388/.764 slash line, to go along with a .343 wOBA and a wRC+ of 112.
Jung Ho Kang will not immediately be thrown back into playing everyday, as Neal Huntington has said the Pirates will ease him back into an everyday role. For this reason I would expect Kang to start two games at third base this weekend while Freese starts the other. This is a trend I would expect to continue for at least a few weeks. Furthermore, moving forward Freese will start at first base against left-handed pitching.
One area where Jung Ho Kang will be an upgrade over David Freese is defense at third base. On the season Freese has zero defensive runs saved, and a -6.4 UZR/150. As I said above, Kang played Gold Glove caliber defense at third base last season. So the addition of Kang to the infield defense will help it to improve.
It will also be beneficial to get Kang’s bat back in the lineup, especially assuming he’ll be hitting third behind Andrew McCutchen. On the season the Pirate offense ranks first in the Majors in on base percentage (.366), second in batting average (.282), sixth in runs scored (138), and eighth in slugging percentage (.431). So, the lineup has been great without Kang. The addition of Kang may help to take it to an all new level.
Getting Jung Ho Kang’s presence back in the clubhouse will be beneficial to the Pirates as well. Kang quickly became a clubhouse favorite last season and is beloved by his teammates. While I have never been a huge team chemistry type of guy, I do believe getting a player like this, especially one as talented as Kang, back into the fold will help.
Getting Jung Ho Kang back will improve the Pirates defense at third base, while also giving an already successful offense a shot in the arm. Welcome back, Jung Ho, you were dearly missed my friend!