Is Jung Ho Kang Back?


Pittsburgh Pirates’ third baseman Jung Ho Kang was stuck in a huge rut during the months of June and July. However, the past three weeks he appears to be coming out of his slump.

After a great rookie campaign in 2015 many people had high expectations for Jung Ho Kang entering the 2016 season. However, Kang has not lived up to these expectations for portions of the season. But he appears to be breaking out of his slump.

Jung Ho Kang’s numbers this year are still strong. He owns a .239/.326/.473/.799 slash line, .342 wOBA, and a 116 wRC+. In fact, his .473 slugging percentage, .235 ISO, and 8.1 percent walk rate are all improvements over last season. While these numbers make Kang an above league average hitter, it is not quite what was expected this season.

What plagued Jung Ho Kang this season was a stretch from June 7th through July 29th. Prior to this stretch Kang was doing what was expected of him this season. Kang had a .284/.348/.667/1.015 slash line, .416 wOBA, and a 165 wRC+ between his season debut on May 6th and June 7th.

Then, on June 7th, something changed. In his next 127 plate appearances Kang slashed just .202/.283/.325/.608, with a .271 wOBA and a wRC+ of 68. This also included Kang, who is known for his power, collecting just eight extra base hits.

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It is possible that Jung Ho Kang was being plagued by off the field issues during this time. This is the time that news broke of the sexual assault investigation against Kang. Innocent or guilty, and I believe Jung Ho is innocent, this is something that would weigh on anyone. And in turn, regardless of your line of work, probably have a negative impact on your work.

However, there has since been news that the accuser in the case has not been cooperating with law enforcement. In my opinion, this is a sign that something is not adding up in that case. It has also coincided with Jung Ho Kang getting hot at the plate again. So, perhaps, it is weighing on him less now.

In Jung Ho Kang’s last 11 games, he has been one of the Pirates’ hottest hitters. He is slashing .258/.410/.516/.926, to go along with a .399 wOBA, 154 wRC+, and a walk rate of 17.9 percent. Kang has also hit a pair of doubles and a pair of home runs during this stretch.

Jung Ho Kang’s power has returned during this stretch. Also, he has been extremely patient at the plate as evident by his walk rate. Both of these are great signs that Jung Ho Kang really is pulling out of his offensive slump.

Even though Kang has started to hit again, there are still concerns with his play. These concerns come on defense. Surprisingly, Jung Ho Kang has struggled defensively at third base this season. And these struggles have really shined through lately.

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Last season, Jung Ho Kang played Gold Glove caliber defense at the hot corner. He finished the season with a .971 fielding percentage, four defensive runs saved, and a 3.6 UZR/150 at third base. This season those numbers have dropped to .946, three, and 0.1.

Jung Ho Kang’s defensive struggles have come to light in recent games. Against the Atlanta Braves on the Pirates’ previous road trip, Kang had a two error game that led to four unearned runs for Atlanta. The Pirates went on to lose this game. On Saturday in a loss against the Dodgers, Kang committed two errors once again.

However, in the Pirates’ victory over the San Francisco Giants last night Kang made a pair of brilliant defensive plays at third base. One to rob Denard Span of a base hit, and the other robbing Eduardo Nunez. Hopefully, that is the start of Kang turning his defense around the way he has turned his offense around.

While his defensive struggles are worrisome, it appears that Jung Ho Kang is overcoming whatever was plaguing him offensively. Getting Kang back on track offensively would be a huge boost for the Pirates’ offense. Especially as the Bucs currently sit one game out of the second NL Wild Card spot.