YES WE KANG!

Pittsburgh Pirates LogoIf you haven’t guessed what this piece will be about, well, you need to work on your powers of deduction. We’re digging on the Korean Klubber, himself, Jung Ho Kang. Going into last season I had Kang as a deep sleeper. I mean what’s not to love, a little Korean with some potential pop at a somewhat pop-less position, right? I was fully on board, ready for him to lead me to fantasy glory! Well, the thing is, Kang didn’t get off to the hottest of starts and with superstar Jordy Mercer in the ‘Burgh, everyday playing time was not in the cards. Minor struggles in limited plate appearances does not exactly make a sleeper.

Kang only had 29 PA in April and they were not super productive, as he sported a .310 OBP and .286 wOBA, contributing to a sub-seven OPS. Yikes. Needless to say, many Kang owners were jumping ship, or at least teetering on the ship’s railing. Then May brought the flowery aromas of Spring as well as some hope for those clinging onto Kang and his potential. Kang posted an .843 OPS and a nice little .370 wOBA. Hold the phone, maybe Kang could be the shortstop sleeper du jour after all! I don’t know that Kang’s May created a mass rush to the waiver wire or anything, but there was some buzz and I am sure he was added to a few watch lists. Then, June hit.

Like many a ballplayer before him, Jung Ho Kang fell victim to the June swoon. As legend has it, no ballplayer is ever really safe when the calendar flips to June, and trust me, better players than Kang have fallen into the abyss of the June swoon. .310 on-base percentage, .286 slugging percentage (yes slugging) and a .274 wOBA. “Prepare the life rafts, the SS Kang is going down! Abandon ship, abandon ship!” is probably what you were hearing as June petered out, right? I mean, not literally, but you’re catching what I’m throwing here, right? Well, for those that jumped ship, or for really those who could not get a ticket on the SS Kang for July would soon be kicking themselves. Why? Well, cause in July Kang krushed, er, crushed.

In July, injuries forced the Buccos to stick with Kang regularly and, well, he delivered! From July 1st on, Kang hit .308/.367/.530 with 11 dingers, while scoring 4o runs and bringing his teammates home 33 times in 256 plate appearances. Everything was falling into place for Jung Ho and he was a red-hot commodity on the waiver wires. Unfortunately, Kang’s fantastic run was cut short by an aggressive Chris Coghlan slide. So, that closed the book on Kang’s first season in MLB, leaving us with a bunch of questions to be answered.

Well, those that rode the Kang emotional roller coaster ( I know, ships, roller coasters, I am all over the place in this one) all season could be, perhaps, the most bearish on Kang. I mean given his performance over the season, it is tough to say whether or not Kang can be consistent or not in 2016. As a fantasy owner wouldn’t you be more confident if Kang had put together a couple of months in a row of good hitting? Of course you would. Look, even with inconsistency, Kang was looking to finish with 20 home runs, maybe more. Do you know how many actual shortstops hit 20 or more home runs in 2015? If you guessed one, you would be correct. Only Brandon Crawford (yes, Brandon Crawford) hit 20 or more ding dongs as a shortstop. If Kang could have kept that .355 OBP going for the rest of the season he would have tied Xander Bogaerts for tops at the position and a .461 slugging was just a point behind Crawford who was tops among shortstops. Obviously though, playing time was a big question mark for Kang going into 2015, and the more things change the more they stay the same. Sorry, needed to sneak at least one cliché in here.

Plate appearances are again a bit of question for Kang, but this time around it is more due to his recovering from injury. The timetable is uncertain, but the latest update is Opening Day is not off the table for Kang. But, let’s throw the recovery time out the window ( I know Kang would) and focus on what Kang is actually bringing to the table. Was the top-notch hitting we started to see in July indicative of future performance? Personally, I think Kang was starting to put it all together and has the potential to crack the top five at the position in 2016, assuming he doesn’t miss too much time in recover. Oh, would you like me to give you some sort of data to support this? Okay, fine, I will oblige.

Now sure, there will be detractors, like the fluctuating strikeout and walk rates, but in July and August Kang managed to keep his K% down below 20 after it soared up to 24.1% in June. Overall the K rate went up and walk rate went down in the second half, but that doesn’t have me worried at the moment. One thing I liked, is that Kang was starting to pull the ball less, and, instead, used all the fields, even hitting almost an even percentage of balls to each field in August. Kang was rarely going opposite field in April and May, and once he started spreading the wealth things  seemed to pick up a bit. Another thing that was encouraging was the fact that Kang was hitting the ball with more power. In April through June, Kang had hard contact percentages of 23.8, 27.3 and 23.2 respectively. Come July about 45% of the balls flying off Kang’s bat were considered hard hit. If you go first half to second, Kang’s hard hit percentage went from 27 to 43. Couple that with the fact Kang saw a bit of an increase in fly balls as well, I think you can do the math. If you can’t, well, hard hit fly balls tend to have a higher percentage chance of becoming extra base hits; more importantly, homer runs.

I don’t think I (or anyone else) can definitely say that this will be a breakout year for Kang, but I will say that given a full season (or close to it) Kang ends up a top five shortstop in 2016. Is that bold? From the few rankings I have seen, seems like breaking the top ten at the position would be Kang’s ceiling, but call me crazy (it will not be the first or the last time) because I like Kang to turn some heads this season. 

Currently in NFBC drafts Kang is currently the 14th 3B and 10th SS off the board, with an ADP of 174. Keep in mind these are deep leagues with a middle infield slot, so the rest of us plebeians in smaller, shallower leagues, could see Kang fall a bit further.  For our purposes, let’s use the 174 ADP right now; in a standard 12 team league, that’s the 15th round. Now, even with the PA question mark, I’m going 13th, maybe even 12th round for Kang.  Considering the potential reward that isn’t much of a reach.

 

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Will Emerson

Will Emerson

Affectionately know by close friends as Willie Moe, Will is back living in Boston after brief, 11 year stint, in upstate New York. Will loves numbers and baseball, so it is no surprise that he has been addicted to fantasy baseball for over two decades. That’s right, Will was playing fantasy baseball since before the internet was providing up to the minute stats and standings, and you had to get your hands inky checking box scores in the newspaper.
Will Emerson

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