By Jason Shetler
For the longest time, the Pirates were an organization that never really thought outside the box when it came to bringing in a legitimate international player to help out the big club. That changed last offseason when the Pirates won the bidding for Korean star Jung-Ho Kang. The two sides agreed to a four-year contract worth $11 million. Kang certainly played a vital role in the Pirates being a contender again in 2015. Unfortunately, he suffered a horrific leg injury in September on a slide from Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan. Kang finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Here are his stats from last season, and what his projection will be for 2016.
2015: .287/.355/.461, 124 OPS+, 6.0% BB rate, 21.2% K rate, 3.9 WAR in 126 games
2016 (FanGraphs): .282/.360/.447, 7.2% BB rate, 20.3% K rate, 4.3 WAR in 133 games
Nobody really knew what to expect from Kang entering his first season in the Majors last year, but he exceeded more expectations than the Pirates or anyone could have ever imagined. His slash line was solid while his OPS+ was very impressive for a rookie. Kang posted a 3.9 WAR, which was the highest mark of any Pirates rookie since the Expansion Era began in 1961. FanGraphs projects Kang to be a four-win player this season, assuming he rejoins the Pirates earlier than anticipated.
My analysis: Under the circumstances of being a rookie and coming over from another country, Jung-Ho Kang had a fantastic 2015 season with the Pirates. His on base ability was good at .355 while he displayed some good power with a .461 slugging percentage. Kang’s defense at third base was very good, as he put up a .971 fielding percentage and a UZR/150 of 3.6. Pirates GM Neal Huntington has said that Kang has been progressing really well from the leg injury he suffered in September. It’s hard to say if he’ll return to All-Star level form in 2016, but he should at the very least be an above average contributor again.