Perhaps it is foolish to have expectations on anyone that attempts to do anything that has never been done before. But this is baseball we are talking about and prognostication has become a cottage industry within the sport. So when the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Korean sensation Jung Ho Kang who posted video game offensive numbers in the KBO last season everybody jumped at the chance to place their expectations on Kang. Some felt Kang would struggle against superior pitching. No other position player in the KBO has ever made the jump to America to play Major League Baseball. But there were others that were much more bullish on the 28 year old Korean infielder. In a post on Fangraphs.com last February Dan Farnsworth predicted Kang would hit .280 with 25 HRs. It is safe to say that Kang will not reach those lofty numbers. At the All-Star Break he sits with a .268 batting average and just 4 home runs. But despite not showing anywhere near the power he displayed in the KBO, Kang is meeting most of the lofty expectations that were heaped on him by morphing into a completely different hitter.
One of the concerns people had with Jung Ho Kang’s hitting skills were some considerable swing and miss tendencies. Kang’s high leg kick generated a ton of power in the KBO, but it also led to some high strikeout numbers. In 2014 Kang struck out 21.2% of the time. That was significantly more than the KBO league average of 17%. In the smallish stadiums in of the KBO Kang was willing to take the big swing with the high leg kick to generate home runs to his pull side at the expense of strikeouts. Most people seemed to think that was just a part of who Kang was as a hitter. But in the four months that Kang has been playing with Pirates he has shown a tremendous ability to adapt. The vast left field area at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is not kind to right handed pull hitters. Kang seemingly recognized the difference very early on. The big leg was replaced with much more of this:
That there is a great piece of right field hitting with absolutely no leg kick. Kang doesn’t always forego the leg kick, but it is rare to see it on a two strike count. Even in a good hitters count it appears he has cut down on the kick from what it was in Spring Training. The result is a hitter that has actually cut down on his strikeout rate this year despite being matched against much more talented pitching.
Jung Ho Kang 2014 KBO Strikeout rate – 21.2%
Jung Ho Kang 2015 MLB Strikeout rate – 20.2%
Jung Ho Kang might not be the same home run hitting monster he was in KBO, but he has still been a damn good hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unless you were actually expecting Babe Ruth then you have to be happy with what Kang has done. He has been a far better hitter than I imagined he would be, and I have pretty wild imagination.