Ha-Seong Kim: 2023 All-Star?

(Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

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Jose Altuve, Trea Turner, Julio Urias, Zack Wheeler

What does that group of All-Stars have in common?

They finished within 0.2 bWAR of Ha-Seong Kim in 2022. 

Four superstars, none of whom had a bad year (in fact, three of the four received MVP votes), were just as valuable as Ha-Seong Kim.

Kim, who filled in for Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop all season, posted a career year. He played fantastic defense at a premier position while significantly increasing his hitting numbers in the process. His 107 OPS+ means he was above average in 2022. Despite the fact that league-wide offensive numbers dropped significantly from 2021 to 2022, Kim’s shot up. He was the biggest surprise of the San Diego Padres season and was a bonafide star for the team.

After adjusting to the velocity of the big leagues, Kim’s strikeout rate went from 23.8% in 2021 to 17.2% in 2022. His walk rate leapt up a percent as well, helping to make him a much more well-rounded player. He still doesn’t hit the ball especially hard, but his contact-heavy approach helped him be an extremely crucial part of the Padres.

Kim will be moved off shortstop in 2023 for the newly added Xander Bogaerts, but his defensive prowess should remain. He’s expected to primarily play second base, a position that he hasn’t played since 2021. However, he made 21 appearances at the keystone in his debut season, and his skills at shortstop should translate to the other side of the diamond. With the shift being banned in 2023, it becomes even more important to have a defender with an ability to cover a large area at second base. Kim, a gold glove finalist in 2022, combined with Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth, and Bogaerts, could make for one of the best defensive infields in the MLB.

Kim’s 95th percentile outs above average at shortstop should help him be an excellent second baseman for the Padres. His arm strength is only average, but that shouldn’t be an issue, as he’ll be making shorter throws than he did last season. If Kim can adjust to the other side of second base, he’s poised to make a run at his first career gold glove award.

The 2022 breakout campaign from Kim came primarily from an improvement at the plate. In 2021, he took a more aggressive approach, as he hit home runs significantly more often. However, that came at a cost. His batting average was a meager .202, and his on-base-percentage was a disappointing .270. In 2022, those numbers shot up to .251 and .325, respectively. Kim hit line drives 2% more often in 2022 while cutting down on his grounders. That’s a good recipe for better results, as Kim’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) went from .241 in 2021 up to .290. The increased quality of contact that Kim produced suggests that the success is sustainable.

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With the Padres lineup filled to the brim with weapons, Kim will likely remain in the bottom of the order. As the stars get on base, Kim will have plenty of chances to drive them in. He’ll get better pitches to hit as a result, and his increased discipline means he’ll be able to work his way into favorable counts more. 

Kim will start at shortstop for the South Korean team in the World Baseball Classic, meaning he’ll have a unique ramp-up to the MLB season. However, that shouldn’t be an issue for him, as he’ll play plenty of baseball for Korea, who is given the joint-seventh best odds while being ranked fourth in the world.

If Kim can produce another year like 2022, the Padres’ second baseman will be extremely valuable. If he can continue to take steps forward at the plate, a first All-Star game appearance could be in the works for the 27-year-old.

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