Padres’ Ha-Seong Kim, endearing defensive wizard

May 27, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; San Diego Padres second baseman Ha-Seong Kim (7) against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Ha-Seong Kim has proven to be a valuable part of the San Diego Padres. Now, the rest of the baseball world is paying attention.

When the Padres signed Ha-Seong Kim ahead of the 2021 season, many questioned why. He was nearly a full-time shortstop in the KBO, where he was a multi-time All-Star. The Padres had Fernando Tatis Jr. entrenched there. Kim had won their KBO League Golden Glove Award three times in a row from 2018-2020.

Now that he is settled in at the Major League Baseball level, his defense is shining through once again, mostly at second base. Today, it’s hard to imagine this Padres team without Kim.

Kim leads all defenders everywhere in Defensive Runs Saved, currently at 15. The next closest full-time second baseman is Cleveland’s Andrés Giménez, at seven. Yes, Kim has over twice the DRS as the second-place second baseman.

He also ranks 10th among all qualified fielders with 7 Outs Above Average, which puts him in the 98th percentile. It also leads all second basemen.

The South Korean also leads all of MLB with a 1.8 dWAR.

In short, he is one of the most elite defenders in all of baseball. The Padres have benefitted from his next-level defense several times.

The question mark with Kim was always- can his bat keep up? Can he hit elite velocity at the highest level? After a shaky rookie campaign in 2021, where he had a .622 OPS and 73 OPS+, he has been league-average since. And with this Gold Glove-caliber defense, being a league-average hitter makes Kim extremely valuable. Right now, he is 10th in all of baseball in bWAR.

Since the start of 2022, in 208 games, he is batting .250 with a .712 OPS and 106 OPS+. Certainly, that is serviceable, given his defense.

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If Kim keeps this up, it won’t be a matter of whether or not he wins a Gold Glove; it will be whether he can win the National League Platinum Glove. The caveat is that it is subject to fan voting. Nolan Arenado has won the NL version six years in a row. He will be tough to unseat, especially when putting it up to the fans.

However, do Cardinals fans chant Arenado’s name every time he comes up to bat in a key spot or makes a great defensive play? Kim has endeared himself to Padres fans to near cult-hero levels.

Fans love Kim. His try-hard attitude, his hard-nosed approach to defense, his mighty swings despite his slight stature, and his infectious smile have all won the hearts of San Diego fans. For Kim to win the Platinum Glove, which, to this point, he absolutely deserves, he will need fans outside of San Diego to pay attention. Arenado currently has a pedestrian 0.0 dWAR and -1 DRS. There is no reason why he should win it again. At this pace, it may be Kim’s to lose. At worst, he is on a Gold Glove trajectory.

This has been a home run signing for A.J. Preller and company.

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