The Importance of Ha-Seong Kim

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So far this season, the San Diego Padres have counted on Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer to carry the team offensively. A few of their teammates have recently showed slight signs of life and raised their averages above .200. On the most recent road trip, shortstop Ha-Seong Kim batted a heady .360 with two home runs and four doubles.

Friday against the Miami Marlins, manager Bob Melvin moved Kim up in the lineup to second (for the first time in his career), right above Machado and Hosmer.  Melvin admitted that Kim (who is batting .234—actually higher than the team average of .227) “doesn’t have a ton of hits recently; he has real consistent at-bats for us,”

Kim accepted the challenge, understanding that “having Manny (behind me), pitchers are going to be more aggressive with me. I’m just going to use that to my advantage….” Although Kim went hitless, he did get on base through a walk.

After playing in South Korea from 2014 through 2020, Kim has had to adjust to the game’s American style, especially the pitching. In 2014, the Nexen Heroes drafted Kim in the third round, 29th overall. From 2018 to 2020, he won three straight KBO League Golden Glove Awards.

Slowly Kim has improved from a batting line of .202/.270/.352/.622 in 2021 to .234/.347/.469/.815 this year. According to FanGraphs, he’s doubled his wRC+ from 70 in 2021 to 140. He’s also keeping pace with the Los Angeles Angels Shohei Ohtani .234/.298/.378.

But Kim’s most important contribution has been his defense at shortstop in Fernando Tatis Jr.’s absence and his versatility as he can also cover second and third. Although Tatis plays a flashy and dramatic short, FanGraphs measures his defense at -9 OAA. Kim, on the other hand, provides quality defense at  2 OAA. Last year Kim ranked third in the National League with 2.1 defensive WAR and fourth in range factor/game at short 3.89.  Without Kim, the Padres would be forced to rely on rookie C.J. Abrams, who is getting his first taste of the big leagues. He’s batting .170 with an OPS of .526.

The Padres had little to celebrate Saturday night as the Miami Marlins’ starter Pablo Lopez (ERA of 1.00) pitched eight innings of shut-out ball.  However, Kim showcased his talent as a defender in a play which quickly went viral.

With a payroll of $155 million (fifth-highest in baseball) weighing down the Padres, Kim’s salary of $6 million this year and escalating to $8 million by 2024 hardly makes a blip. So far this season, his defense has raised the bar considerably at shortstop.

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Of course, Tatis Jr. will take over at short when he’s cleared to play. Kim can fill in at third and second. But his defense will be sorely missed.

Padres hitting .227 as a team (21st), slugging .369 (17th)

But finding ways to win games, pitching, and defense, getting on base .325 third, runs scored fourth

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Ha-Seong Kim

  1. Thanks, Diane…I’ve considered Kim to be kind of a ‘secret weapon’ on defense…I believe he may have the best glove in our infield…The play he made at third a couple days ago was out of this world…
    On offense, while he looks better than he did last season, he still has far to go…what bothers me the most is that over the top exaggerated upper cut swing of his…Pitchers know that all they have to do is keep throwing sliders low in the zone, and Kim will likely strike out…
    Keep the awesome articles coming…Paul.

    1. Hi Paul,
      I agree that Kim is a “secret weapon” on defense. When Tatis Jr. returns, the Padres will definitely miss his glove. His hitting is gradually improving but not fast enough. He’s hardly alone though…
      Thanks so much for reading!

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