Jung Hoo Lee Goes Down Amid a Brutal String of Giants Injuries

Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a strong late-winter effort to beef up their roster by adding big-name free agents Jorge Soler, Matt Chapman, and Blake Snell in February and March, the Giants have stumbled out of the gate. They haven’t even been at .500 since March 31, when they were 2-2, and now they’re 19-24 and in the midst of an unrelenting wave of injuries that has thinned their roster. The most serious is that of Jung Hoo Lee, who dislocated his left shoulder trying to make a run-saving catch in Sunday’s win over the Reds and could be out for several weeks, or even months.

The play occurred in the top of the first inning at Oracle Park, after the Reds loaded the bases against starter Kyle Harrison on a hit-by-pitch, two steals, a throwing error, and a walk. With two outs, Jeimer Candelario hit a high 104-mph drive to deep center field. At the warning track, Lee leaped for the ball, but it bounced off the padding on top of the wall instead of hitting his glove. On his way down, he smacked his left forearm into the padding; his elbow and then his back both hit the chain link fence (!) below the padding, jamming his left shoulder. He went down hard as all three runners scored, and after several minutes on the ground, left the game accompanied by head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner, who held Lee’s arm in place.

Though manager Bob Melvin initially indicated that the 25-year-old center fielder had separated his shoulder, the Giants later clarified that he had dislocated it, indicating a more serious injury. Lee underwent an MRI on Monday, but a more detailed prognosis won’t be known until at least Tuesday after he and the Giants consult with Dr. Ken Akizuki, the team’s orthopedic surgeon. The Giants are hopeful that Lee won’t need surgery, unlike Red Sox shortstop Trevor Story, who on April 5 dislocated his left shoulder while diving for a ball and additionally suffered a fracture of the glenoid rim, an injury that required season-ending surgery. There’s been no report of a fracture yet for Lee, but soft-tissue damage could be another matter.

[Update: Indeed, on Tuesday evening, the Giants confirmed that Lee has suffered structural damage in his shoulder. He will get a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on Thursday, indicating that surgery is a possibility.]

Lee’s injury occurred in his first inning back on the field after missing three games because he fouled a ball off his left foot. It’s the latest in a string of injuries that took down seven San Francisco position players — including five regulars — in a 10-day span:

  • On May 3 against the Phillies, catcher Patrick Bailey was hit in the face mask by a foul ball. Suffering from blurred vision, he came out of the game and was placed on the seven-day concussion IL the next day; he was activated on Saturday.
  • On May 4 against the Phillies, a day after taking over for Bailey, catcher Tom Murphy felt a pop in his left knee while trying to block a wild pitch and left the game. An MRI revealed he had suffered a Grade 1-2 sprain that will sideline him for four to six weeks; he went on the 10-day IL the next day.
  • On May 8, after missing three games, Soler landed on the IL due to a right shoulder strain that he suffered during his final plate appearance on May 4. He’s already begun a hitting progression and the Giants are hopeful he’ll miss only the minimum amount of time.
  • On May 9, shortstop Nick Ahmed left a game against the Rockies in the fourth inning due to discomfort in his left wrist, traceable to his taking a 108-mph liner off of it on April 27. He was diagnosed with a sprain and placed on the 10-day IL; the hope is that he’ll be back later this month.
  • On May 10, while filling in for Lee, center fielder Austin Slater left a game against the Reds after crashing into the center field wall and experiencing concussion-like symptoms. He was placed on the seven-day IL the next day.
  • On May 11 against the Reds, left fielder Michael Conforto came up limping after hitting a single. He left the game, and an MRI revealed that he’d suffered a right hamstring strain. He was placed on the 10-day IL the next day.

That litany doesn’t even account for the fact that that Snell and fellow starters Tristan Beck, Alex Cobb, and Robbie Ray are all on the IL as well. The absences of Cobb and Ray were planned, as they entered the season still recuperating from major surgeries. Beck underwent surgery in March to remove an aneurysm in his right shoulder, while Snell, who didn’t sign with the Giants until March 19, made just three starts totaling 11.2 innings before landing on the IL due to a left adductor strain; he’s slated for one more rehab start before returning.

Because of a 2-7 skid from March 31–April 9, the Giants had slipped below .500 long before this brutal stretch, and they’re 4-7 since it began; they won Sunday’s game on a 10th-inning walk-off ground-rule double by Casey Schmitt, his first hit in 12 plate appearances after being recalled to fill in for Ahmed. That was San Francisco’s second straight victory, but it hasn’t been able to string together three in a row all season. Every other team in the majors, including the pitiful Marlins (11-32), White Sox (12-29), and Rockies (13-28) — the last of whom is currently on a five-game tear — has won at least three in a row once. That’s gotta hurt.

The injuries don’t fully account for the Giants’ struggles on both sides of the ball, but they don’t help. The team’s offense ranks ninth in the NL with a 95 wRC+ and 12th in scoring at 3.79 runs per game. Only three of their regulars have a wRC+ of 100 or better, namely LaMonte Wade Jr. (171), Conforto (136), and Bailey (126). Soler has hit for an underwhelming 92 wRC+, but four regulars are in the 70s or lower: Chapman and Mike Yastrzemski (both 73), Wilmer Flores (72), and Ahmed (65).

As for Lee, he’s scuffled a bit during his first stateside season after signing a six-year, $113 million deal last December following a stellar seven-year run with the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes. From April 21 through May 2, he went 5-for-33 without an extra-base hit or an RBI, and scored just one run — not what you want out of your leadoff hitter (though, to be fair, he led off in only seven of his nine starts during that stretch). Overall, Lee is hitting a modest .262/.310/.331 with two homers, two steals, and an 89 wRC+ in 158 plate appearances. That’s well short of the .288/.345/.414 (120 wRC+) that our Depth Charts projected from him, but interestingly enough, that forecast is a dead ringer for his .284 xBA and his .416 xSLG. His 85-point shortfall in slugging percentage ranks 35th out of 270 qualifying hitters, while his 36-point shortfall in wOBA ranks 56th.

As advertised, Lee is a contact-oriented hitter — with a 6.3% walk rate and 8.2% strikeout rate — but his contact has been middling. His 89.1 mph average exit velocity places in the 51st percentile, and his 41.8% hard-hit rate in the 56th percentile, but his 4.5% barrel rate ranks in just the 21st percentile. When he’s hit the ball hard, it’s often on the ground, though his 47% groundball rate is much lower than the 59% of his KBO days. While he’s pulled 10 fly balls, his .889 slugging percentage on them places him in just the 22nd percentile among the 108 hitters with at least 10 such batted balls.

That probably has a fair bit to do with playing at Oracle Park, which based on current conditions is reducing the projected distance of pulled fly balls by 3.8 feet based upon temperature, elevation, and other environmental factors accounted for, per Statcast. That’s nearly double the reduction occurring at T-Mobile Park, where the marine layer and other factors are helping to suppress the Mariners’ offense (and help their pitching) when they’re at home.

As for Conforto, the 31-year-old lefty has hit .280/.331/.490 with a team-high seven homers, a welcome display of power after he slugged .384 in both 2021 and ’23, with a season lost to surgery to repair his right rotator cuff, labrum, and shoulder capsule sandwiched between those campaigns. He’s been uncharacteristically free-swinging, chasing 33.7% of pitches outside of the zone (up five points from last year and six from his career norm) and walking in just 7.1% of his plate appearances (down over four points from last year and nearly five from his career norm). His 89.2 mph average exit velocity, 9.9% barrel rate, and .495 xSLG are all his best marks since 2019, while his 44.1% hard-hit rate is his best since his 56-game rookie season in ’15.

With Conforto, Lee, and Slater all sidelined, the Giants have had to dig into their depth chart to fill out their outfield. Before Monday’s game against the Dodgers, Melvin said that Luis Matos and Heliot Ramos will be the starters in center and left for now. Each is a former top 100 prospect who made two appearances on our list (2021 and ’22 for the former, ’20 and ’21 for the latter).

Matos, a righty-swinging 22-year-old, was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday to replace Conforto. He entered last season as the Giants’ top prospect, but after coming up in mid-June hit just .250/.319/.342 (87 wRC+) in 253 PA and played a below-average center field as well (-5.5 UZR, -6 FRV, -9 DRS) en route to -0.3 WAR. He played just one game with the team this year, on March 31, before being sent to Sacramento, where he batted a meager .218/.308/.355 (66 wRC+) in 143 PA, but he made his impact felt on Monday night, clubbing a towering three-run homer off the Dodgers’ Yoshinobu Yamamoto in the second inning.

The righty-swinging Ramos, 24, is a former first-round pick whose outlook has faded as he’s filled out physically and shown below-average plate discipline and in-zone contact ability; once a 50 FV prospect, he was a 35+ as of last year’s in-season update. His career has more or less stalled out in Sacramento, where he’s hit .262/.337/.431 (89 wRC+) while striking out 25.4% of the time in 1,101 PA over the past four seasons. In the majors he’s hit just .183/.240/.269 (44 wRC+) with a 33% strikeout rate in 100 PA. On a positive note, he was hitting .296/.388/.565 (131 wRC+) with eight homers in 134 PA this year before being recalled, but he was also striking out 27.6% of the time.

Superutilitymen Tyler Fitzgerald and Brett Wisely, the latter of whom was recalled to replace Slater, will provide some support in the outfield, and Blake Sabol, who was recalled to replace Bailey, could as well given that the Giants added a third catcher in Jakson Reetz when they placed Lee on the IL; as a Rule 5 pick last year, Sabol played 43 games in left field and 55 at catcher. But Matos’ home run aside, none of the newcomers is likely to ignite San Francisco’s sputtering offense, and even the upcoming return of Snell can only do so much to improve a staff that ranks 13th in the NL in run prevention at 4.74 runs per game despite calling Oracle Park home. It already feels as though the Giants’ season is slipping away. They’ll have to hope things don’t get worse with the extended loss of Lee.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
16 days ago

I’ve commented on this before, but why do stadiums have these needlessly dangerous outfields? Is it really not worth it to install very thick soft padding that would prevent this kind of injury? Cody Bellinger broke ribs hitting a brick wall, Aaron Judge tore ligaments in his toe slamming into an unpadded portion of a wall, and plenty others have suffered strains, fractures, and concussions colliding with non-padded or thinly padded walls.

In some parts of some stadiums it may be impractical, but there must be plenty of places where it’d be easy to reduce injury by improving the padding. Injuries stink, and this seems like a relatively easy way to reduce risk.

Smiling Politelymember
16 days ago
Reply to  8724jhrk

With the caveat that some of this is recency bias/only pops up when a “named” player gets hurt, and may be unavoidable (out of thousands of events per day, how many people get hurt enough to miss time? <1?)…yes, of course teams *should* prioritize safety.

That said…think about how many fan injuries it took before teams *finally* extended netting, or the general squalid conditions that minor leaguers have faced, as well as the unrenovated locker room/workout/dining areas of some of the “poorer” clubs, and it will feel less surprising that management does not, in fact, create the safest, most productive/enjoyable conditions for anyone unless required by law/MLB policy.

Last edited 16 days ago by Smiling Politely