Seven Observations from Hyun-soo Kim’s Big, Fat Goose Egg

The first thing to consider when we think about Hyun-soo Kim’s hitless, OBP-less first 23 at-bats is that it’s 23 at-bats, and it’s Spring Training. Not that everyone hasn’t been considering this all along, but it’s always worth a reminder. Jose Bautista had an 0-for-25 run last year, and those were in games that count, and that wasn’t his first time ever facing major league pitching. It happens. Sometimes, it even happens to the best of them.

Yet, it’s still fair to wonder on this a bit, because this is the first we’ve seen of Kim, meaning it’s all we’ve seen of Kim, and it’s not like dudes are running 0-fers over 23 at-bats all the time — it would’ve been the 12th-longest hitless streak of last year, and the third-longest streak of not having reached base. This was a notable stretch of futility, Spring Training notwithstanding. The past tense being used here, of course, because Kim has snapped the streak. He reached base for the first time this spring after being hit by pitch on Thursday, and later got his first hit — a bases-loaded, RBI single off a Yankees reliever named James Pazos.

Through 25 plate appearances, Kim’s spring slash line is now .042/.080/.042. The hit is the new story, but we can learn more about Kim through the 23 outs. Let’s see.

* * *

Kim observation No. 1: Not all of this is on video

This one actually serves as a double-observation, with the latter half being a reminder that really, none of this too much matters. Proof of that being, not all of it is even televised. It’s 2016. If something matters, you can sit on your couch in your underwear and watch it on television. You can watch plenty that assuredly doesn’t matter, too, so it says something about those events which are consciously not televised. The first few games of Baltimore’s Spring Training weren’t televised, and neither was a select game in the middle. The rest were, though, and I watched 13 of Kim’s 24 hitless plate appearances and took some notes.

Kim observation No. 2: Spring Training stats only don’t matter, kind of

Though we’ve long known not to make too much of what happens in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues — and I’ve already warned you twice — research in recent years has revealed some merit to the Spring Training stat, such as Dan Rosenheck’s work in The Economist from last spring that’s nominated for the SABR Analytics Conference Research Award for Contemporary Baseball Commentary. Rosenheck’s findings revealed that fundamental peripheral spring training stats, such as strikeout rate, walk rate, isolated power and baserunning aggressiveness, in tandem with projection systems, actually produce slightly more accurate forecasts than the projection systems themselves.

Kim observation No. 3: He’s only 1-for-4 in the Spring Training stats that do matter

Kim, of course, has had no power, and has had no opportunities to be aggressive on the bases, so those are both a) of no help to us and b) not great looks for Kim, thus far. Kim’s control of the strike zone is thought to be perhaps his strongest trait as a batter; he walked more than he struck out during his 10 seasons in Korea, and in 2015, he had nearly two walks for every one strikeout. During the spring, Kim’s struck out just three times, checking in with an impressive 12% strikeout rate that’s about in line with his projections.

The walk rate, though, is nonexistant, and while there are several reasonable explanations for that — Kim wanting to be aggressive in his first looks against major league pitching, pitchers wanting to be aggressive toward Kim in their first looks of him, pitchers having no incentive to pitch around Kim as long as he was still hitless — if there’s been anything worrisome about Kim’s first 25 plate appearances, it’s probably moreso the lack of walks than the lack of hits.

However, despite that…

Kim observation No. 4: He’s done a good job of working deep counts

Despite not having walked, Kim has seen 4.15 pitches per plate appearances (in the available plate appearances), including an impressive eight-pitch at-bat after falling behind 0-2 to Matt Barnes. While it would be silly to assume 4.15 pitches per plate appearance as the expected going rate, it’s worth putting that number into context — last year, only 11 qualified batters worked longer at-bats.

Kim’s shown some impressive two-strike takes:

He’s also been able to extend at-bats because…

Kim observation No. 5: He’s hit a ton of foul balls

Last season, on average, a little more than one-third (37%) of swings resulted in foul balls. During Kim’s observed at-bats, 15 of his 30 swings (50%) have turned into fouls, a would-be league-leading, Pablo Sandoval-esque rate. On one hand, eight of those 15 fouls have come with two strikes, and the majority were borderline pitches, and so it seems like Kim’s been doing a good job of keeping himself alive in hopes of getting a better pitch to hit. On the other hand, besides not having done anything with those pitches, two-strike foul ball rate correlates negatively with power, and you wonder if a player who makes a lot of contact but doesn’t put the ball into play just doesn’t have his timing down, because…

Kim observation No. 6: He’s made plenty of contact

During Kim’s observed at-bats, he’s swung and missed just three times on 30 swings. A 90% contact rate gets you in the upper echelon of baseball’s bat-to-ball hitters, alongside Nick Markakis, to whom Kim has already been compared by Jeff Sullivan. And so if Kim has made a ton of contact and hasn’t ever struck out, that means he’s been putting the ball in play often and it’s likely that…

Kim observation No. 7: He’s hit into some tough luck

Granted, they haven’t all been screamers. There were four weakly-tapped ground balls, and a pop-up, and even Kim’s base hit was an infield single, hit just softly enough to the shortstop that Kim had enough time to beat out the throw to first.

But there was also this hard-hit ball that became an out:

And this one:

And let’s not forget this nice play, too:

Like any batter going through a hitless slump, he’s had hard-hit balls turn into outs and defenses take would-be hits away from him. The contact authority was weak more than it was strong, but the strong has made its appearances.

* * *

What can a batting average tell you? Not much. What can a Spring Training batting average tell you? Even less. Hyun-soo Kim’s Spring Training batting average sucks. To be fair, so do his on-base percentage and slugging percentage and literally all his other, more telling stats, but whoopty-do. This early on, the process tells you more than the results, and even the process can be misleading. But, from the process, we can gather this about Hyun-soo Kim, thus far: despite the lack of walks, he’s controlled the strike zone quite well, making contact at an elite rate while keeping himself alive with two-strike fouls on close pitches and laying off others for balls. The batted ball authority hasn’t been great, but he’s hit into some tough outs, and he’s rarely looked overmatched. Sounds… kind of exactly like the guy we expected to see.

We’d like to see at least few walks, but I’d be willing to give that a pass until the games start counting — could be he’s just trying to get in his swings. We’d like to see some better contact. We’d maybe like to see fewer two-strike fouls, opening himself up to more power. Technically, these things are true, and we know slightly more about Kim now than we did before. But mostly, if your opinion has much changed, you’re probably missing the point, because really, the only thing we need to see is more Hyun-soo Kim.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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dodgerbleu
6 years ago

“If something matters, you can sit on your coach in your underwear and watch it on television.”

Umm… Not sure what kind of coaches you are accustomed to, buttttttt… This sounds a little suspect to me.