Smart, smart, smart…’Choo Kang-dae-yeop’ lineup debate, can ‘defense king’ Kim Ha-seong get in?
- on Jul 08, 2023
It’s become part of our daily routine to make comparisons and draw lines in any field. Baseball is no different. One of the most common debates among baseball fans is the “Choo Kang vs. Lee” debate. It’s a debate about the order of Korean hitters who have played in the KBO, Major League Baseball, and Nippon Professional Baseball. The current order is Choo Shin-Soo, Kang Jeong-Ho, Lee Dae-Ho, and Lee Seung-Yup, or “Choo Kang-Dae-Yup”.
Choo Shin-soo, who spent 16 years in the Major League Baseball, the top league for the best players, compiling a career batting average of .275 with 1,671 hits, 218 home runs, 157 doubles, and an OPS of .824, as well as one All-Star and three 20-homer, 20-double seasons, is the undisputed number one. This part is clear.
Second on the list is Kang Jeong-ho. The two years (2015 and 2016) when he became the first shortstop in the KBO to hit 40 home runs and made an impact as the first Asian infielder to hit home runs in the major leagues are the baseline. In fact, Kang hit 15 home runs in 2015 and 21 in 2016, giving him a character and star quality rarely seen in Asian infielders. However, he retired from baseball after serving a prison sentence for a drunk driving accident during his KBO career.
Next up is Lee Dae-ho, the “No. 4 hitter of the Joseon Dynasty. Dae-ho is followed by Lee Seung-yeop, the “National Hitter,” who hit 619 home runs for Korea and Japan, including 467 in the KBO and 159 in eight years in Nippon Professional Baseball.
Aside from Choo Shin-soo, the ranking of Kang Jeong-ho, Lee Dae-ho, and Lee Seung-yup is still being debated. It’s a moot point because there are a lot of areas that can’t be compared numerically, and you have to consider the time and circumstances of their careers. Nevertheless, it’s fun for baseball fans to forget about. The sequence of ‘Choo Kang-dae-yup’ has become a proper noun.
The debate is all about his value as a hitter, but recently, there’s a player who wants to get serious about it. Third baseman Kim Ha-seong (28, San Diego Padres) has made a career out of being both a hitter and a fielder, joining the debate and the lineup of the best Korean players.
Now in his third year in the majors, Kim has transformed his offense into one of the best in the league. In 83 games this year, the second baseman has put up classic stats: 25-for-58 (265-for-68), 10 home runs, 31 RBI, 42 runs scored, 14 doubles, and a .752 OPS. That’s a top-11 OPS among second basemen in the league. His wRC+, a measure of hitting production that adjusts for ballpark and league environment, is 112, good for seventh in the league (100 is the average). Kim is currently hitting 12% better than league average. He’s peaking in his third year in the majors. Sure, his wRC+ peak is lower than Shin-Soo Choo’s (150 in 2013) and Jung Ho Kang’s (132 in 2015), but the reason he’s in this debate is because his value as a hitter is exceptional, as is his value as a defender.
As the successor to Kang Jeong-ho, who was already called the “Prince of Peace,” he was even dubbed the “Prince of Peace” in the KBO. Now, he’s looking to elevate himself to a higher level. In his four years in the major leagues, Kang played mostly third base and shortstop. He played more games at third base. His Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) were +3 in 2015 (+4 at third base, -1 at shortstop), -3 in 2016 (third base), 0 in 2018, and -1 in 2019 (-2 at third base, 1 at shortstop). In total, he was a -1 defender, slightly below league average.먹튀검증
However, Kim is not only above league average, he is one of the best defenders in the league. He’s +11 in DRS at his primary position, second base, which ranks first in the league (Houston’s Mauricio Dubon is +8). He’s also +2 at third base and +3 at shortstop, where he plays “part-time”. He’s a combined +16, which ranks first among all infielders. His OAA (Outs Above Average) of 11 also leads all National League defenders. Kim’s defensive value is no longer up for debate in the major leagues.
In a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Petco Park on April 5, Kim stunned home fans and teammates with two “circus defense” plays. His shortstop teammate Bogaerts said, “He can cover a lot of ground. Everyone knows he’s a good defender,” and gave him a thumbs-up, saying, “Bring him a Gold Glove, you deserve it.” “He’s a great defender,” manager Bob Melvin laughed.
On offense, Kim has 10 home runs and 15 doubles and is on pace for 20 home runs and 20 doubles. If he reaches that mark, he will become the second Korean player to do so (after Shin-Soo Choo) and the first Asian infielder. At his current pace, he could surpass Kang as the best Asian infielder. He’s also making his mark in the “Choo Kang-dae-yup” debate, and is biding his time to rub shoulders with the big boys.