Though he’s been in a bit of a slump since the fall, 28-year-old Ha-Sung Kim of the San Diego Padres is still getting high praise for his 2023 season.
The Athletic named the most improved player for each of the 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams this season on Monday, and San Diego’s name was mentioned.
The publication first pointed out Kim’s recent struggles. In 148 games this season, Kim has hit .261 with 17 home runs, 59 RBIs, 83 runs scored, 36 doubles, and an OPS of .754. For the most part, his numbers were an improvement over last year, including his batting average and OPS. However, in 18 games in September, he batted .162 (12-for-74) with 0 home runs, 7 RBIs, 7 runs scored, 7 doubles, and an OPS of .442.
“Due to a slump in September, Kim only increased his OPS by 0.046 from last year (0.708 to 0.754),” the outlet said, referring to his recent performance. However, the outlet went on to say, “Despite his September slump, Kim is still expected to post a WAR (wins above replacement) of more than 4 according to FanGraphs.” Kim is currently at 4.1 fWAR through 28 days, and according to Fangraphs, a player with a WAR between 4 and 5 is considered an All-Star caliber player.
“He’s an above-average defender who plays every position in the infield,” the outlet said, noting that his OAA (Outs Above Average, where 0 is league average) of 8 is in the top 6%. However, defense has always been recognized as one of Kim’s strengths since his major league debut. So what are the areas of improvement?
The first thing the media pointed to was baserunning. Kim’s stolen base attempts have steadily increased over the years. After going 1-for-6 in 2021, he doubled that the following year with 12-for-2. This year, he stole 36 bases, good for fifth in the National League. He became the first Korean and first Asian infielder to steal more than 30 bases. He tripled his stolen base total in one year.
That’s not all. “Kim has improved his ability to pick out pitches at the plate,” the outlet explained. His career strikeout-to-walk ratio is 9.8 percent, which is above the league average (8.5 percent) for the same period. Last year, he had a similar rate of 8.8 percent, but this year’s rate of 12.1 percent is well above average. “Kim is currently posting a .353 on-base percentage,” the outlet said, comparing it to his rookie season’s mark (0.270). That’s a lot of improvement in two years.
At one point, Kim was in the MVP conversation, but a combination of bad luck and bad luck in September has seen his performance slip. He has shown signs of physical exhaustion, and he himself has said, “It’s a really, really long (season). I’m grinding it out” (San Diego Union-Tribune interview on Sept. 14). Add to that the unexplained abdominal pain that forced him to miss four games against Oakland on April 18.안전놀이터
However, Kim’s performance this season has been consistently praised. MLB.com, the official website of Major League Baseball, named him San Diego’s most improved player this season. “He’s developed into an elite leadoff man,” they wrote, “and defensively, there’s no one better in San Diego. He played primarily at second base, but he also played shortstop and third base to fill in for injuries to his teammates, and he played wherever they needed him,” praising his versatility.
Columnist Jim Borden, a former Cincinnati Reds manager, also ranked Kim at No. 5 on his list of 20 players who had so-called breakout seasons in the 2023 season for The Athletic. “If you told me in spring training that Ha-Sung Kim would have a higher WAR this year than Manny Machado or Xander Bogaerts, I don’t think anyone would have believed me,” Borden said of Kim’s unexpected performance.
The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote, “Kim has been one of San Diego’s most consistent performers all season. Even as the team has gone through ups and downs, he has brought consistency to his game throughout. His emergence this season has bode well for the franchise.”