2021 Pod Projections: Ha-seong Kim, A Review

As you probably already know, I manually project player performance each and every year, and make the forecasts available on my Pod Projections page. It’s a seriously time-consuming task, but the manual process gives me some advantages versus a computer system, so I continue to create them. Early in the year, I share a couple of my Pod Projections, the individual forecasted metrics, and an explanation of the process I follow to arrive at each number. This year, the first projection I shared was that of Ha-seong Kim, who had just signed a four year contract with the Padres after spending seven seasons in the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization). Projecting veteran baseball players is challenging enough, so you can imagine the added layer of difficulty when working on a forecast for a player coming over from a foreign league. Let’s find out how Kim performed compared to my projection and the two that were published in early January.

Plate Appearances: 553 Projected | 298 Actual

We knew heading into the season that the Padres’s roster was a bit crowded, but figured that given the hype and his KBO performance, plus the contract the team signed him to would mean he’d hold a starting job all season. He did not. In fact, he didn’t even open the season with a starting job and only recorded 55 plate appearances in April. And since he didn’t end up posting a monthly wOBA above .300 until June, he failed to force his way into the lineup on a regular basis when he did get a start.

BB%: 9.5% Projected | 7.4% Actual

Kim never posted a walk rate below 9.4% in the KBO and in six full seasons, posted a double digit mark during half of them. I noted in my original writeup that for some reason, players coming over from a foreign league seemingly lose some plate patience and suffer a decline in translated walk rate. Welp, it happened yet again. I did account for that, but clearly I didn’t discount it enough!

K%: 19% Projected | 23.8% Actual

The KBO on average strikes out far less than MLB, so you have to be aware of that when looking at Kim’s strong historical strikeout rates that have bounced around in the low double digits. It’s why my projected strikeout rate was significantly higher than what he has posted every year since 2016, and only in 2015 did he post a slightly higher strikeout rate. But just like his walk rate, I wasn’t aggressive enough with my translation discount.

The surprising thing is that he posted a pretty good 8.6% SwStk%, so it wasn’t matter of swinging and missing frequently that led to the disappointing strikeout rate. Instead, he simply didn’t swing at as many pitches inside the strike zone as the league did, which led to a higher rate of called strikes. So it was a matter of being too passive at the plate that resulted in the higher strikeout rate. It’s interesting that it didn’t lead to a higher walk rate though as his O-Swing% was also well below average, which should have boosted that mark.

GB%/LD%/FB%: 38% / 20% / 42% Projected | 41.4% / 17.2% / 41.4% Actual

It’s funny to see him post the exact same ground ball and fly ball rates. I actually was pretty close on this projection, except he traded some line drives I forecasted for some grounders. It’s hard getting a batted ball distribution right for a foreign batter, especially since I only had his 2020 KBO marks to work with. Amazingly, he didn’t change too dramatically during his move.

BABIP: .295 Projected | .241 Actual

This was a killer. Just once did Kim post a sub-.300 BABIP in KBO, back in 2016, and it was barely below at .297. But KBO as a league has posted much higher BABIP marks than MLB, so I still projected him for a career worst mark. Unfortunately, a low line drive rate and a ton of pop-ups (he posted the fourth highest IFFB% among batters with at least 250 PAs) resulted in lots of easy outs.

HR/FB Ratio: 14.5% Projected | 9.8% Actual

While KBO posts higher BABIP and lower strikeout rates, they also don’t show anywhere near as much home run power as MLB. Kim’s HR/FB rate has generally been around the KBO league average over his career, but it was above it the last two seasons. So I decided to project a mark around the MLB league average, which ended up being too aggressive. He did pull an above average rate of his fly balls, but they simply weren’t hit hard enough to take advantage of the shorter fence distance in that direction. He’s only 26 so his power may very well continue to increase, but absent improvement, it doesn’t appear any bad luck was involved here — his power just failed to translate during his first half season. Of course, the sample size of just 267 at-bats also could mean he was just in a power slump, so keep that in mind.

Runs and RBI: 72 and 75 Projected | 27 and 34 Actual

Obviously, the far fewer plate appearances resulted in fewer counting stats like runs and RBI. He still would have fallen short of my projections even if he hit my plate appearance forecast. Because he got off to such a sluggish start and the Padres lineup was stacked, he recorded just 19 PAs in the top five lineup slots. The vast majority of his PAs came in the seventh and eighth spots, which made it very difficult to tally runs and RBI, even if he was hitting well.

SB: 12 Projected | 6 Actual

Here, he would have come close to my projection had he gotten the PAs. Kim stole as many as 33 bases in a season in the KBO and double digits in five of six full seasons. With only one caught stealing an above average HP to 1B and Sprint Speed score, he should be a shoe-in for a double digit steal pace over a full season.

***

Below is Kim’s final hitting line, along with my Pod Projected hitting line, and the other two systems available at the time for comparison:

Ha-seong Kim Projection Comparison
System AB PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% BABIP AB/HR AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO
Actual 267 298 8 27 34 6 7.4% 23.8% 0.241 33.4 0.202 0.270 0.352 0.622 0.150
Pod 492 553 24 72 75 12 9.5% 19.0% 0.295 20.5 0.268 0.342 0.466 0.808 0.198
Depth Charts 560 630 22 79 76 8 9.2% 23.4% 0.292 25.5 0.244 0.322 0.417 0.739 0.173
ZiPS 503 23 80 82 17 9.2% 17.1% 0.299 21.9 0.274 0.343 0.477 0.820 0.203

Obviously, he underperformed all of our expectations. The Depth Charts projection, which a commenter at the time believed was just Steamer, was far closer than Pod and ZiPS, nearly nailing the strikeout rate, and coming much closer to the OPS and ISO, even if both were still too optimistic. Since Kim clearly does own a nice mix of power and speed, he’s someone fantasy owners still need to keep an eye on if he does find himself with every day at-bats. Right now though, the Padres lineup remains stacked and only a prolonged injury would give Kim another regular opportunity.





Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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kylerkelton
6 months ago

He’s definitely a guy to keep an eye on. Obviously the bat was disappointing but he was excellent with the glove and runs well. He has a strong track record so hopefully he can adjust.