2021 Pod Projections: Ha-seong Kim by Mike Podhorzer January 4, 2021 Although the year just flipped to 2021, it’s already Pod Projections time! The 2021 forecasts are not available yet, and it’s looking likely that I’ll have more time to finish them once again, just like last year. So consider this an early preview to whet your appetite, for a hopefully longer season than in 2020, even if we don’t return to a 162 game schedule. As usual, I’ll dive into my projection methodology (detailed in Projecting X 2.0) by sharing my process on several hitters and pitchers. I’ll begin with Ha-seong Kim, who just signed a four-year $28 million contract with the Padres, after spending seven seasons in the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization). Kim debuted at just 18 years old, so he’s still just 25, making this an intriguing signing for San Diego. Though a shortstop overseas, he might get his first chance at second base, despite both Jake Cronenworth performing admirably, both offensively and defensively. The Padres feature a strong lineup, making it difficult for Kim to settle into a good spot in the batting order for fantasy production. Roster Resource currently projects Kim to slot into the seven hold in the lineup, and that’s under the assumption that there’s no DH in the National League. For the purpose of this projection exercise, let’s assume Kim hits seventh. 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. I haven’t read any sort of studies or performed any myself to determine the best method for projecting such players. However, I came up with my own method to translate a foreign player’s statistics to the Major League level, as follows: Calculate all the relevant ratios for the player that drive my full projection line (not just fantasy stats) Find the foreign league average of all the ratios Derive a multiplier of the player’s ratio compared to league average (player ratio / lg avg ratio) Find the MLB league average of all the ratios for the most recent season Multiply the player’s ratio multiplier by the MLB league average for each ratio for a translated ratio The translated ratios are then used to develop my projection, rather than the player’s actual ratios. The one glaring issue is the difference in competition. The translation would work well if we knew the foreign league and MLB competition were relatively equal. Unfortunately, that’s rarely (if ever?) going to be the case. As a result, some ratios will have to be knocked down because the worse competition means an elite player has an easier time outperforming. How much to knock down each ratio? I have no idea! Furthermore, not every ratio is going to need to be cut, because some ratios won’t be affected as much by the competition, but be more indicative of the player’s own individual skill and talent. So this is clearly more art than science at this point and some of my decisions are going to be arbitrary. So major caveats out of the way, let’s get on with trying to accurately (haha!) project Korean star Ha-seong Kim. Plate Appearances: 553 Given an expected spot in the lower third of the batting order, I’m going with 3.95 plate appearances per game, to go along with 140 games. There’s obviously risk here that his KBO performance doesn’t translate given the tougher competition and that could cut into his playing time. BB%: 9.5% Kim posted strong walk rates relative to league average during his time in KBO. Below is a table of those marks and the calculations described in the intro: Ha-seong Kim BB% Projection Evolution Season Kim BB% KBO Lg Avg BB% Multiplier 2020 MLB BB% Kim MLB Translated BB% 15% Cut Projection 2014 13.6% 9.5% 1.43 9.2% 13.0% 11.0% 2015 9.6% 9.3% 1.04 9.2% 9.2% 7.9% 2016 10.0% 9.3% 1.07 9.2% 9.4% 8.0% 2017 9.7% 7.9% 1.21 9.2% 10.8% 9.2% 2018 9.4% 8.1% 1.15 9.2% 10.2% 8.7% 2019 11.2% 8.5% 1.31 9.2% 11.3% 9.6% 2020 12.1% 9.4% 1.29 9.2% 11.3% 9.6% Career 10.4% 8.9% 1.17 9.2% 10.3% 8.8% Last 3 Seasons 10.9% 8.7% 1.26 9.2% 11.0% 9.3% In my experience, hitters arriving from a foreign league seemingly lose some plate patience and suffer a decline in translated walk rate. Obviously, a lot of that has to do with better competition, and perhaps some of it is the pressure to justify the new contract and prove belonging in the world’s best baseball league. So the perception is to swing more and show off your hitting tools. Walks aren’t sexy! Kim’s translated walk rate stood at 11.3% over each of the past two seasons, but I decided arbitrarily to cut his walk rates by 15% when deciding on my forecast. His last three season 15% cut projection sits at 9.3%, but I bumped that up to 9.5% to weigh his last two 9.6% seasons more heavily. K%: 19% Kim hasn’t struck out often in KBO, but the league as a whole boasts a strikeout rate well below the marks we’re used to seeing in MLB. So while his strikeout rates after translation are still impressive, they aren’t as much given how much higher the MLB strikeout rate is. Let’s check out his strikeout rate history and calculations: Ha-seong Kim K% Projection Evolution Season Kim K% KBO Lg Avg K% Multiplier 2020 MLB K% Kim MLB Translated K% 15% Increase Projection 2014 22.0% 16.7% 1.32 23.4% 30.9% 35.5% 2015 19.8% 18.6% 1.06 23.4% 24.9% 28.6% 2016 13.4% 16.9% 0.79 23.4% 18.5% 21.3% 2017 10.8% 17.6% 0.61 23.4% 14.4% 16.5% 2018 14.1% 18.8% 0.75 23.4% 17.5% 20.1% 2019 12.8% 17.2% 0.74 23.4% 17.4% 20.0% 2020 10.9% 17.4% 0.63 23.4% 14.7% 16.9% Career 13.7% 17.6% 0.78 23.4% 18.2% 20.9% Last 3 Seasons 12.6% 17.8% 0.71 23.4% 16.5% 19.0% Once again, I stuck with 15% to adjust the translation, but because higher is worse, which is opposite to walk rate, I increased the translation this time to arrive at my projection. This time, I went with my last three season average of 19% as my official projection. Since his 2020 mark represented a big step forward, I can’t be confident as to whether it was somewhat fluky or a genuine improvement in strikeout avoidance talent. GB%/LD%/FB%: 38% / 20% / 42% Thanks to KBO Wizard, I was able to find Kim’s batted ball type distribution, which is crucial when trying to project BABIP and HR/FB rate. Though it doesn’t indicate, I assume these are 2020 rates. There’s no way to choose a year, so I only had one season of data. Luckily, batted ball type distribution is generally pretty consistent, so one season is enough to get an idea of what kind of hitter Kim is. Let’s take a look: Ha-seong Kim Batted Ball Projection Evolution Metric GB% TFB% FB% LD% PU% Kim 2020 39.2% 38.3% 48.3% 12.5% 10.0% KBO Lg Avg 2020 51.2% 26.0% 34.7% 14.0% 8.7% Multiplier 0.77 1.47 1.39 0.89 1.15 MLB Lg Avg 2020 42.7% 26.2% 35.7% 21.6% 9.5% Kim MLB Translated 32.7% 38.6% 49.7% 19.3% 10.9% KBO Wizard splits out PU% (pop-up%) from FB%, whereas on FanGraphs, pop-ups are a part of FB%. So I renamed KBO Wizard’s FB% to TFB% (true FB%), and then added that number to PU% to arrive at the FB% we are familiar with here. As you can see, Kim’s batted ball profile is significantly different than the league’s. Kim has been an extreme fly ball hitter, even if that distribution came in MLB, while KBO batters on average are extreme ground ball hitters. Oddly, Kim and the league’s LD% is extremely low. I’m not sure if that’s a recording quirk of how they define line drive or the players there just legitimately hit fewer of that batted ball type. Clearly, Kim has been a fly ball hitter, but we can’t assume he’ll continue to lift balls as often in MLB, so I regressed his line, moving each rate a bit closer to the MLB league average. BABIP: .295 BABIP is one of the ratios I don’t think require much, if any, adjustment due to the varying levels of competition between the foreign leagues. I think comparing the hitter’s mark versus the league average and then performing the MLB translation is enough to get you to a reasonable projection without needing to make an addition cut. So let’s take a look at Kim’s BABIP history and translation: Ha-seong Kim BABIP Projection Evolution Season Kim BABIP KBO Lg Avg BABIP Multiplier 2020 MLB BABIP Kim MLB Translated BABIP 2014 0.206 0.330 0.62 0.292 0.182 2015 0.337 0.326 1.03 0.292 0.302 2016 0.297 0.331 0.90 0.292 0.262 2017 0.306 0.327 0.93 0.292 0.273 2018 0.306 0.329 0.93 0.292 0.271 2019 0.328 0.310 1.06 0.292 0.309 2020 0.304 0.313 0.97 0.292 0.283 Career 0.311 0.324 0.96 0.292 0.281 Last 3 Seasons 0.313 0.317 0.99 0.292 0.288 While Kim has posted a BABIP in five of his six full seasons (excluding his small sample 2014 debut) above .300, the KBO league average BABIP is well above the MLB average. So we need to adjust for that. Kim’s translated BABIP in the last column shows us that only twice has he actually exceeded the .300 level on an adjusted basis, and excluding his 2014 debut, has posted a mark no higher than .283 in four of six seasons. His career mark is just .281, while his last three seasons is a bit better at .288. This makes sense given his fly ball propensity. My .295 BABIP projection is a bit higher than his three season average, as I am projecting him to post a lower FB%, which should result in more balls in play falling for hits than in the KBO. However, because I’m still projecting him to be a fly ball hitter, his BABIP projection remains just marginally above the 2020 MLB average. HR/FB Ratio: 14.5% Initially, I planned to back into a HR/FB rate projection by calculating Kim’s AB/HR history and translating that. That’s not ideal, because his AB/HR history is influenced by his actual strikeout rate and fly ball rate. If I’m projecting future rates in those two metrics that are significantly different than his history, his translated AB/HR rate isn’t going to be deceptive. After finding batted ball distribution rates from KBO Wizard, I derived Kim’s HR/FB rates assuming he posted that same batted ball profile throughout his career (which he obviously didn’t). It’s not perfect, but it’s better than relying on AB/HR. So let’s take a gander at his historical HR/FB rates assuming the same batted ball distributions in the table above: Ha-seong Kim HR/FB Projection Evolution Season Kim HR/FB KBO Lg Avg HR/FB Multiplier 2020 MLB HR/FB Kim MLB Translated HR/FB 15% Cut Projection 2014 10.9% 10.1% 1.08 16.0% 17.3% 14.7% 2015 9.7% 10.9% 0.89 13.2% 11.8% 10.0% 2016 9.1% 10.3% 0.89 13.2% 11.8% 10.0% 2017 10.1% 10.8% 0.94 13.9% 13.1% 11.1% 2018 9.5% 12.4% 0.76 11.3% 8.6% 7.4% 2019 8.4% 7.2% 1.17 17.3% 20.2% 17.1% 2020 13.2% 9.6% 1.37 20.3% 27.7% 23.6% Career 10.0% 10.2% 0.99 14.6% 14.4% 12.2% Last 3 Seasons 10.4% 9.8% 1.06 15.8% 16.8% 14.3% Kim has only posted double digit HR/FB rates in two of his six full seasons, but KBO isn’t the home run league that MLB has become. Once adjusted for MLB’s HR/FB rate level, we find translated rates consistently in double digits, peaking over the last two seasons and reaching 20%+ during his last season. That’s a good sign that his power is now blossoming. I decided to cut his translated HR/FB rate by 10% to develop my projection, as his max velocity might cause his power to fail to fully carry over. Since his home run power has risen in each of the last two seasons, I chose to forecast a mark that is slightly higher than his straight three season average, landing on 14.5%, just below his 2019 season. Runs and RBI: 72 and 75 As a result of his expected position closer to the bottom of the order, Kim might not be particularly helpful in runs scored and RBI in a shallow mixed league. These marks might change significantly as we get a better idea of where he’ll hit in the order and whether his plate appearance projection seems right. SB: 12 I use several formulas to arrive at a stolen base projection, as I don’t directly project steals or caught stealings. Kim has swiped double digit bases in five of his six full seasons, though oddly stole just eight in 2018. He has also posted a fantastic success rate the last two seasons, which gives us hope that he will keep stealing in MLB. That said, it’s always a complete crapshoot projecting how willing a foreign player will be to attempt steals, so I’m taking a bit of a conservative stance here with my various formulas I use to derive my stolen base projection. *** Below is my final projected hitting line, along with the other systems for comparison: Ha-seong Kim Projection Comparison System AB PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% BABIP AB/HR AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO 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 It’s pretty amazing to me that these three systems projected Kim independently, with very different methodologies, and yet some of the metric forecasts are extremely close. Sure, we have very different ideas on how many bases Kim is going to steal (which I mentioned above), and we’re a bit all over on his strikeout rate. But, we’re almost identical in walk rate and a low-to-mid 20’s home run total, along with a BABIP in the .290-.300 range. Overall, ZiPS is quite bullish and this projection makes Kim an excellent fantasy contributor. Depth Charts are decidedly less optimistic, projecting a higher strikeout rate with less power, and less willingness to steal. As is often the case, my projection is in the middle, but leans a bit closer to ZiPS’ bullishness. My forecast would make him a very solid shallow mixed league earner, though not quite as valuable as ZiPS would have us believe. I do love when foreign players come over because the unknown gives us real profit opportunities. Of course, these types of players disappoint us frequently, so along with the profit opportunities are the real chances of a loss. Yet, since these players typically come at a reasonable price, the upside usually makes them a pretty good purchase option.