On Monday, GM Neal Huntington announced Jung-Ho Kang as the Pirates’ starting third baseman, unseating the incumbent Colin Moran. While some may have expected the two to platoon, the news is hardly shocking. Moran struggled this spring and Kang recorded a healthy .996 OPS over 32 PAs. If this was a competition, it ?s a no-brainer. If we ?re going based on each player ?s potential, it ?s even more of a no-brainer.
He could always improve, but it seems likely Moran showed his hand for what he could be last year. He ?s an average hitter and a poor fielder and base runner, making him a roughly 1 WAR player. That ?s not necessarily terrible, but it ?s not good enough to be a starter on a winning team. He was worth 0.7 fWAR last year, and Steamer is projecting him for a modest boost to 1.1 WAR in 2019. Kang is also projected for 1.1 WAR, but his totals are over 226 PAs while Moran ?s are over 451. Kang is hardly an easy player to project, but 1+ WAR seems like a conservative prediction.
While Kang may have a good spring OPS, he has done it without hitting a single, double or triple. His BABIP is an astounding .000. Five hits, all homers. He has struck out 13 times, too. I guess Kang heard it ?s become a three true outcome league over the last two years and took it literally.
A spring like Kang ?s raises plenty of questions. Is he back to MLB form? What can his workload be? How much stock can we put into those homers when they haven ?t come against the best competition? All of these are valid points and worth exploring. Instead, we ?ll be answering a very stupid question: if he went a whole season with a .000 BABIP, how many homers would Kang have to hit to still be worth more WAR than Moran?
There are a lot of ingredients to calculating WAR, but since we ?re looking at two third basemen for the Pirates, we can disregard positional, park and league adjustments. To further simplify, I ?ll give Kang and Moran the same amount of playing time: 450 PAs. That means the better WAR between these two will come down to who has more combined batting runs above average, base running runs above average and fielding runs above average.
Steamer simplifies things for us yet again by giving base running and fielding values. Obviously these totals aren’t perfect, but it’s good for giving a rough estimate right now. Moran is projected to be worth -2.9 fielding runs and -0.8 runs above average on the base paths. That’s an improvement from last year for him. Kang is forecasted for -1.7 runs in the field and -0.1 runs on the bases, but in the half the playing time. We ?ll have to double those figures. (Maybe Kang gets on via an error and occasionally HAS to do some base running, resulting in the negative BsR.) If that ?s the case, Moran is worth -3.7 fielding and base running runs above average, and Kang is worth -3.6. All Kang has to do is match Moran ?s offensive value and he will have the higher WAR.
Batting runs are based on weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA). Again, there is going to be plenty of overlap that can be cancelled out while calculating wRAA for these two. In the end, it comes down to wOBA. Steamer says Moran will have a .320 wOBA this season. That ?s Kang ?s target number to beat Moran.
wOBA = (.69* BB + .72*HBP + .88*1B + 1.25*2B + 1.58*3B + 2.03*HR)/PA
We’ll be using this formula to calculate 2019 wOBA. If every Kang at-bat is home run or bust, we only need to pay attention to the final part of the equation: (2.03*HR)/PAs. Here is how his wOBA improves as the home run total grows.
71 home runs is the tipping point where Kang starts to become more valuable. So in this scenario, all he has to do is have the second best home running hitting season of all-time. He would need to homer once every 6.25 PAs. He ?s homered once every 6.4 PAs this spring, so he will need to pick up the pace.
But Kang hasn ?t been homer or bust this spring, though. He ?s also drawn a couple walks. What happens if our .000 BABIP Kang also earns a few free passes? (For simplicity ?s sake, I ?m assuming he will still be worth -0.2 base running runs above average.) Let ?s give him 34 walks over 450 PAs, putting him right in line with his career 7.6 BB%. Each walk is valued at 0.69 on the wOBA scale, so that ?s 23.46. Divide that by 450 plate appearances and had adds .052 to his wOBA. With the walks included, he would need to hit 60 home runs to reach a wOBA of at least .320 (it will wind up being .323).
While we know Kang ?s WAR, it doesn ?t really answer if he would be actually good. He ?d be a WPA, RE24 and, yes, RBI darling, but it ?s hard to accept that a player with a .158 OBP could be a good hitter. Statistics can only operate as an evaluation tool on the assumption that a player with results this stupid does not and cannot exist. This is an exercise into madness.
Or, you know, he could hit a single or two.