Is Ha-Seong Kim Adjusting or Getting Lucky?

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Ha-Seong Kim entered spring training expecting to accept a utility role. He had a full major league season under his belt but was still getting familiar with the American game.

That role abruptly changed in mid-March. The San Diego Padres announced that superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. would undergo wrist surgery and miss significant playing time. For Kim, being an everyday shortstop was not an unfamiliar role. He played at the position every day with the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), where he flourished. Being an everyday shortstop wasn’t the challenge. Kim’s obstacle was adjusting to the American game. Major League Baseball is a giant step up from the KBO. That’s not an insult to the Korean game. Plenty of KBO alumni have found a home in the majors.

Surely, Padres fans must remember former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park. Other notable KBO veterans who transitioned to Major League Baseball include Hyun-Jin Ryu, Byun-Hyung Kim, and Shin-Soo Choo. This article aims to look back at Kim’s season to this point and attempt to answer one question.

Has Kim made adjustments that have correlated to increased production, or is he just getting lucky?

Looking at Kim’s Season

Kim embraced his new role as an everyday shortstop for the Padres. Being without Tatis was a blow to the team. Kim, however, has been more than just a stopgap. He’s reached mid-August sporting a 101 wRC+. Furthermore, he has shone on defense and has improved in many offensive categories. His strikeouts are down, while his walk percentage has increased. Looking even closer at his stats, one, in particular, stands out above the rest. His 2022 quadruple slash line is currently .249/.324/.375/.699. In 2021, his line was significantly lower. He was in a new element, and his production was well below replacement level (70 wRC+, 0.5 WAR).

Also, Kim has increased his power and is getting on base at a higher rate. His OBP in 2022 (.324) is 54 points higher than last season (.270). His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is currently the same as last year, .286. Kim has found stable footing in the lower half of the lineup, usually batting in the no. 7 spot. He has 40 RBI and scored 42 runs, which is more runs than last season and he has done it in 11 fewer games. He’s performing at around replacement level. For a utility player thrust into a starting role, this is acceptable. For a foreign player playing American baseball in only his second season, it’s a pleasant surprise.

Then How Is Kim Getting Lucky?

Kim has seen an exceptionally high BABIP this month and last. In July, his BABIP was .357. His BABIP in mid-August is .342. Consistently making contact for hits at that high a rate is not sustainable. Not for Kim, or anyone. Kim’s April BABIP was .286, and in May it dropped to .243. It rose to .286 again in June. But just like the temperature, his BABIP has risen dramatically in July and August. A good, sustainable BABIP usually sits at or just above .300. If Kim returns to a consistent .280-.290 BABIP that will play out well for the Padres for the rest of the season. For now, he is getting hits at a rate pushed more by luck than skill.

But this does not invalidate the adjustments he has made. He’s gotten on base at a higher rate all season. His batting average and slugging percentage are higher. Most of all, he’s contributing above replacement level (101 wRC+ compared to 70 wRC+ in 2021).

It’s Your Moment, Kid

One would think that Kim is living his best life. He’s playing the American game, which features some of the best athletes to ever play baseball. He is liked and respected by his teammates. Above all else, he is seizing his moment. He stepped into the everyday shortstop role on Opening Day and is making a mark. This has led to his embrace by the San Diego fanbase.

Kim has found a home with the Padres. It’s still too early to tell, but he may have found his place in the American game.

Main Photo:

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Players Mentioned:

Ha-Seong Kim, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Chan Ho Park, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Byun-Hyung Kim, Shin-Soo Choo,