Sign Kang Jung-Ho

I’m going to make this short and sweet.

The Nats need a second baseman. The best middle infielder in the Korean Baseball Organization, Kang Jung-Ho of the Nexen Heroes is available. The Washington Nationals should sign Kang Jung-Ho.

Look at that highlight reel. This is the greatest baseball hype film since the Yoenis Cespdes Hype Video.

Kang is 27 years old, in the prime of his career, plays great defense. From the highlights, we learn that he can hit hanging sliders a long way and punish fastballs that are too far over the middle of the plate.

Does that make him a hall of famer? Not yet. But those are the skills you expect to see in a competent major league batter, so that’s a good start.

The next objection: he played in the Korean Baseball Organization, a demonstrably inferior league to the National League. Fine. Let’s do some comparisons, shall we?

The Nats sold Ryan Tatusko’s contract to the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO last year. Tatusko was the other pitcher that came from the Rangers in the deal that sent Cristian Guzman to Texas and brought Tanner Roark to the Nats organization. Tatusko was a promising pitcher and a fine blogger and human being, but injuries slowed his development. Let’s use him as a rough proxy for the competitive level of the KBO.

During his time in the Nats organization, Tatusko bounced up and down between the Harrisburg Senators of the AA Eastern League and the Syracuse Chiefs of the AAA International League. He ended up in the KBO. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the KBO represents a level of competition that’s better than the Eastern League and maybe not quite as good as the International League.

If that’s how we set our proxy level, how does Kang Jung-Ho stack up against the league leaders? No fancy stats here, just the old stuff. In 2014, Kang put up a slash line of .356/.459/.759. He collected 149 hits, 36 doubles, 2 triples and 40 home runs.

OK. Here are the 2014 batting leaders for the International League. Kang would have led the IL in batting average. He would have led the IL in OBP. He would have led the IL in slugging (beating out Zach Walters and Stephen Souza, Jr.!). Kang’s 149 hits would have been good enough for fourth in hits in the IL, despite the fact that Kang only collected his 149 hits in 501 plate appearances over 117 games. (The IL leaders in counting stats appeared in ~130 games each). Despite that, Kang’s 40 home runs puts him ten homers ahead of 2014 IL HR king Andy Wilkins (with 30).

Here are the 2014 batting leaders for the AA Eastern League. Kang’s .356 batting average isn’t so great in the Eastern League–he doesn’t win the batting title here. T.J. Rivera of Binghamton takes it, barely, with a .358 BA. But you know what? Kang’s .356 is just better than Portland’s Mookie Betts, a highly-touted middle-infield prospect in the Red Sox organization. Kang’s OBP of .459 would top the Eastern League ahead of, you guessed it, Mookie Betts (.443). Kang’s slugging (.759) demolishes the Eastern League leader Ryan Schimpf (.616). Kang would be second in hits, but he got them in fewer games. Ditto homers, where Kang’s 40 is five better than Eastern League leader (Erie’s Steven Moya, who hit 35).

So, Nats town, this is what you’ve got: an international free agent that’s as good (or possibly better) than Mookie Betts. He’s much better than anyone the Nats have in the organization or in the pipeline. He’s available now.

And the only thing he costs is money.

Come on, Rizzo. Sign Kang Jung-Ho.

Nobody Beats the Rizz

I won a MASN contest and got to have a brief meet-and-greet with Nats GM Mike Rizzo before yesterday’s game. I was one of 8 fans who got to stand on the warning track by the first-base dugout and chat. Questions ranged from the state of the Spring Training facility lease (I wasn’t paying very close attention), to the amount of time Rizzo spends with the big league team (the majority of his time during the year).

I was interested in international scouting and free agency. A few things I learned in a brief conversation with the Rizz:

  • Rizzo expressed great satisfaction with the newly-rebuilt academy in the DR.
  • Livan Hernandez does a lot more than throw live BP to Nats batters. He spends at least some time in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the Caribbean. With some prompting, Rizzo half-jokingly referred to Livo as the “Cuban liaison.”
  • Speaking of Cuban players: the Nationals keep as close an eye on them as they’re permitted to. I asked Rizzo about the difficulty in obtaining good information on Cuban players. He replied that, given the number of times Cuban teams compete in international tournaments, it is possible to gain some idea about the players they are interested in.
  • I asked whether the Nationals’ sale of minor-leaguer Ryan Tatusko to the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization signals a new willingness to explore the East Asian market. Rizzo replied that the Nationals maintain a scouting department for the entire Pacific Rim: “We’ve scouted the Darvishes and the Tanakas.” He went on, noting that he, himself, had 20 years of dealing with Asian players and clubs. He added, with a note of wistfulness, that he had scouted a Japanese pitcher during his time with the Diamondbacks–Nishimura, currently with the Yomiuri Giants. “I wish I had him.”

The most interesting thing about Mike Rizzo is that he seems most comfortable talking about baseball. Fan meet-and-greet sessions are pretty awkward, contrived situations, but once he got on to baseball and scouting, he was as enthusiastic as a man in his position could prudently be.

 

A quick thought on Independence Day

As you celebrate Independence Day, think of this.

Yasiel Puig. Yu Darvish. Yoenis Cespedes. Hisashi Iwakuma. 

Just a few of the international free agents the Nats did not (or could not) sign. Perhaps with a market-rate TV rights deal in place, they could have done so. But, because of the MASN deal, the Nats don’t even get close to half of their TV revenue–the bulk goes to the Orioles.

 

Why the Nats Didn’t Re-Sign Pudge

I got into a pretty lively discussion on Twitter today about the Nats catcher situation, sparked off by This tweet:

The #nats are horribly thin at catcher. They don’t know how Ramos will recover from the kidnapping. They need to bring Pudge back.

Let me refute the proposition that [the Nats] need to bring Pudge back by refuting, in turn, each of the statements upon which it was premised.

The Nats are horribly thin at catcher

There are a few assumptions embedded in this statement. Mostly, the objection boils down to this: Jesús Flores is not a good hitter.

This is an opinion. I’ll answer with facts. In his 2011 Venezuelan League regular season, Flores batted .332/.369/.516, with 16 doubles and 8 home runs. He posted a wRC of 27. Yeah, I can hear you saying, that’s Venezuela, a Double-A league at best. He did’t hit so good as a big-leaguer!. OK, that’s true. In 2008, his last long, uninjured season, Flores batted .256/.296./402 with 8 home runs. Not impressive–he was only worth 32 wRC to the ’08 Nats. That’s a wRC+ of 79, which is below average.

I concede that there’s a very big drop-off from Flores’s best wRC+ of 79 to Wilson Ramos’s worst wRC+ or 91 (in 2010). But, as we’ll see later, Flores stacks up very nicely against the competition–especially when that competition is Pudge Rodriguez.

[The Nats] don’t know how Ramos will recover from the kidnapping

This is a true statement in the very strict sense. We’ll never really know, because Ramos himself won’t talk much about it. The only thing we have to judge him on is his Venezuelan league performance. As I said on Sunday, the Venezuelan League numbers aren’t as bad as they might seem. Sure, Ramos batted a comparatively lousy .216/.274/.273 with 2 doubles and only 1 home run, accounting for only 11 wRC. But Ramos only got 98 plate appearances (his regular season having been disrupted by the kidnapping, naturally). When we normalize his offensive numbers to the 200 plate appearances he would have otherwise gotten (and which he did get in 2010), he would have gotten 23 wRC. Yes, exactly the same wRC as he got in 2010, a Venezuelan season in which he hit .322/.390/.567 with 17 doubles and 9 home runs.

And we cannot help but be encouraged by his performance in the Championship Series, in which he helped the Tigres de Aragua to victory batting .450/.550/.478 with 2 home runs over 20 at-bats in 6 games.

For all intents and purposes, the Wilson Ramos that walked out of the jungle a free man seems to have been the same Wilson Ramos that was taken into the jungle at gunpoint. We should expect the same from him.

The Nats Need to Sign Pudge

No they don’t.

OK, you’re saying, but what’s the harm in signing Pudge? He’s a future hall-of-famer, calls a great game, and is generally awesome. Why not have Pudge back up for Ramos instead of Flores? Well, I hate to say it, but Pudge is too old, bats too poorly, and costs too much to put him on the team instead of Flores.

Remember when I said Flores’s wRC+ of 79 in his best year made him a below-average hitter? Have a look at Pudge’s wRC+ since 2009. It’s not pretty: 69, 68, 63. In the 2010 season, the last season Pudge was the every-day catcher, Pudge hit into 25 double plays (leading a friend of mine to dub him, not so fondly, GiDPudge). There’s no denying it–Pudge has entered the autumn of the patriarch. Rest assured that having Pudge as a back-up catcher instead of Flores will mean less offense on a ballclub that desperately needs offense.

Fine, but Pudge is the best defensive catcher in the game! Yes he is. But using the same wRC projection method I use for making my 2012 season projections, Pudge is worth 24 wRC. Flores is worth 31. Is Pudge’s defense good enough to save 7 additional runs? Maybe not.

Even if Pudge’s defense could make up for his declining offense, there’s the question of money. In 2011, Pudge earned a cool $3,000,000 from the Nats. Even if he decided to take a significant discount and play for half that–$1,500,000, Pudge would cost nearly twice as much as the $815,000 the Nats are paying Flores for 2012.

If you think Flores’s future looks more like his 2011 Venezuelan League numbers, why would you pay twice as much for a catcher who will net you less offense? And even if Pudge’s defensive skills equal the difference between his offensive numbers and Flores’s, why would you pay twice as much to achieve the same net result?

It’s not that Pudge has not been an excellent catcher. But the Nats have two catchers who are perfectly adequate for their purposes right now–especially at their salary levels. If I were GM, I would worry less about catchers and more about the outfield.