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.

Corey Brown: The Future at Center Field?

As I was getting myself psyched up for tonight’s Nats game against the Phils, this tweet caught my eye:

Translated:
Corey Brown has looked like Mike Trout in the minor leagues. He’s a left-handed batter. Looks like he’ll play winter ball. Where?

Whoa. Wait. Corey Brown? Corey Brown? I mean, I liked what I saw in a couple of brief appearances with the big league club, and I was dimly aware that he was tearing up the Nats minor league system, but nobody had ever compared him to Mike Trout.

I couldn’t let a statement like that go unexamined. And, although the comparison is inapt, a quick look at the numbers suggests that maybe, just maybe Corey Brown is the Nats’ Center Fielder of the Future.

In 3 seasons (and 260 games!) at AAA (one at Sacramento, two at Syracuse)Corey Brown’s slash line is .255/.340/.463 over 1,036 plate appearances.

Mike Trout’s rise was so meteoric he spent only 20 games in AAA, posting a .403/.467/.623 slash line over a paltry 93 plate appearances. Advantage to Trout–but over a miniscule sample size.

How about their AA performances? Over 156 games and 667 plate appearances in AA, Brown posted a .298/.397.496 slash. Trout spent 91 games and 412 plate appearances at AA, posting a .326/.414/.544 slash line.

But look at those slash lines again. If we subtract the batting average from slugging percentage, we reach Isolated Power, a measure of raw power (since we throw out all the lousy singles). The gap narrows significantly: Corey Brown posts an ISO of .208 in AAA and .198 in AA, while Mike Trout posts an ISO of .220 in AAA and .218 in AA.

The difference seems to be in their strikeout rates. Trout doesn’t strike out a lot: 18.4% in AA, 17.2% in AAA, and 19.9% in his time in the big leagues so far. By contrast, Brown struck out 24.4% of the time in AA, 25.7% in AAA (We’ll throw out his big league appearances for now, since the sample size is so small).

In AAA, Brown walks 9.7% of the time and a respactable BB/K ratio of .383. This compares well with Trout’s AAA walk rate of 11.8%, but Trout trounces Brown in BB/K at .690.

Still, Brown has managed to get on base at a .340 clip in AAA. If he were to get on base at that clip in the big leagues, he would be a viable choice in the lead-off spot for the Nats. That would make him better at getting on base than any of the current Nats’ lead-off hitters.

What does all of this add up to? I guess you might say that Corey Brown is a (very) poor man’s Mike Trout–an outfielder who bats for a lot of power and gets on base at a respectable clip.

But the most important thought to carry with you into September’s roster expansion and spring training 2013 is this: Assuming Brown’s plate discipline doesn’t deteriorate, he might be the center fielder and lead-off hitter we’ve been waiting for all these years.