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.