Zach Wilt: The importance of Hyun Soo Kim

You would have a hard time finding a more staunch supporter of Hyun Soo Kim than me. Sure, after his heroics last night, today is an easy day to write that I’m a fan of the guy, but I promise I can back it up. I wrote back in December of last year that I was excited about the Orioles signing Kim because it seemed like another one of those under-the-radar type impact moves from Dan Duquette. The Orioles needed a high-OBP bat to bring a bit more balance to the all-or-nothing nature of their lineup. Kim looked to be just that and came to Baltimore at a bargain.

Duquette’s history alone was reason to be excited about this move. Remember, the crafty O’s executive resurrected Nate McLouth’s career in 2012 after he was designated for assignment by the Pirates. He held on to Steve Pearce in 2014, re-signing him two days after he was released on April 27. Pearce then went on to post single-season career highs in batting average (.293), RBIs (49), doubles (26) and home runs (21) en route to helping the Orioles win the American League East. Everyone remembers Nelson Cruz in 2014, the league’s home run leader that season, who turned down the Rangers’ qualifying offer only to sign with the Orioles on a one-year, $8 million deal. That contract alone secured Duquette’s fate as the Major League Executive of the Year.

Back in May, I also wrote on MASNSports.com that Kim should be starting every day over early-season hero Joey Rickard. As I’m sure you remember, it wasn’t a real popular opinion after Kim’s struggles in the Grapefruit League over the spring. Just read the comments if you don’t believe me. Kim slashed .178/.224/.178 over 49 plate appearances, but I argued that his .200 BABIP and small sample size was reason enough not to give up on this guy. After last night’s pinch-hit go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth inning, I’m glad everyone kept the faith.

Kim still hasn’t quite seen the playing time that I feel that he deserves; he rarely starts against left-handed pitching due to his splits against southpaws and recently has been riding the pine against righties while guys like Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs or even Nolan Reimold get the start in left field. The argument in favor of those other guys is their defense. The advanced metrics view Kim as a below-average outfielder; he’s been worth -11 defensive runs saved according to FanGraphs.com. Anyone who watches him play can see that his range and arm are limited and might not be surprised to hear that the metrics agree. What could shock you though is that DRS actually views Adam Jones, who is two years removed from his third consecutive Gold Glove Award, as also worth -11. Wait, it gets better. Mark Trumbo is actually the best of three, with -9 DRS in right field.

I can’t argue that Kim is a better defender than Bourn or Stubbs. I’m a numbers guy and the numbers tell me I’d be wrong to take that stance. What I can tell you that is that runs have been at a premium for the Orioles in September. They’re averaging just four a game and rank 25th in the league with 100 this month. They’ve scored three runs or less in 10 of their last 11 games and 16 of 25 games this month. Many are blaming the Orioles dependency on the home run: 51.60 percent of their total runs scored this season have come from the longball, the highest percentage in the major leagues. It’s a fair argument. When the bats go cold, they can’t generate runs. When they’re hot, they’re the most dangerous lineup in baseball. Kim and his team-leading .382 on-base percentage alleviate some of that. He gives the Orioles a greater chance of scoring more runs because he’s always on base and when that home run comes, hopefully it’ll be more than a solo shot because Kim has worked the count and managed to be standing on a bag during a teammate’s 420-foot blast.

Of course, it’s funny to take this stance on the day after my OBP hero hits a pinch-hit two-run dinger in one of the Orioles’ biggest games of the season. I guess you could add “surprise power potential” to my list of reasons for loving this guy. Either way, he’s been an incredibly important part of the Orioles’ run to the postseason and one of my favorite stories about this 2016 club. I just would love to see him out there a little more.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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