Swinging at pitches outside the zone? There’s a reason you don’t see it in ‘ML TOP 7’ Kim Ha Sung’s games
Ha-Sung Kim (29, San Diego Padres) was once again hampered by a nagging fastball problem. But he also showed why he has remained a major league starter despite his obvious limitations.
Starting in the seventh spot and at shortstop, Kim went 1-for-5 with a home run, a run scored and three strikeouts in the 2023 MLB Baseball Classic against the Seattle Mariners at Petco Park in San Diego, California, USA, on Monday (8 August).안전놀이터
He broke his hitless streak in his fourth at-bat of the seventh inning with a single to left off KBO alum Chris Flexen. It was a 91.5 mph (147.3 km/h) fastball, and in his next at-bat, he took an 84.5 mph (136 km/h) cutter from Flexen and lined it straight to the shortstop, but the pitch itself wasn’t bad.
The problem was his first three at-bats against Seattle starter George Kirby (25). Kirby is a hard-throwing pitcher with a fastball that tops out at 99 miles per hour. On this day, he induced 11 swings and misses with his fastball, which topped out at 98.2 mph and averaged 96.9 mph (155.9 km/h). Despite falling apart early, giving up five runs on 11 hits (one home run) and three walks in 3⅔ innings to the San Diego Padres, Kim was strong.
Both of his strikeouts on the day were against Kim. He struck him out swinging on a fastball that touched 96.4 miles per hour (155.1 kilometres per hour) in the second inning and 96.6 miles per hour (155.4 kilometres per hour) in the third. Matt Brash, who came on after Kirby, also threw a fastball that topped out at 98.8 miles per hour (about 159 kilometres per hour). Kim faced Brasch in the fifth inning and was quickly put in a two-strike, zero-ball count by a fastball, and he fumbled a low, five-pitch 90.9 mph (146.3 km/h) slider.
Kim’s weakness against fastballs is nothing new. Even before he reached the major leagues, Kim’s ability to handle fastballs was seen as a key to his success and has been a consistent problem over the past two years. Recognising this, he has been working with a personal hitting coach since the beginning of the year, Lee Jung-hoo (25, Kiwoom Heroes), to revise his batting form, but has yet to see any significant results.
The recurring problem is frustrating because he has been able to land in the major leagues as a starting infielder, performing above league average despite his inability to handle fastballs. This year, Kim is hitting above league average with a .246 batting average, five home runs, 19 RBI, 24 runs scored, 11 doubles, a .340 on-base percentage, a .383 slugging percentage, a .723 OPS, and a wRC+ (adjusted run production) of 105 in 58 games. That’s not to mention his defence, which is considered a strong National League second baseman Gold Glove candidate, and his fan-favourite running ability.
Despite his inability to handle hard-hitting pitches, he’s still a starter in the outfield. This season, Kim ranks in the top 19% of the major leagues in strikeout rate and the top 27% in whiff rate per Statcast. His rate of swinging at balls in play is extremely low, ranking in the top 9% in the majors.
In particular, Kim has swung at pitches outside the strike zone 28 times this season, tied for sixth in the majors with Stephen Kwan (Cleveland). Kwan is a player who has been praised for his vision and ability to make contact, as he was in contention for the batting title upon his debut last year. That’s why it’s rare to see him swing for the fences. Even though he struck out three times today, he let six of the nine pitches he saw outside the zone go by.
That said, he’s not weak against fastballs (batting average: 0.221), but he’s picking them apart, hitting breaking balls well (batting average: 0.292), and being largely fooled by pitches outside the strike zone, which is why he’s performing above major league average. If he can work on his fastball command, he could combine that with his other strengths to take him to the next level.