With Opening Day less than two weeks away, Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang still has not been permitted a working visa in the United States.
Kang was sentenced to eight months prison, suspended for two years after getting his third DUI in South Korea and leaving the scene. The team put him on the restricted list. His timetable for returning to the US is unknown. He could be back in two weeks or two months. Nobody including GM Neal Huntingdon really knows definitively.
Jung Ho the player
On the field, Kang has been a solid player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. His defensive play at third base has been average as he has two defensive runs saved in 1263.2 innings. He saved four runs his rookie year and minus two in 2016. His career Ultimate Zone Rating sits at -1.4. Kang was a better fielder his rookie year than last. That may have to do with returning from that horrific knee injury in his second season. If 100% healthy and mobile this year, Kang could easily revert back to his rookie self.
Jung Ho hit very well for the Pirates last year especially in the power department. He slashed .255/.354/.513 in 370 plate appearances with 21 home runs and 19 doubles. He drew 36 walks and struck out 79 times. With a full season’s worth of plate appearances, Kang would have surpassed the 30 home run mark easily.
The reason for Kang’s power surge in 2016 was due to harder contact and more fly balls. His hard hit rate increases from 34.4% to 39.4%. He also increases hit fly ball rate by ten percent and home run to fly ball ratio by six percent.
Yes, his averaged dipped from .287 to .255 from year one to year two, but his slugging percentage increased from .461 to .513. If Kang’s horrible month of July (.182/.250/.255) is taken out of the equation, he ends out being a .270 hitter in 2016. That added with the extra power makes Kang a better hitter now than in his rookie year.
Jung Ho Off The Field
Should the Pittsburgh Pirates consider releasing Kang because of his legal issues off the field?
A suspension seems likely yes, but cutting him all together would be extreme. DUIs are a pretty terrible thing but they do not warrant the loss of a job. We’ve seen players in the past who have had issues with DUIs get the help they need to prevent such actions from happening again. David Freese and Miguel Cabrera are two names that come to mind. Why should Kang’s situation be any different? If he needs the help get him the help.
The sexual assault case is another story. It has been ten months since the alleged incident occurred and nothing new has come to light. While the investigation is still technically ongoing, no new information has been released. If there is movement on the investigation, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be faced with a much more difficult choice than the ones related to his DUI arrest.
For the sake of this article, let us assume Kang will be ready to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates early in May like last year. After a brief adjustment period to seeing live pitching, I expect Kang to continue to be a big power threat in 2017.
With his knee fully healthy and another year of experience under his belt, there is no reason to think Kang can’t hit 30 home runs given 500 plate appearances. If he can hit in the .260s to .270s with that power, Kang will be a huge asset to the Pirates lineup in 2017. My prediction for Kang this season is a .266/.369/.505 line over 490 plate appearances with 32 home runs and 25 doubles.
If Kang’s working visa issues continue to drag on into the season, David Freese will need to hold down the fort. He is more than capable of doing so. His contract extension last season is looking better and better each day that Kang is unable to be with the Pirates.
Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography