With news that the Pittsburgh Pirates will be without Jung Ho Kang for the foreseeable future and perhaps all of 2017, can the internal candidates fill the void and match the WAR that he was expected to produce?
(Editor’s note: Shortly before press time, Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly told assembled media that he was optimistic that Jung Ho Kang would get a visa.
Coonelly: We believe that the information we provide will be enough for Kang to get a visa.
— Sean Gentille (@seangentille) March 30, 2017
Though this statement hints that Kang may be available at this time, the author of this post is operating under the assumption that Kang will at least be absent for a significant portion of the 2017 season)
Jung Ho Kang’s MLB career is potentially in jeopardy at this point. At the very least, his 2017 season is up in the air.
After a string of incdients that potentially soured the Pittsburgh Pirates and members of the fanbase) on the beleaguered third baseman, it appears that he may miss all of 2017 after being denied a work visa by the United States. With just days to go before the season starts, this is not the type of news the Pirates wanted to hear.
The question now becomes: how will the Pittsburgh Pirates replace the production they were expecting to receive from Kang. Other organizations certainly are aware of the situation and any trade pieces (such as Todd Frazier from the Chicago White Sox for instance) will not come cheap at this point. Because of this, the Pirates will most likely move forward with internal options.
There is no doubt that when he was on the field or at the place, Kang had the ability to be an impact player. But the organization is going to have to move forward as if he is no longer in their plans. Do the Pirates have players that can match what they expected from Kang in 2017? Between the players on the team right now, the Pirates should be able to come close to making up for the potential long-term loss of Kang.
WAR will be the focus here, since it gives an overview of a player’s general worth to a ballclub. Kang was a 2.2 WAR player last season and projected to be a 2.3 WAR player by Steamer and 2.7 by ZiPS. That is not easy to replace on the fly, but the Pirates have the pieces to be able to do so if Kang does indeed miss the entire season.
How to replace Kang’s WAR
The player who stands to gain the most playing time, and accept the most responsibility to replace Kang’s production, is David Freese. Freese was the primary third baseman for the Los Angeles Angels and before that the St. Louis Cardinals before joining the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016. He did see some time at first base while with both clubs, but played more games at first (58) with the Pirates last year compared to his stints with the other clubs. Freese was a 1.9 WAR player in 2016, just shy of the 2.2 Kang accumulated. Steamer (0.4) and ZiPS (1.4) differ wildly on Freese, but if Kang does indeed miss the entire season then it’s easy to see a route to Freese getting enough playing time to accumulate at least 1 WAR in 2017.
Josh Harrison played 72 games at third base in both 2014 and 2015 before becoming the team’s second baseman last year. Because of his versatility, Harrison could easily play a decent number of games at the hot corner. With Freese slated to play first base at times during the season, Harrison could fill in nicely since he has so much experience there. His WAR last year was 1.5 and the projections of 1.3 (Steamer) and 1.7 (ZiPS) fit snugly around what he did in 2016. So just between those two ballplayers the Pittsburgh Pirates have a chance of making up for the loss of Kang.
Where does Frazier Fit In?
Finally, there are two other players that could very well eat up some innings at third base. Adam Frazier, who is on the way to becoming the team’s darling utility player, did see action during five games at third. He probably is not a top option for the team at that position, but his versatility gives them the flexibility to move other guys around the diamond. But with Frazier projected for a WAR of 0.3 (Steamer) and 0.1 (ZiPS), he would have to gain a lot of playing time at third base to have the potential to make an impact.
The dark horse candidate to receive innings at third base is John Jaso. That’s not a typo, the Pirates decided this winter that Jaso should see some action at third and delivered on the promise when he started at third on March 21st. He didn’t record any outs while at third, so it’s hard to judge his performance. With spring training winding down, the team may want to give others more reps at third since Jaso should be fairly far down on the depth chart. He was just a 0.6 WAR player last year and is projected to be 0.3 (Steamer) and 0.4 (ZiPS) this season. It’s have to fathom Jaso getting much playing time at third to bump that number up.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in good position to be able to make up for Kang’s production. The club boasts a very versatile roster the last year seasons, and unfortunately the versatility of those players will be tested in 2017 due to the poor judgement of one of their own.
Photo Credit – Daniel Decker Photography