Kim Ha-seong (28, San Diego) was one of the best shortstops in the KBO. He was praised for his all-around ability to play offense, defense, and base running. In 2020, his final season in the KBO, he hit .306 with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs (109), 100 runs scored (111), and more than 20 stolen bases (23) in 138 games. There was no competition. He was unbeatable.굿모닝토토 도메인
His performance earned him a dream Major League deal ahead of the 2021 season. He signed with San Diego for four years, $28 million guaranteed, with a fifth year up to $39 million. However, he didn’t escape all the doubts that come with moving from the KBO to the major leagues, which are two levels higher. “Not a good defender,” “Not a good hitter,” “No clear position in the majors,” and all sorts of other question marks followed Kim’s name.
In his first season, those skeptics seemed to be right. He struggled to adjust to the major league stage. His bat was slow to turn to the pitches of quality major league pitchers. In 117 games in 2021, Kim hit just .202. He barely cracked the double digits. His OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) was 0.622. Not good enough. That OPS was 27% below the league average across all environments.
Life as a backup wasn’t easy. In the KBO, I was playing every day as a starter. The Major Leagues were different. I didn’t know when I was going to play, and I didn’t know what position I was going to play. The routine was different. Kim admitted that it was hard to adjust, but he used that year as medicine, and he got better and better in 2022 and 2023. Now, he’s a center fielder that the league is paying attention to.
The year-end award symbolizes this. Kim was named a finalist for the 2023 Rawlings Gold Glove, which was announced on Oct. 19. He was recognized in two categories. He is competing for the final spot in the “top three” in the second baseman category and in the utility category, which was created last year.
Kim earns his first Silver Slugger nomination
Kim’s Silver Slugger nomination marks a turning point in his career.
Kim was a finalist for the National League Gold Glove shortstop award in 2022. In 2023, his defense was good by any measure. This was the case from start to finish of the season, so a Gold Glove nomination in 2023 was somewhat expected. In fact, he’s now one of the strongest candidates for the award.
But on the third day, there was another somewhat unexpected surprise, this time a Silver Slugger. Something that was completely unexpected in 2021, and perhaps even earlier this season, has become a reality.
◆ Gold Glove and Silver Slugger finalist… a double whammy for Kim Ha-Sung
Major League Baseball announced the Silver Slugger finalists for the American League and National League on Wednesday. While the Gold Glove is awarded to the league’s best defenders, the Silver Slugger honors the league’s best bats. Ha Sung Kim was named a finalist in the National League Utility category. He will compete with Mookie Betts (Los Angeles Dodgers), Cody Bellinger (Chicago Cubs), and Spencer Steer (Cincinnati) for the final spot.
Kim’s offensive production has been on a steady upward curve each year. After posting an OPS of just 0.622 in 2021, he posted a 0.708 OPS last year, which was an above-average 105 in adjusted OPS (OPS+). This year, he’s even better than last year with an OPS of 0.749. His OPS+ this year was 110. Kim’s growth can also be seen in his adjusted wRC+, which is calculated by the statistical site FanGraphs. In 2021, his wRC+ was 71, but it jumped to 106 last year and 112 this year. He’s become a better bat than league average.
Still, there are better second basemen on the offensive side of the ball, so I wasn’t expecting much from Silver Slugger, but the new utility position was an opportunity. In recent years, the major leagues have seen an increase in players who can play multiple positions, especially in the infield and outfield. For these players, both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards added a utility category last year. The Gold Glove even has a separate fielding formula for utility players.
Kim didn’t make the cut in the second base category, behind A.J. Albies (Atlanta), Luis Arajes (Miami), and Ketel Marte (Arizona). On offense alone, these players are arguably better than Kim. However, Ha-Sung Kim played second, third, and shortstop this year, which makes him eligible for utility, which is a significant accomplishment for a Silver Slugger finalist.
His chances of winning are, of course, slim. The competition is stiff. Mookie Betts is the favorite to win. Betts, who showed off his “all-around” game this year by playing second base and shortstop in addition to his natural position in right field, hit .307 with 39 home runs, 107 RBIs, and a .987 OPS in 152 games this season. That’s quite a difference in production from Kim. Betts is the best player in the league, having already won six Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers. This year, he’s going for his seventh Gold Glove and sixth Silver Slugger. Betts is also competing with Ha-Sung Kim for the Gold Glove Utility award.
Next in line is Cody Bellinger, who is also hitting well. The 2019 National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) has struggled of late. He was even released by the Los Angeles Dodgers after last season. But this year, he bounced back. He rebounded to hit .307 with 26 home runs, 97 RBIs, and an OPS of .881 in 130 games this season. He’s the biggest outfielder in free agency this year.
Mookie Betts, the strongest Silver Slugger candidate at utility.
Cody Bellinger, a potential contender for both the outfield and utility categories.
Spencer Steer also had a breakout season. Steer, who made his major league debut with Cincinnati last year, is the centerpiece of a revamped, young Cincinnati outfield. This year, he played every position except catcher, shortstop, and center field, making him literally a “utility” player. He was equally impressive offensively, batting .271 with 23 home runs, 86 RBIs, and an OPS of .820 in 156 games.
While the Silver Slugger award is voted on by the field, it’s unlikely that Kim will win the award, as his offensive numbers are ahead of those of the other three players. However, a Silver Slugger nomination is a nice reward for all the work he’s done to improve his offense. The fact that no Korean athlete has ever won the Silver Slugger is also something special.
The closest a Korean player has ever come to winning a Silver Slugger was Shin-Soo Choo (Cincinnati) in 2013. In 2013, Shin-Soo Choo hit .285 with a .423 on-base percentage, 21 home runs, 54 RBIs, 20 doubles, 107 runs scored, and an OPS of 0.885 in 154 games. He finished 12th in the National League MVP voting, but for some reason, he missed out on the Silver Slugger voting.
At the time, Shin-Soo Choo’s exclusion from the Silver Slugger became a major local controversy. At the time, the Silver Slugger award for National League outfielders went to Andrew McCutchen, Michael Cuddyer, and Jay Bruce. However, the offensive performance of the other two, except for McCutchen, was no better than Shin-Soo Choo. In terms of actual adjusted OPS, Shin-Soo Choo had a 145, while Cuddyer had a 136 and Bruce had a 120. Bruce’s 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, but his overall offensive production was so much lower than Shin-Soo Choo’s that the award was controversial.
Kim tries to accomplish what Ichiro hasn’t since
Kim is already a finalist for the Gold Glove. He’s up against Nico Horner (Chicago Cubs) and Bryce Stott (Philadelphia) in the second baseman category. In the utility category, he’s up against Mookie Betts and former teammate Tommy Edmon (St. Louis). It’s a tough race to call, even though Kim has performed well.
However, there is a growing consensus that he has a good chance of winning. This is because of the way the Gold Globes vote. The Gold Glove is based on 75% on-field voting, plus 25% on defensive metrics (SDI) from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). For starters, Kim was leading all second basemen in SDI until the end of the season. With the 25% weighting, he’s likely to finish first.
The last update to the SDI metric was on August 14. SABR does not update its records after this point each year because it can be tied to Gold Glove voting. Instead, it releases the year’s performance in batches after the Gold Globe winners are announced. As of August 14, Kim was in first place with 8.3, followed by Stott with 6.4, and Horner with 5.7. While Stott has been on a tear since June, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to overtake Kim given the rest of the regular season.
Shin-Soo Choo, who narrowly missed out on a Silver Slugger award in 2013.
Ichiro Suzuki, who won 10 Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers.
Kim Ha-seong, who will attempt to become the first Asian infielder to win a Gold Glove.
75% of on-field ratings are also favorable. On-site voting is conducted by six members of each team’s coaching staff, including the manager, who cannot vote for their own players. It’s all about what people think. Contrary to the record, we can’t open up every single person’s mind, so that 75% is a crapshoot.
Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that Kim could win the award. In September, Kim was named the best defender at second base in the National League in Baseball America’s “2023 Major League Baseball Best Tools” poll. The poll is based on a survey of those who watch baseball on the field, including managers, scouts, and executives from each team representing the coaching staff. This means that Kim’s on-field evaluation is very good.
Of course, it does hurt his chances of winning a Silver Slugger, but he’s still a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.