Yesterday we talked about Korean lefty Kwang-Hyun Kim being posted, and how the Cubs had previously scouted him this summer. With the needs in the rotation and in the bullpen, and likely without the ability to commit to new contracts at the top of the market, it was pretty easily speculating that Kim was a guy the Cubs would take a look at.
Aaaaaand, sure enough, they are:
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) November 22, 2019
Kim, 31, was an ace in the KBO this past year, and optimism that he could be a solid back-of-the-rotation type or quality reliever is justified.
“In 2019, his full year back from Tommy John, Kim posted a 2.51 ERA over 190.1 innings, allowing 1.8 walks per 9 and striking out 8.5 per 9.
There’s never a perfect way to evaluate how the transition from a foreign league to MLB is going to go, and that’s especially true coming from KBO where the talent level is even wider than NPB, and where the ball/offensive environment has been actively tweaked several times the last half-decade. Scouts seem to believe Kim’s low-90s fastball and quality slider will play in the big leagues, though I don’t get the sense that folks expect him to be an ace, or even necessarily a lock to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
But if you at least want to get a sense for how the last really successful KBO transition pitcher was doing when he left Korea, Hyun-Jin Ryu posted a 2.66 ERA over 182.2 innings, allowing 2.3 walks per 9 and striking out 10.5 per 9. The league was much less offense friendly at that time, for what it’s worth, with a league-wide ERA of 3.82 (versus 4.16 in 2019). Of course, Ryu was also six years younger then than Kim is now.
None of this is at all to suggest that Kim will come over and have the success that Ryu has had with the Dodgers (also, hey, he’s a free agent right now, too!), but instead is only to point out that Kim is coming off a season that was probably pretty close in effectiveness to the one Ryu had before he departed the KBO.”
Kim is projected by FanGraphs to land a contract around two years and $10 to $14 million, which sounds about right given the risk/upside balance. He’s ranked the 41st best free agent in the class, just behind Gio Gonzalez, and just ahead of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, for what it’s worth.
“Many pitchers return from TJ with a new physique thanks to their time away from throwing, during which they’re focused on the rest of their body. That’s not the case here, as Kim’s athleticism is seeping away, his arm slot has lowered a bit, and he’s less balanced over his blocking leg than he used to be. Stuff wise, Kim has a nasty, tilt-a-whirl slider he deploys as his primary swing and miss weapon; the rest of his repertoire (a low-90s fastball, low-70s curveball, and upper-70s changeup) is average or below. It’s a fifth starter/swingman look, barring some kind of velo explosion out of a bullpen.”
There’s probably a bit more upside there than with the Cubs’ other 5th starter/swing options (Alec Mills and Tyler Chatwood), though a healthy Adbert Alzolay might have the most upside of the bunch. You can have success with a nice group of swing arms in today’s game if you deploy them well across multiple innings (to take the load/length off your starters), but I still get really, really nervous thinking about the Cubs not adding an *impact* starter to their primary mix.