For years, Major League Baseball's teams has tapped into the international market to discover new talent. The 1970s and 1980s brought a wave of talent from Latin America and the Caribbean, while Hideo Nomo helped key the migration from Japan in the 1990s. Now, teams are looking even wider for talent. The Tigers already have several Venezuelans on their roster, and players from Cuba and Korea have made themselves into stars.
This brings us to Hyeong-jong Yang. A left-handed pitcher from Korea, Yang will reportedly be posted this offseason. The team that offers up the highest posting bid will be granted an exclusive window to negotiate a contract with Yang and bring him stateside. Could the Tigers look across the Pacific for their next starting pitcher?
Who is he?
Yang is a 26 year old left-hander who has spent the past eight years pitching for the Kia Tigers -- see, it's a fit! -- in the Korean Baseball League. He is 62-42 with a 4.33 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 860 1/3 career innings. He also has a 1.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allows just under a hit per inning.
Why should we care?
While Yang's above numbers don't seem too impressive, they deserve to be taken with a grain of salt. For one, Yang posted these in his age 19 through 26 seasons, the formative development period for most big league pitchers. Most top starters don't hit the majors until they are 24 or 25 at the earliest, and Yang is only slightly behind schedule in that regard. With just 860 innings under his belt, he also does not have a lot of mileage on his left arm yet.
Additionally, Yang's numbers are inflated by a high run-scoring environment. Korean teams averaged 5.63 runs per game last year, and Yang's 4.25 ERA was well below the league average. He ranked tenth in the KBL with 165 innings pitched and only a handful of starters had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio.
There are also financial implications to signing a player like Yang, something that was detailed by a commenter when we profiled Shin-Soo Choo last season.
As a Korean born player, the Tigers would be in prime position to recoup a good chunk of any amount of money he costs in TV and merchandise money in Korea.
The ethnic effect (similar to Jeremy Lin and Yao Ming) in Asia is huge and a significant marketing factor. Korean TV would pay to broadcast EVERY SINGLE Tigers game. You’d get access to a market of 50 Million people who are fanatically loyal to their players.
Living in Korea at the moment, I can attest to the this. For years, Manchester United had a Korean born player. Manchester United Apparel is currently a brand on par with Adidas in popularity amongst youth. With Ryu in a Dodgers uniform, sales of LA Dodgers merchandise have spiked.
It's anyone's guess as to how significant of an impact this would have on the Tigers' bottom line, but there is no denying that Korean fans are truly a rabid bunch. If their financial support has any effect, it could soften the blow of any contract that Yang signs, whether he pans out or not.
Why should we stay away?
For one, we don't know a lot about Yang. Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News gives a glimpse of what to expect...
Yang projects as a No. 3 starter in the big-leagues, though according to a scout that has seen him throw, he could develop into a No. 2. With a fastball that sits between 92-95 mph, Yang throws four pitches - fastball, curveball, slider and changeup - using his slider as his out pitch.
...but that's all we know. Yang hasn't sent out a glorious hype video like Yoenis Cespedes did, and a lot of our analysis of his numbers are based off of the idea that he pitches in a very hitter-friendly league.
Yang's walk rate is of particular concern. He issued four walks per nine innings last season and has walked nearly 12 percent of the hitters he has faced in his career. Meanwhile, Hyun-Jin Ryu only walked 2.7 batters per nine innings during his KBL career. He may not allow a lot of hard contact, but putting too many runners on base will not end well on this continent.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The Tigers have historically not participated in the sweepstakes for Asian talent. They were nowhere near the negotiations for Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka, and only signed Hideo Nomo after he had been pitching in the U.S. for several years. The move could work out well, especially if Yang ends up pitching like Ryu, but there is also a lot of risk involved. It would certainly be an innovative (and unexpected) way for the Tigers to shore up their rotation beyond 2015, but I don't see them making this kind of splash with several better known entities available this offseason.