Earlier this week, we looked at the possibility of the Tigers signing Korean left-hander Hyeon-jong Yang, one of the bright young stars in the Korean Baseball Organization. While Yang still has yet to be posted, fellow lefty Kwang-hyun Kim was posted by his club, SK Wyverns, on Thursday.
Who is he?
A 26 year old left-hander, Kim is already an eight year veteran of the KBO. He debuted as an 18 year old in 2007, but shined with a 2.67 ERA in the second half of the year to help deliver SK Wyverns a KBO title. He nearly won the pitching Triple Crown as a 19 year old in 2008, but narrowly missed out on the ERA title with a 2.39 ERA in 162 innings. He continued to get better, apexing with a 17-7 record and 2.37 ERA in 193 2/3 innings in 2010.
Things changed in a big way shortly after that season. As Steve Sypa of Amazin' Avenue details, Kim had a stroke at the age of 23, resulting in a number of widespread impairments. Somehow, Kim was able to make it back to pitch 74 1/3 innings in 2011. He has continued to progress since then, and regained his previous form with a 3.33 ERA in 167 2/3 innings in 2014.
Why should we care?
Before his stroke, Kim was one of the most dominant pitchers in the KBO. He was 48-20 with a 2.65 ERA in 571 innings from 2007 to 2010, resulting in three All-Star appearances and a KBO MVP award in 2008. He struck out 497 hitters during that stretch, a rate of 7.83 per nine innings. He also allowed just 7.58 hits per nine innings, an impressive number given the high-scoring environment of the KBO. Kim hinted at a return to this previous form in 2014, allowing a 3.33 ERA and racking up 7.46 strikeouts per nine innings. The strikeout rate was his highest since 2010.
Why should we stay away?
Gabe Kapler, who played with Kim previously, profiled his pitching repertoire for Fox Sports. Kapler was a bit skeptical of Kim's ability to stick as a starter.
Kim's repertoire as it is right now is probably not enough for him to start in MLB. In 2014 the fastball sat 91-93 and at times saw 95. He only throws a four-seam fastball and the life on it is considered average. The velocity this season has also raised a few eyebrows. Through most of his career, including last season, Kim would sit 87-90 mph.
His best secondary pitch is his slider. He will throttle the velocity on it and you'll see it anywhere from 82-88. The harder he throws it the more it becomes like a cutter. Right now he is essentially a fastball/slider pitcher who could overpower most Korean hitters.
The major knock on Kim is a flat changeup that has been described by scouts as his worst pitch. With the number of quality right-handed hitters in Major League Baseball, a solid changeup is almost a necessity for a left-handed starter to be effective. If it does not improve, Kim may be relegated to bullpen duty.
Kim has also demonstrated command issues throughout his career. He has walked 4.12 batters per nine innings in his eight seasons in the KBO, resulting in a 1.36 WHIP. Amazin' Avenue detailed how Kim's mechanics and injury history have played a role in his command issues.
He throws mostly over the top, but because he has a long stride and bends his knees when he delivers, his release point drops. The many moving parts in his windup and delivery have caused control problems over the course of his career due to overthrowing and an inconsistent release point—the main reason that his career BB/9 rate is nearly 4.0. Those same mechanics have made him very effective against left-handed hitters, though. For his career, he has roughly a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against fellow lefties, as opposed to an almost 1:1 ratio against right-handers.
While it's possible that an MLB-caliber coaching staff could sort him out, the early numbers could be a bit shaky.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The KBO operates under the old Japanese League posting rules for international free agents. MLB Teams submit a blind offer for the rights to negotiate with Kim, and the top bidder gets an exclusive window for 30 days. Bids for Kim's services were due on Saturday, so we should hear any day now whether the Tigers submitted a posting fee. They have previously not gotten involved in these bidding wars, but this season's pursuit of Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo suggests that the Tigers are willing to pick their spots. Picking up a potential young starter like Kim could pay off if everything goes right, but the risk that he turns into the next Fu-Te Ni is a big deterrent.