With a cursory glance at the Baseball Reference WAR leaderboards for position players this season, you’ll notice something a bit peculiar. Ohtani, Acuña, Franco, Robert — that all sounds normal.
And then you arrive at Ha-Seong Kim’s name. Kim, a third-year infielder from South Korea on a team packed to the seams with superstars. Kim, who was signed by the Padres mostly as a defensive weapon. Kim, who is now slashing .254/.345/.407 with 10 home runs.
As of July 6, Kim is fifth among position players in baseball with 3.8 bWAR, tied with his teammate Fernando Tatís Jr. and leading Juan Soto by just a hair.
The Korean shortstop had a stellar season by all accounts last year, finding his way as an above-average hitter while maintaining his always-steady defense, cruising to 3.7 fWAR and 5 bWAR in 150 games.
But this year, he’s almost bested that pace already, even though he’s been tasked with moving positions. How has he done it?
A Quality Skillset
When Kim came over from Korea, a glaring weakness was expected. While the quality shortstop was supposed to be able to play any infield position, it was likely that he would struggle against velocity, as the jump from KBO to MLB is often challenging in that regard. That challenge proved true for Kim, who struggled to drive the fastball over a rookie season in which he didn’t produce much value at the plate, chasing pitches frequently and missing good ones to hit.
Over the next two seasons, though, Kim began to find his rhythm, starting to drive fastballs and punish breaking pitches while slowly working to keep his chase rates in check. The main difference between the hitter Kim was in 2021 and 2022 versus this season is his ability to chase less and blast fastballs.
HA-SEONG KIM Solo homer!
— San Diego Strong (@PadresStrong) June 29, 2023
Though it may have taken some time for Kim’s offense to come around, his defense arrived in MLB with a sparkling pedigree. The defensive ace has been asked to handle all three of the most difficult defensive positions on the infield, and he’s carried that out with ease. This year, however, he’s taken it to another level.
With the signing of Xander Bogaerts and Tatís shifting to the outfield, Kim has been asked to play second base — an interesting experiment, given that he’s been so proficient at shortstop. He’s handled the adjustment with flying colors, as he currently ranks second in the league with 11 Outs Above Average across all positions, per Statcast.
How did Ha-Seong Kim make this play? 🤯
— MLB (@MLB) July 5, 2023
Among MLB second basemen this year, Kim’s all-around skillset has put him right in the middle of an elite group.