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Could The Pirates Have Had Two Rings Without Kang’s Injury?

Kang

 

The title of this piece is subjection….or clickbait…or an unprovable hypothesis.

The following four statements are fact:

  1. At the time of Jung-ho Kang’s ACL tear and tibia fracture, he was the Pirates’ starting shortstop not 3B.
  2. Jung-ho Kang was the 23rd best player in all of MLB in 2015 in WAR/PA, 11th best in the 2nd half.
  3. The Pirates finished one game behind the Cardinals for the division crown in 2015.
  4. After the Royals 2014 World Series run they invested $30M+ in their 2015 payroll.

Now I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at, but let’s put this into reference.   The great mystery was how early 2015 Kang turned into the best player on a really good team in the second half.    Kang might have received some MVP votes had he stayed healthy.

Let’s delve into Kang’s 2015 numbers:

PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
1st Half 253 7.1% 20.2% 0.268 0.348 0.384 0.732 0.116 0.329 0.325 109
2nd Half 214 4.7% 22.4% 0.310 0.364 0.548 0.913 0.239 0.362 0.392 154

Most people look at Jung-ho’s cumulative numbers for the season:  ( 3.9 WAR, .287/.355/.481) and don’t remember what he was WHEN HE GOT INJURED.   He was really good for the season; when he got injured he was one of the 10-20 most valuable players in all of baseball.

Kang had a .310/.364/.548 line in the 2nd half (i.e., when he was in the lineup everyday).  In this day and age, that is virtually unheard of from a shortstop, especially a RHH one in PNC Park.

WAR, what is it good for?

I wanted to take the “starting shortstop” aspect of Kang’s 2015 and put it into reference, as an .913 OPS is a much bigger deal from a SS than from David Ortiz.   WAR takes position scarcity into account in its formula and would allow for just that.

Taking WAR and dividing it by plate appearances, you get numbers that are on the order of 10-2  so I multiply by 1000 to get a number that makes sense.   Here’s a list of WAR/PA for the 2nd half:

Name Team

G

PA

WAR

WAR/PA

adj WAR/PA

Joey Votto Reds 73 325

5.1

0.0157

15.6923

Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 69 317

4.6

0.0145

14.5110

Francisco Lindor Indians 73 327

4.5

0.0138

13.7615

Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 61 268

3.6

0.0134

13.4328

Chris Davis Orioles 74 318

4.2

0.0132

13.2075

Bryce Harper Nationals 72 311

4.0

0.0129

12.8617

Jason Heyward Cardinals 69 274

3.4

0.0124

12.4088

Mike Trout Angels 71 304

3.7

0.0122

12.1711

A.J. Pollock Dbacks 71 307

3.7

0.0121

12.0521

Shin-Soo Choo Rangers 69 305

3.5

0.0115

11.4754

Jackie Bradley Jr. Red Sox 60 220

2.5

0.0114

11.3636

Kevin Kiermaier Rays 65 230

2.6

0.0113

11.3043

Jung-ho Kang Pirates 54 214

2.4

0.0112

11.2150

Could they have caught the Cards with Kang?

Yes.

You want reasons?  First the statistical one:  Jordy Mercer, while slightly better defensively in 2015 than Kang, hit .235/.295/.315 in the 2nd half.  He struggled mightily and would have been much better in his defensive replacement role and platoon role against LHPs.  2015 Mercer was not 2016 Mercer.

Also, the band aid trade of Aramis Ramirez didn’t work.  We needed a SS and acquired a 3B.  Plus the 3B wasn’t that great (OBP of .299 with Bucs) and his fielding was worse than the guy he supplanted in Josh Harrison.

You could argue the reaction to the Kang injury was to acquire anyone and that anyone didn’t help and might have made us worse.

All this is without the psychological aspect of losing your hottest player in the middle of the pennant race.

Could they have made a World Series run?

If the Pirates would have won the division how would they have fared?  I think pretty well.

I think 2015 Francisco Liriano would have been nails in the playoffs and J.A. Happ would have been a great #3.   Jeff Locke wouldn’t have needed to touch a ball that wasn’t thrown to a LHH and AJ Burnett might have stubbornly been a great long man.

The pitching depth would have been well served in playing the matchups of a 5 or 7 game playoff series and I think Neal and Clint would have had a good plan.

Show me the money

If best case for a playoff run is sweeping through the World Series and worst case is losing the Divisional series in three games, I think the mean is losing in 6 in the NCLS.  So that being said, the Bucs might have been a safe bet for 10+ games additional.

I read somewhere that the Kansas City Royals 2014 World Series run garnered them $30M+ that they were able to spend on 2015 and beyond.  I can’t find the reference, but I did find this article where Jeff Sullivan talks about the signings, including 2014 Bucco Edinson Volquez.

So IF the Pirates had an extra $10-15M how would they have spent it in the 2015 offseason?   I really don’t think any of us would be able to answer that question.  Here’s some speculation if the additional money could have changed their status.

Departures:

  • Neil Walker – no change – not only was the $10M contract steep, they wanted Harrison at 2B
  • Pedro Alvarez – no change – had no value and no position
  • AJ Burnett – no change – more money wasn’t bringing him back
  • Antonio Bastardo – no change – Neal doesn’t buy high on relievers
  • J.A. Happ – CHANGE – read more below

Retentions:

  • Serpico – no change – RHH who can play everywhere and was just learning the NL and defensive wiz.

Arrivals:

  • Matt Joyce – no change – Bucs needed a LHH OF and he was a bargain at $1M
  • David Freese – no change – if Walker was gone and Harrison was the 2B, then they needed a 3B
  • Juan Nicasio – no change – you’re seeing now what they were hoping for and the extra year in ’17 was a clincher, he would have never made the rotation though.
  • Ryan Vogelsong – no change – I think Vogelsong would have been the #5/long man, with Locke having some freak injury in Spring Training or being traded.
  • Neftali Feliz – no change – $3.9M was probably the most he was offered.  I think this would have been too much of a value for Neal to not do.

Happ and then what?

J.A. Happ was a good fit for the Pirates both in character and performance.   I think the Pirates went after him pretty hard and I would have guessed that he was offered 2 yr/$24M.   He ultimately signed for 3/$36M with the Blue Jays; with the extra money I think we could have matched.

  • J.A. Happ – 3/$36M

Trevor Cahill was one of the few players that we knew the Pirates made an offer to.  The Pirates wanted to bring him in as a starter/reliever, but he ultimately signed with the Cubs to pitch solely in relief.  He signed for $4.25M.  My guess is that the Pirates lowballed him in hopes of getting him on the “starter” sell.   I think the higher contract and the offer of a “chance to start” would have landed Cahill and he would have battled with Vogelsong for the 5th spot ( i.e. he would have been the Nicasio ).

  • Trevor Cahill – 1/$5M

Where would Happ in the rotation and Cahill in the bullpen have us now?   I’d guess the number one wildcard spot and within striking distance of the Cubs for the division lead.   This isn’t just due to those to but all the trickle down because of them…..and because of Kang being the All-Star shortstop he might have been in 2016.  And while it is pure speculation, of course, the Pirates were a good enough team to win the World Series last year if they escaped the wild card game.  With one more stud pitcher, like JA Happ, the 2016 Pirates could have been on the shortlist of World Series contenders this year, too.  However, much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books from your childhood, the Pirates have traveled down a different path due to Kang’s injury.

About Michael Bradley (63 Articles)
<p>Michael is a Pirates contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Michael is former submarine officer and Naval Academy grad. He now runs a small consulting firm and does veteran related job fairs. He is a SABR member and regularly attends Altoona Curve games to scout the Pirate prospects.</p>
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