Remember when Hyun-Soo Kim was rained on with ferocious boo-birds on Opening Day at Camden Yards back in April? Maybe you were one of those in the chorus. Or, maybe you sat on your couch in disbelief that a home baseball park would boo one of its members in his Baltimore debut (*raises hand, held high*).
Whatever the case may be, Kim did a whole lot more in 2016 than merely quiet his critics.
He might’ve solidified the near future for the Orioles in the left field position, a spot that hasn’t seen legitimate consistency in quite some time.
Kim played in 665 total innings at the seven position in ‘16, the team leader behind Nolan Reimold (371) and Joey Rickard (371).
In the field, you could argue that a rangy, smooth left-fielder isn’t exactly the most important piece to a playoff-bound baseball team. And if that’s the case, you’d have been perfectly fine with Kim’s performance roaming the grounds next to Adam Jones in 2016.
He didn’t make an error and was able to make the plays given to him (even beer-can-gate in Toronto), but Kim’s overall ability to be an elite defender in Major League Baseball isn’t high — which is OK in the grand scheme of things. Despite scaring us a few times fielding flies throughout the season, the 28-year-old did more than enough at the dish to prove to be a valuable weapon in his 95 games.
In 346 plate appearances, Kim slashed .302/.382/.420. In a season where he missed two weeks due to a hamstring injury and didn’t receive a spot in the lineup every night, Kim proved to be an invaluable weapon for Buck Showalter in crucial situations.
In his first year playing American ball, Kim’s strikeout percentage was at 14%. That number was crucial to a strikeout-prone lineup in more ways than one, not to mention an impressive mark for his first full season seeing elite MLB pitching. Ultimately, the aspect of his game most anticipated before the season — heavy contact — was flashed early and often in Kim’s 2016 campaign.
Reimold might be largely considered the more prolific outfielder on the diamond, but 2016 made it very clear that the 33-year-old hasn’t been and isn’t a reliable option for a starting role on a postseason-bound baseball team.
In 104 games (227 plate appearances), Reimold hit just .222, getting on base just 30 percent of the time and striking out far too much with a K-percentage of 27%. And while WAR might be an unproven stat, his -0.4 mark is a whole point less than Kim’s 0.6.
Reimold has filled a role that is no longer needed — while the Orioles farm system might be shaky, last season proved that he doesn’t have a place on the future roster.
Rickard’s July wrist injury ended his 2016 season, but it oddly might’ve positioned him to be in a decent place as the Orioles approach the offseason. Had he slumped through August and September, his current semi-exciting outlook might’ve taken another dip into the concerning territory.
Ultimately though, his season should be viewed as a decent success.
His month of April was brilliant, as he began the year with a hit in 13 of his first 14 games. Baltimore fell in love after his brilliant start, as he was hitting .286 up until May 8th.
However, throughout his next month of play, teams began to figure Rickard out and effectively pitch to his weaknesses. He appeared unable to keep up with the adjustments and through June 6th, his average dipped to .243 with just a .300 OBP.
He would rebound through mid-July until the wrist injury struck, ending his season with a slash line of .268/.319/.377.
Now, some might be inclined to react strongly to his mid-season woes, and on the surface that wouldn’t necessarily be an overreaction. But when you take into account the entirety of Rickard’s big picture, the 2016 season should be considered a massive success for the 2015 offseason unknown.
WAR (-0.5) wasn’t a friendly metric to Rickard, but that mark seems a bit unfair to base a season recap on here. His defensive play was above-average, and his play at the plate showed signs of promise as he enters a full offseason with the club.
Was Rickard perfect? Hardly. But he did present a welcomed bright spot for Buck Showalter’s blueprint moving ahead.
The future in left
As we enter the offseason, it’s very clear that Kim, barring any unforeseen situation, will enter 2017 as the front-runner for the starting spot in left field.
It’s probably likely that we see a situation in which no moves are made and Rickard gets the opportunity to play behind or perhaps even with Kim in a split-time situation that sees Showalter play the match-ups on a regular basis.
Either way, from boo-birds to Baltimore’s overwhelming approval, expect Kim to be a regular staple in left for the 2017 Baltimore Orioles.