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January 18, 2015
by Rob Biertempfel


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A bit more background on Kang

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Now that Jung Ho Kang is on their roster, every Pirates regular season game and also a few spring training games this year will be televised in South Korea. “Because of the time difference (Korea is 14 hours ahead of Pittsburgh), most people will be watching at their desks at work,” said Daniel Kim, a baseball analyst for Spotv Korea. I chatted with Kim this morning for his Yahoo! Sports podcast and gave me some background this morning about the Pirates’ new infielder.
— Kang is the fourth MLB player to come out of Gwangju Jeil high school. The others are Jae Weong Seo (2002-07 with Mets, Dodgers and Rays), Hee Seop Choi (2002-05 with Cubs, Marlins and Dodgers) and Byung-Hyun Kim (1999-2007 with D’backs, Red Sox, Rockies and Marlins). Kang was drafted out of high school by Hyundai of the Korea Baseball Organization. A second-round pick, Kang had to choose to either turn pro or accept a full university scholarship. “His parents left the decision up to him,” Kim said. “He was very mature for his age, so they said they’d support whatever he decided to do.”
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iox5PMOBYLA&feature=youtu.be
— Kang played in a total of only 30 games with Hyundai in 2006-07. “He didn’t have a regular position,” Kim said. “It took him a while to establish himself at the top level (of the KBO).” Kang was drafted as a catcher, but he had the strongest arm on the team so the Hyundai manager moved him to shortstop.
— Kang’s breakthrough moment came in the championship of the 2010 Asian Games, when he slugged a pair of two-run homers against defending champ Taiwan. “That’s when Kang became a national star,” Kim said. Last September, Kang again homered twice against Taiwan in the Asian Games.
— Kang is close friends with Dodgers pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu — they played on the same Junior National team in 2005, are the same age and were drafted in the KBO in the same year. They also were teammates on the 2010 Asian Games team. Kang homered in Ryu’s final KBO game before joining the Dodgers. “That was his parting gift to Ryu,” Kim said with a laugh. “They still talk about it.”
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1dPm7jbdLE&feature=youtu.be
— About three years ago, Kang’s father supposedly told his son he’d play in MLB someday. Kang, however, kept quiet about wanting to play in the United States until last year. A team source told me the Pirates have had their eye on Kang the past three or four years in case he decided to enter the posting process. Not wanting to tip their hand to other clubs, the Pirates hid their interest in Kang until their winning bid was announced.
– RB

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January 17, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Unknowns mark opportunity with Kang … and a $90 million payroll?

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SOUTH HILLS – In some ways, there’s more unknown with Jung Ho Kang then any high-profile, international free agent before him.

After all, there has never been a KBO position player to be posted and transition to the major leagues. So while the Pirates’ analytics department also has statistical models for how Japanese and Cuban professional hitters’ numbers might translate to major league statistics, there’s no historical precedent to work off of regarding Kang and KBO translations.

And then there is this … Continue Reading →

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January 15, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Does Alvarez’s absence matter? And Fixing Morton

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CLARK BUILDING -Much has been made about Pedro Alvarez‘s absence from the Pirates’ January minicamp in Florida this week.

While he’s not the only regular missing, other regulars not in attendance are not in the process of learning new positions and coming off dreadful seasons.

You might think Alvarez would want to put his best foot forward, look engaged and show ownership of first base and the process of learning the position –  but on the other hand baseball is a grind, it’s a long season, and the idea of January minicamp seems like a little much to some on the outside (and I’m sure to players, too). Continue Reading →

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January 14, 2015
by Rob Biertempfel


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Mercer ready for Kang’s challenge

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JordyMercer2BRADENTON, Fla. — Jordy Mercer‘s Twitter feed blew up Tuesday night after free-agent infielder Jung-ho Kang fired a shot across the bow during a press conference at Incheon Airport in Seoul.
Kang is on his way to Pittsburgh to finalize a contract with the Pirates. Including the posting fee, the Pirates seem ready to commit at least $21 million for a four-year deal. For a budget-conscious club like the Pirates, that’s a lot to pay for a potential bench guy. Kang, 27, was a power-hitting shortstop for the Nexen Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization. With the Pirates, he might be used at short, third base or second base. Continue Reading →

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January 12, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up: The parity myth. Burnett and aging, Kang, and more …

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SOUTH HILLS – As we near the climax of the NFL season, there is no denying the sport’s incredible popularity but there is some myth busting to do. The NFL’s hegemonic status is often cited as partly tied to competitive balance. Parity. How often do we hear a commentator note “You never know what’s going to happen on any given Sunday.” Actually, you do if we’re talking about what teams will be playing in January.

Take a look at the NFL’s final four:

The Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots have made the playoffs in 12 of the last 13 seasons. The Packers have made six straight playoff appearances and the Seattle Seahawks have been in the playoffs in 9 of the last 12 seasons.

While the NFL doesn’t produce dynasties with NBA-like frequency, many of teams and faces of January are almost always familiar. If it is parity you seek, you should really be following another sport … like baseball.

Continue Reading →

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January 7, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Mr. Automatic: Jordy Mercer

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SOUTH HILLS – Jordy Mercer is probably better than you think he is.

He certainly exceeded my expectations in 2014. He was just a slightly-below-average offensive player playing shortstop, while becoming a much more consistent defender. In fact, he became one of the better defense shortstops in baseball finishing sixth in defensive runs saved (8) among shortstops. It was defense that in large part made Mercer worth 2 Wins Above Replacement.

While he has average, perhaps slightly below average range, range, he improved the reliability of his hands, and he has one remarkable tool: throwing accuracy.

Continue Reading →

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January 6, 2015
by Joe Rutter


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Rutter: Coming around on Tim Raines — my HOF ballot

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Tim Raines (Getty Images)

Tim Raines (Getty Images)

Last year, I broke form and voted for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

This year, I added another holdover candidate to my ballot: Tim Raines.

With previous years’ Hall of Fame discussions centering on Steroid Era players and “who used” and “who didn’t use,” I think Raines — and, specifically, the element of speed he brought to the game — was overlooked. I was as guilty about that as others.

Now, with baseball evolving back to the game of my youth — pitching, defense, an increased emphasis on base running and speed — I think it’s time for Raines to get the recognition he deserves. Raines’ 808 steals rank eighth all time. He led the NL four consecutive seasons. But he wasn’t a one-dimensional Billy Hamilton-type player. He had a four-season stretch of batting .309, .320, .334 and .330. That .334 average was enough to bring Raines his only batting title and came in his sixth of seven consecutive seasons as an NL All-Star with the Expos.

Raines’ total dipped from 52.2 percent in 2013 to 46.1 in 2014. Raines jumped to 55 percent in 2015.

As for the rest of my ballot, I voted for first-timers Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Randy Johnson, plus holdovers Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza.

Joe Rutter’s ballot:

  • Pedro Martinez
  • John Smoltz
  • Randy Johnson
  • Craig Biggio
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Mike Piazza
  • Tim Raines
  • Barry Bonds
  • Roger Clemens

Rob Biertempfel’s ballot (His explanation can be found here.)

  • Pedro Martinez
  • John Smoltz
  • Randy Johnson
  • Craig Biggio
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Curt Schilling
  • Lee Smith
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January 5, 2015
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: In Korea, be Greedy When Others are Fearful?

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CLARK BUILDING – We’re back after the longest period of radio silence on the blog since I came to the Trib in April of 2013.  And there’s good reason for that silence that began in mid-December: unused vacation days, holidays, and the arrival of the newest Sawchik to the world. (He and Mom are doing well).

The most interesting thing to happen while I was away – and it was a pretty fascinating development – was the Pirates winning the rights to negotiate with Korean star shortstop Jung-Ho Kang. The Pirates have until Jan. 20 to negotiate with Kang. I’m late to the party, so you probably know that Kang put up ridiculous numbers in the Korean league (KBO) last season but there’s debate, and unknown, in how his power and defense will translate to the majors.

The fact that it only took $5 million to win the rights to negotiate with him suggests how much doubt there is regarding Kang’s ability to translate his bat – .354 average with 39 home runs, 115 RBIs and a 1.189 OPS in 116 games in the KBO –  to the major leagues.

Continue Reading →

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January 5, 2015
by Rob Biertempfel


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Seven for the Hall

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There’s been a lot of talk recently about the so-called unfairness of limiting a Hall of Fame ballot to 10 players. Many (perhaps most) of my fellow voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America want to eliminate the cap, but the HOF is not likely to alter its rules that much. So, last month the BBWAA voted to urge the Hall to expand the limit to 12 names.
The Hall of Fame has not indicated whether it will consider such a change. In the meantime, we continue to use the 10-player ballot. I’m fine with that. The cap is another filter to use when deciding who gets one of baseball’s greatest honors — keeping it a Hall of Fame instead of a Hall of Really, Really Good. This is my fourth year as a voter, and I’ve never listed 10 names. If the ballot eventually is expanded to 12 or 15 or infinity, well, I’d be OK with that too … but I’d likely continue to keep my tally in single digits.
As always, I based my ballot on numbers, personal recollections and a lot of discussion with other writers, voters and fans. And I tried to stay true to the one line of instruction the HOF gives it voters: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
My ballot this year consists of two position players (who were Houston Astros teammates for more than a decade) and five pitchers: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith and John Smoltz.
The two toughest calls were for players I eventually left off my ballot: Mike Piazza and Tim Raines. Piazza was perhaps the greatest offensive catcher ever, but his case for the Hall of hurt by his defensive shortcomings and admitted use of androstenedione. Raines was among the finest leadoff batters of all time, but his career was marred by admitted cocaine use.

— RB

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December 15, 2014
by Travis Sawchik


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Monday Mop-Up Duty: Despite busy early offseason have the Pirates lost ground?

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SOUTH HILLS – Updated World Series odds from Bovada were released today, following the Winter Meetings and a surprisingly high volume of off-season transactions to date.

On Oct. 30., before free agency opened, the Pirates were given 20-to-1 odds to win the 2015 World Series. Those were the 12th-best odds in baseball and fifth in the National League.

Today, Bovada bookmakers have dropped the Pirates to 33-to-1 odds, 17th-best in baseball and 8th in the National League – lesser odds than the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets. And this is after the Pirates spent a club record $39 million on a free agent and have already had a superior offseason compared to last year.

Continue Reading →

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