Kang Jung Ho Named Rookie of the Month by National League
kpride, Aug. 4, 2015, 9:42 a.m.
As the National League Rookie of the Month for July, Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Kang Jung-ho has thrust himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation. It's an impressive turn of events for the 28-year-old, who had a dismal spring and heard whispers that he belonged in the minors only a few months ago. Kang posted a triple slash line of .379/.443/.621 in July in over 87 at-bats in 25 games. He led all rookies with at least 60 at-bats last month in these three categories, while recording three homers, eight doubles and nine RBIs.
While splitting time between third base and shortstop for the third best team in Major League Baseball (MLB), Kang also led all big league rookies in July with 33 hits and tied for third in the NL overall with 13 extra-base hits. For the season, the former slugger in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is batting .294/.367/.454 with eight homers and 35 RBIs.
Because Kang spent the early part of the season on the bench, he has yet to collect enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Once he does -- he's expected to do so this week, having been playing more regularly with injuries to infielders Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer -- Kang will be nestled among the top 20 hitters in the senior circuit.
Among the first-year players in the NL, Matt Duffy of the San Francisco Giants leads the way with a .301 average, while Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs is a distant second with a .246 mark, after managing to hit just .168 in July. Bryant, though, is the RBI leader among NL rookies with 61. Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers, an All-Star in his first season, leads all freshmen with 21 home runs, but he's only batting .223, after hitting only .169 in July.
Against these higher-profile rookies competing in bigger markets, Kang's offensive numbers actually stack up favorably. He may not have put up sexy numbers in the home run and RBI departments, but he has a higher on-base percentage than Duffy, Bryant and Pederson, and among qualified rookies, only Duffy has a better slugging percentage than Kang.
If you look deeper into advanced metrics, Kang leads all rookies in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 3.5, according to Baseball-Reference.com rankings. WAR, incorporating batting, fielding and base running for position players, measures a player's total contribution to his team and how much more valuable that player is than a replacement-level player, someone that can be acquired at a minimal cost. WAR values show the number of additional wins the team has picked up with the said player as opposed to having a replacement-level player.
A player worth above 2.0 is considered a solid big league regular, while those above 5.0 or higher are considered All-Star caliber. Kang is also enjoying one of the most successful rookie seasons by an Asian infielder in the majors. The likes of Kaz Matsui, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hiroyuki Nakajima all reached the big leagues with higher expectations than Kang -- Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) is generally considered a superior league to the KBO -- but couldn't quite live up to their names in the bigs.