07 March 2003

Kim The Merciless

Byung-Hyun Kim, the former Arizona Diamondbacks closer, is bidding to become a starter this year, and so far the results are promising. Kim has only made one start in the majors, and he gave up four runs in just over two innings. Otherwise, he's been exclusively used as a reliever, and more recently, almost entirely as a closer. Take a look at his stats:

Year GF% IP H R ER HR   BB   SO WHIP K/9 BB/9 H/9 HR/9  ERA
1999 40% 27.33 20 15 14 2 20 31 1.46 10.21 6.59 6.59 0.66 4.61
2000 49% 70.67 52 39 35 9 46 111 1.39 14.14 5.86 6.62 1.15 4.46
2001 56% 98.00 58 32 32 10 44 113 1.04 10.38 4.04 5.33 0.92 2.94
2002 92% 84.00 64 20 19 5 26 92 1.07 9.86 2.79 6.86 0.54 2.04
Total 64% 280 194 106 100 26 136 347 1.18 11.15 4.37 6.24 0.84 3.21
200IP 64% 200 139 76 71 19 97 248 1.18 11.15 4.37 6.24 0.84 3.21

Kim had been a starter throughout his career until he got to the majors. He was only 20 when he first came up, and despite the cultural stigma associated with relief pitching, Kim swallowed his pride and then promptly began chewing up and spitting out major league batters. His record (and Matt Mantei's annual trip to the DL) got him the closer's job, at which he has excelled. The challenge now becomes considering whether to take a guy out of a role in which he has thrived to place him in another in which he may not, leaving the pitching staff potentially weaker in two places.

TSN's Ken Rosenthal doesn't think it's a good idea, but then Ken and I don't often agree. His feeling is that Kim's not necessary as a fifth starter, since they have Miguel Batista and Armando Reynoso to fill out the back end of the rotation. First of all, counting on Armando Reynoso as anything other than a towel-boy has repeatedly proven itself an unwise expectation. The man has pitched all of 47 innings in the last two years, and hasn't had an ERA under 5.00 since 1999. Secondly, if Kim the Starter is even somewhat like Kim the Closer, he'll soon be their third starter, not their fifth. Patterson has talent, but won't likely turn many heads this year. Batista and Dessens are both decent, but nothing special (Dessens' 3.03 ERA in 2002 belies peripheral stats that indicate that he won't be able to sustain such success.)

The other concern that Rosenthal and others have raised is Kim's durability. Aaron Gleeman did a good job of de-bunking Rosenthal's pitch-count arguments, so I won't go into that again, but Ken's contention that the Korean's diminutive stature somehow makes him more susceptible to injury is almost laughable. What little we understand of the science and mechanics of pitching indicates that bad mechanics and poor usage patterns lead to injuries much more consistently than whether or not a pitcher has a 'rubber arm'. If anything, Kim's underhanded delivery should actually place less stress on the arm and shoulder than conventional overhand pitching, allowing him to pitch more innings, more often. If you can throw that way, and still have the velocity and control to get major league hitters out (which Kim has consistently done, his two World Series meltdowns notwithstanding) then more power to you, I say.

[Interestingly, Yankees farmhand Jay Tessmer's submarine-style delivery has not afforded him the same success that Kim has had, at least not in the majors. Admittedly, he doesn't throw as hard as Kim, but hey, you'd think that after the 23 innings spread out over five freakin' years the Yankees have given him to prove himself, he'd have done something by now, right? Maybe if he were pitching for Bob Brenly he'd get a shot to do something.]

The bottom line is that good relievers are much easier to find than good starters. Obviously, if you had the choice between getting 200 good innings or 70 good innings out of a guy, this becomes a no-brainer. Or, in the immortal words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,

"Like, does the word 'duh' mean anything to you?"

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