Exit Interview 2020: Kwang Hyun Kim

After every season (dating back to 2012), we’ve spent time looking at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals that season.  They might have gotten a couple of innings, they might have played every day, but if they played, they get a post.  Usually, I like to term this like the players are packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter.  This year, of course, was anything but typical.  So we’ll look at every player, we’ll take in some of their stats, but we won’t be giving out grades this season or delving too much into the positive/negative.  There are just too many variables in the Year of COVID for that to be reasonable.  As he has for the past few years, cardinalsgifs has lent his enormous talents to our header image and we thank him for it!

Player: Kwang Hyun Kim

Season stats: 3-0, 1 SV, 1.62 ERA, 8 G, 39 IP, 28 H, 3 HR, 12 BB, 24 K, 3.88 FIP, 1.026 WHIP, 5.5 K/9, 0.9 bWAR

Postseason stats: 7.36 ERA, 5 H, 2 BB, 2 K, 1.909 WHIP

Statcast: 4.2% barrel %, 87.1 exit velocity, 31.4% hard hit %, .290 xwOBA

Best Statcast category: Hard Hit %, Barrel % (94th percentile)

Worst Statcast category: K % (8th percentile)

Hero/Goat: Hero 2, Goat 2


Overview: When the Cardinals signed KK out of the Korean Baseball Organization, fans weren’t really sure what to expect.  Obviously the club had had some success overseas, first with Seung-hwan Oh and then the American Miles Mikolas who had developed into a starter in the foreign leagues.  While some derided the move as a way to bring in a free agent on the cheap, it turned out that it was another savvy free agent move by the front office.

It had to be a rough year for Kim, though.  Leaving his family halfway around the world, he then gets stuck in St. Louis with nothing to do and nobody to do it with.  If it wasn’t for Adam Wainwright playing catch with him on the regular, who knows how he would have made it through.  He couldn’t go back to South Korea and his family, because there were no guarantees he could return.  Just him and his translator.  I guess they got to know each other real well through that time!

When the season actually started, though, Kim didn’t look like someone that had been sitting around.  He was initially cast as a closer, which didn’t go great even though he got a save, but when COVID scrambled the rotation, he slid into it and wound up being perhaps the best starter the team had.  In only one start, at least until the playoffs, did he give up more than one earned run.  He had a four start stretch where he allowed one run, which was unearned, over 24 innings.  When Mike Shildt named Kim as the Game 1 starter for the Wild Card round, it wasn’t a decision that was universally accepted–Jack Flaherty still had a case–but it wasn’t a decision that seemed out of the blue either.

Overall, the front office couldn’t have asked for more out of their Asian signing.  And while I am sure he enjoyed being in the big leagues overall, there’s no doubt he was glad to get home after this wild year.

Outlook: The question is, of course, what Kim can do for an encore.  Oh’s second year wasn’t nearly as good as the first and Mikolas stumbled a bit as well.  Whether Kim can buck that trend still remains to be seen.  It’s unlikely he could have continued this level of success even through a full season and his lack of strikeout punch can come back to bite.  I would think that Kim will be a fine member of the rotation next year but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t in the mix to start a playoff series next season.

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