Playing to the strengths of the ‘Hitting Machine’

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Playing to the strengths of the ‘Hitting Machine’

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When NC Dinos manager Kim Kyung-moon was asked in March which player he wanted to bring to the team, the 57-year-old didn’t hesitate to answer: “It’s Kim Hyun-soo.”

Kyung-moon knows Hyun-soo better than any other manager in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). He taught Hyun-soo for six years until he left the Doosan Bears in 2011.

Hyun-soo, who joined the Bears in 2006 as an undrafted player, is also leaving the Bears as a free agent after this season. The 2008 KBO batting champion is currently in the United States and has reportedly signed a two-year deal worth $7 million with the Baltimore Orioles. The deal is expected to be confirmed today or tomorrow.

“He [Hyun-soo] will have an interesting time in Major League Baseball,” Kyung-moon said. “He has a good sense of screening the pitch and can have consistent performances. He is a type of player that every manager would like.”

Kyung-moon’s assessment of Hyun-soo is what Orioles manager Buck Showalter should keep an eye on.

Kyung-moon knows how disappointed Hyun-soo was when he hit a grounder for a double play in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2008 Korean Series and lost to the SK Wyverns. The manager also saw Hyun-soo going into a slump after changing his batting to get more home runs.

“He [Hyun-soo] is a guy who has grown up with tears,” Kyung-moon said.

In Korea, Kim Hyun-soo has become known as a “Hitting Machine,” as the 27-year-old has shown consistent performance. He is a career .318 hitter, the second-highest average among all active players with at least 3,000 plate appearances, and has a career on-base percentage of .406.

The Premier 12 tournament MVP is also known for his ability to screen the pitch as well as his exceptional stamina. This year, he struck out only 63 times in 630 plate appearances while drawing 101 walks. Since 2008, Kim has played 97.5 percent, or 1,031 games of 1,058 regular season games

Kim has the largest hitting zone among Korean hitters. At 1.9 meters (6-feet-3), he has good control of the bat and can hit low pitches that even go below his knee.

For this season in the KBO League, Kim’s batting average marked .422 in pitches that went for low strikes, while having a .364 average for pitches coming just below the strike zone. Although he is a lefty hitter, the eight-time KBO All-Star player averages .333 against southpaw pitchers.

“Kim has a technique to change the track of the swing following the track of the pitch,” said MBC Sports Plus analyst Song Jae-woo. “In the MLB, there have been a lot of power hitters, but those who had remarkable contact abilities were probably Tony Gwynn and Ichiro Suzuki. The MLB will have big interest in Kim, who has the best batting technique.”

Kim is originally a right-hander, and he still throws right. But when he was playing baseball at Shinil Middle School, the five-time KBO Golden Glove winner found that batting left gave a better view of the pitch and decided to abandon batting right. Although he hasn’t given up his power batting.

“Among Korean batters, I was most impressed by Kim,” said Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo, who played with Kim on the national team. “He can hit almost every kind of pitch, but also has some slugging power.”

This year, Kim has made another adjustment. Before going to the MLB, he decided to change his leg kick when swinging the bat. Last year, he lifted his right leg up before striking the ball and hit the ball when he dropped his right leg to the ground. But this year, he has used the power of his body, twisting from the waist, to drive hits, keeping both feet on the ground. Despite changing his batting form, Kim had a career high of 28 home runs in the KBO League this season.

BY KIM SIK, JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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