Friday, September 25, 2015

What Jung Ho Kang's Injury Means For Pirates

By Joe Messineo

The Pirates are in the middle of a grueling playoff hunt that has pitted them against two tough rivals from their own division: the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals, and the third-place Chicago Cubs. With active rosters expanded and plenty of players nursing injure, it's all hands on deck for the Pirates right now — which is why it was a bad time to see IF Jung Ho Kang go down.

Kang injured his knee when the Cubs' Chris Coghlan slid into him while trying to break up a double play. It was a clean play, but that won't help Kang: he's going to have to get surgery to repair his knee, which means he's out for the season. It's a bummer for fans who wanted to see Kang perform in the postseason, and an even bigger letdown for Kang and Pirates, who were sure that his skills would help them win the World Series this fall.

The Pirates will make adjustments, but they won't be quite the same team. Here's what Kang's injury means for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Less Infield Flexibility

One of the great benefits of having Kang was that the Pirates were able to switch up their infield at will. Kang has played both third base and shortstop this year, with a fairly even split: he's appeared in 77 games at third and in 60 as a shortstop this season. The Pirates were even able to move him mid-game to accommodate substitutions. That's all a thing of the past. The Pirates won't be as free to make defensive substitutions at shortstop or to rest aging 3B Aramis Ramirez.

Plenty of Infield Depth

Of course, Kang was being used so flexibly in part because the Pirates already have enough infielders to survive an injury just like this. They're not happy to have these problems, but they do have some reasonable solutions on hand. They'll just start Mercer full-time at shortstop and Aramis Ramirez at third. 3B Josh Harrison can fill in for Ramirez on rest days to keep the 37-year-old as fresh as possible. You can't replace Kang, but the Pirates won't have to field any terrible players or rely on any inexperienced guys long-term.

Less Offensive Pop

The Pirates' starters at third and shortstop are Aramis Ramirez and Jordy Mercer, respectively. Ramirez is hitting .252 with an OPS of .728; Mercer is hitting .246 with an OPS of .610. Kang was outperforming both of them at the time of his injury. Kang will end the year with a .287 average and an .816 OPS. He doesn't hit a ton of home runs — he has 15 on the season so far — but the Pirates will miss Kang's ability to hit safely.

More Problems to Come

It's been reported that Kang's rehab could take him into Spring Training next year. If that's the case, then this season won't be the last time that the Pirates have to worry about Kang's role in their lineup. If anything doesn't go perfectly, Kang's injury could even impact next year's regular season.

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