Dae-ho Lee Ends Up In Seattle

There’s something that should probably be acknowledged from the beginning. The Mariners have signed Dae-ho Lee to a minor-league contract. Mostly, we ignore players signed to minor-league contracts, at least before the start of spring training. The thing about Lee is that he might be a good hitter. We’ve paid very little offseason attention to, say, Chris Carter and Pedro Alvarez, who are proven above-average hitters. There’s a bias here, because Lee feels more interesting, on account of the fact that we don’t know quite what he is. Lee, in other words, is sort of a prospect, even though he’s 33 years old, and while the majority of prospects establish low ceilings, it’s fun to wonder before the establishing begins.

I don’t know if Lee is a better player than Alvarez, who is in his 20s, and who has 6 career WAR. I do know that it’s more fun to think about and write about Lee, compared to Alvarez. Maybe that’s not fair to Pedro Alvarez, but, you know what, Lee is in the news today, and this is his post, and it seems like he can do some neat things. I can’t worry all the time about fairness.

The basics: as noted, Lee is in his 30s, and he stands 6’4. He’s previously weighed as much as 280 – 300 pounds, and while he’s reportedly slimmed down some of late, you can already make educated guesses about his athleticism, and he is indeed a first baseman and DH. He bats right-handed, and though he hails from South Korea, and though he’s played in — and dominated — the KBO, he spent the last four years hitting well in Japan. He’s coming over because he’s long dreamed of getting a shot in the majors, which is not uncommon, and which leads some players to take less money here than they would’ve gotten elsewhere. Lee is making that sacrifice, in exchange for a chance at the highest level.

It’s true that nothing much is guaranteed. According to reports, Lee could make a maximum of $4 million if he performs well in the majors, but for now it’s officially a minor-league contract with a spring-training invite. I wouldn’t worry about that getting in the way. Lee had multiple suitors, and he wouldn’t have signed with the Mariners if they didn’t make some assurances he’ll have a clear path. I’m guessing they just didn’t yet want to deal with 40-man-roster ramifications, but for Lee to reach the majors, he just has to beat Jesus Montero, Gaby Sanchez, Stefen Romero, and Ed Lucas. That’s the competition for being Adam Lind‘s right-handed partner.

Which is the fit, here. Lee wouldn’t line up to play every day. He’d be a part-time first baseman, behind Lind, and a part-time DH, behind Nelson Cruz. So if Lee wants to play regularly, he’ll need to produce, and he might need some other player on the roster to disappoint. Lee, though, has been led to believe this is the best opportunity. So now we can talk some about his performance.

To me, the easiest way to do this is by embedding a plot. You can always just look at Lee’s overall numbers in Japan, but the league context is less familiar. So here you can track how Lee has done in four statistics over the last four years, against the Japanese average. There’s batting average, isolated power, unintentional walk rate, and strikeout rate.

dae-ho-lee-vs-league

If you look at the picture overall, this should be the takeaway: Lee has been excellent. He’s walked more than the average, he’s struck out less than the average, he’s posted a high batting average, and he’s hit for a strong amount of power. It won’t surprise you to learn Lee hasn’t tripled in three seasons, and he hasn’t stolen a base in four. He’s also grounded into a high number of double plays, because he just isn’t quick. I can’t imagine he’s a defensive asset, nor can I imagine he’s a plus on the bases. The whole focus is on Lee as a hitter, and he has an intriguing blend of proven power and quality discipline.

You know who’s been a close major-league equivalent the last few years? If you just compare ratios of performance over average, Lee has basically hit like the Japan version of new teammate Nelson Cruz. Which is not to say that Lee is as good as Nelson Cruz, but that’s what he’s done somewhere else. He’s kept his strikeouts in check, which is unusual for a powerful hitter, and the Mariners have made a show of emphasizing the importance of strike-zone control. You can see what drew them to Lee, and you can imagine the upside.

This is a highlight reel that’s been making the rounds. As always, highlight reels leave an awful lot out, like, for example, non-highlights. All we see are a bunch of home runs, and we don’t see Lee getting fooled, nor do we see how he develops his plan. But anyway, if you watch that video, you see a good number of towering flies. Lee definitely has his “normal” style of home run, but there are a few in there I can’t help but embed. Here’s a home run that gets out in the blink of an eye:

In 2016 parlance, that’s a dinger with a high exit velocity. For something very different, consider the following 0-and-2 swing:

That’s not a full hack — that’s a defensive hack, a two-strike hack, and Lee didn’t fully rotate his hips. Still, he drove the ball out the other way. That suggests he’s really quite powerful, and it also hints at a way Lee has been able to keep the whiffs down. Finally, I don’t even know what to say about this crap:

That’s a nonsense home run. I just wanted you all to see it. I don’t know what it means. I just know that it happened.

There are forever the usual concerns. Don’t know how Lee will adjust to the majors, don’t know how much power will carry over, etc. In this case, also, we pretty much know the value ceiling is limited because Lee is no one’s idea of speedy or versatile. But in general, it’s good to see more of these players being given an opportunity, and in specific, Lee is of interest because he’s shown he can hit for power while controlling the zone, and that’s not an easy skillset to track down. Provided things go according to plan, Lee will get a shot to apply his skills to match-ups against big-league lefties. And if he handles those well enough, it stands to reason his role would expand. Maybe he really is no better than Pedro Alvarez, but unlike with Pedro Alvarez, Dae-ho Lee hasn’t proven that yet. Until the games start, he could still be almost anything.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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BenRevereDoesSteroids
Member
BenRevereDoesSteroids
3 months 25 days ago

We don’t even get to see the whole field in those highlights. What if Japanese ballparks have the outfield fences 110 feet from homeplate? Did you ever think of that, Jeff? Boy, you must feel real stupid right about now.

Paul22
Member
Paul22
3 months 24 days ago

You must be thinking about Yankee stadium (RF) or Fenway Park (LF)

attgig
Member
attgig
3 months 25 days ago

This could be huge for the Mariners…considering the alternative was to keep Trumbo for 9+mil.

Instead they trade him away, get a backup catcher, save money, and get his replacement in the form of a minor league contract.

my gut tells me Lee is going to produce better numbers than Trumbo.

sskim3
Member
sskim3
3 months 25 days ago

The bigger question is what is his keeper potential???

Surrealistic Pillow
Member
Surrealistic Pillow
3 months 25 days ago

and Lee’s gut tells him that he is hungry

G_Funk_J
Member
G_Funk_J
3 months 25 days ago

He looks like Bartolo Colon.

goyo70
Member
goyo70
3 months 24 days ago

That last vid is such a cue shot stung 320 feet. I know, 320 feet is not that far. But for an out of zone pitch he has serious power and maybe some decent bat speed. Consider the gauntlet thrown, Jesus Montero.

Paul22
Member
Paul22
3 months 24 days ago

I expect he must have an opt out to consider a minor league deal. Too bad for him Cruz is blocking DH, but he knew that when he signed

freescope
Member
freescope
3 months 24 days ago

If you look at the radar gun, two of those pitches are at 144km/h (89.5 miles/hour) and one is at 145….he’ll probably struggle against better pitchers and be above average against mediocre pitchers. Nelson Cruz seems much better than that.

paqza
Member
paqza
3 months 22 days ago

They said the same thing about Abreu and Céspedes.

ufo2869
Member
ufo2869
3 months 24 days ago

One shouldn’t expect him to field well at any position, but he’d be so so at 1B. The key to succeeding in MLB will be how well he can hit. Unlike other Korean hitters who’ve moved from KBO to NPB, Lee has been fairly successful. So, it’s likely he’ll be just OK at the highest level of baseball, but also it’s likely he’ll be a mediocre bench player or minor leaguer.

Bobby Ayala
Member
Member
3 months 24 days ago

Every description of his body sounds like Jesus Montero, who looks somewhat like a shopping cart when he runs. I can’t wait to see them next to each other.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon
Member
3 months 24 days ago

As long as they’re not next to each other flying between games. Charter planes are too light and could start rolling in flight if they’re not on opposite sides.

maqman
Member
Member
maqman
3 months 24 days ago

Montero stole 3 bases without being caught once last season plus had 9 triples, he moves better since he lost the flab and got in shape. He also was the 2nd best hitter in the PCL with a .966 OPS. Lee is going to have to produce to beat him out.

PXF
Member
Member
PXF
3 months 20 days ago

It only just occurred to me: we expect Lind to do well in the strong-side of the platoon, so we assume that Lee will compete for the weak-side. But in all the write-ups I’ve seen (here, Lookout Landing, etc.), no one has said anything about his NPB platoon splits. Is there a chance Lee can hit LHP’s too? (If someone knows where to find NPB platoon splits, let me know!)

hohoodds
Member
hohoodds
3 months 17 days ago

vs LHP 380 .454 .629 (last 2years in npb)

PXF
Member
Member
PXF
3 months 17 days ago

Thanks! And d’oh… because of course I meant to say, how did he do against RHP’s?

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