Two Infielders You Should Be Talking About

I wish I knew why Jung-ho Kang and Ben Paulsen seem to get so little respect. It’s baffling. Regardless, people should be talking about these guys and their production — both have very legit numbers, yet few seem to have noticed. More to my point: fantasy baseball players should pick them up from the waiver wire ASAP. I mean, right this second.

Kang, recall, is the stud the Pirates signed from Korea. An unknown for the better part of the season, Kang is making his presence felt in the middle of the Pirates lineup, having just earned honors this July for NL Rookie of the Month. Kang, with dual SS/3B eligibility, is owned in just 57.9% of ESPN leagues and is slashing a highly productive .291/.365/.446 and, based on what he did in Korea, his .809 OPS could prove to be low in the long run.

Kang went through a bit of a power drought in June, but he caught fire in July. He’s now hitting .291 with 8 HR and 35 RBI. Consider that in the last week of July, Kang recorded multiple hits in five out of eight games with 6 R, 2 HR, and 3 RBI in that stretch. In his next game, on August 1, he hit his 8th home run of the season, a ball that traveled 412 feet. In 2014, Kang launched 40 home runs in 120 games in Korea, while also hitting .297. The kid can flat-out rake. With Jordy Mercer on the shelf (and not very good when healthy), Kang continues to occupy the 4–6 holes in Clint Hurdle’s lineup.

As many hitters have said before: As the summer heats up, so do they. I suspect we’re going to see Kang launch many more home runs before season’s end. If nothing else, even if the power is merely moderate, the fact that he hits for average, steals a few bases, and slots in the middle of a very potent Bucs lineup makes him worthy of a pickup in leagues of any size.

Ben Paulsen. What’s not to love about a guy who: 1) plays half his games at Coors Field; 2) made minor league pitching look like little league; 3) hits for both power and average; and 4) absolutely kills right-handed pitching? Answer: Nothing. His numbers aren’t dissimilar from those of Kang (in fact, they’re nearly identical), with a .300 average, 8 HR, and 34 RBI. His average is a bit buoyed by a .363 BABIP, though ZiPS projects a .333 BABIP the rest of the way. The only knocks against Paulsen are playing time and his ugly platoon splits, which are obviously related. But as with guys I’ve discussed before, who cares if he’s not an everyday starter; he’d just tank your average anyway. Instead, bench him against the few lefties he’s allowed to face, and you won’t be disappointed.

FanGraphs had this to say about him before the season started; it’s like these guys are clairvoyant or something. But they’re also very much wrong in the when they say that Paulsen’s game is made for just NL-only leagues. It’s much better than that (keep reading). Per FanGraphs:

The Quick Opinion: If Morneau starts the year on the disabled list as he recovers from knee surgery, Paulsen could be a sneaky short-term option in NL-only leagues, but that’s about it.

Paulsen, actually, is now effectively an everyday starter in the mercurial Walt Weiss’ lineup, thanks to the demotion of Wilin “Baby Bull” Rosario. Justin Morneau’s concussion symptoms are persisting, and he may have played his final game in the big leagues. Thus, the gig is Paulsen’s to lose, and with Corey Dickerson on the DL again, Paulsen has also been playing some corner outfield when called upon.

And when the 27-year old Paulsen is called upon, the numbers are a thing of beauty — against RHP, anyway, who he’s torturing to the tune of a .308/.361/.535 triple slash. Paulsen’s OPS of .896 isn’t just ‘productive,’ it’s downright fantastic. Frankly, it’s more than a little weird that just 19.7% of ESPN players own him. I’m happy to say I’m one of them, though I missed out on Kang, much to my dismay (and totally because of my stupidity).

There will be more blogs to follow, with similar themes in mind: finding value where there seemingly is none. There always is, you just have to look hard enough.

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Mark Davidson

I think the main hesitation with Paulsen is his tendency to swing at bad pitches/miss. His SwStrk rate is 16.5%, his O-Swing rate is 40.3%, and he hits LHP to the tune of 24 wRC+. With that being said, I think he’s completely serviceable. He’s proven everything there is to prove at AAA, and compared with a couple of other Rockies’ lefties, he doesn’t seem so bad.

Paulsen 16.5% SwStrk, 40.3 OSwing%, 24 wRC+ v LHP, 136 wRC+ Home, 92 wRC+ Away
CarGo 14.5% SwSTrk, 36.1 OSwing%, 4 wRC+ v LHP, 122 wRC+ Home, 121 wRC+ Away
Dickerson 12.4% SwStrk, 40.5 OSwing%, 89 wRC+ v LHP, 181 wRC+ Home, 99 wRC+ Away

Coupled with the fact that he barely has over 300 PA at age 27, and I think fangraph’s reasoning made a lot of sense. That being said, I own both of these players in at least one mixed league, and I think Paulsen is a good play this year.