Kiwoom Heroes outfielder Lee Jung-hoo salutes the crowd at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul after a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game against the Samsung Lions, Oct. 10. Yonhap

The San Francisco Giants cycled through 11 players in their center field position in 2023, unable to find one consistent force that could offer solid play as the end point of the ever-important up-the-middle defense and also hold his own at the plate. The Giants will now count on Korean star Lee Jung-hoo to change that narrative, starting in the new year. Can the 25-year-old be the answer with his bat and the glove? That’s the $113 million question. Reports coming out of the United States on Wednesday morning in Korean time had Lee taking his talent to San Francisco at $113 million over six years, with an opt-out clause after four seasons. The Giants hadn’t yet confirmed the deal as of this writing.

Over his seven seasons with the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), Lee firmly established himself as one of the country’s premier players. The 2017 Rookie of the Year winner was voted the most valuable player (MVP) in 2022, after leading the KBO in five major offensive categories: batting average (.349), hits (193), RBIs (113), on-base percentage (.421) and slugging percentage (.575). He has also been a strong defender in center field, but he was primarily the Heroes’ right fielder in 2020 and left fielder in 2019.Lee has a career .340 batting average, the highest in KBO history among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances. He has walked 383 times while striking out only 304 times in 3,947 trips to the plate. According to the KBO statistics site Statiz, Lee has a career weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 143.2, meaning he has been 43.2 percent better than the average hitter in the KBO. The Giants aren’t short on outfielders, per se, with some experienced big leaguers such as Mike Yastrzemski, Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger in the mix. But the Giants believe they profile better as corner outfielders. That’s why the Giants relied most heavily on rookie Luis Matos in center field. Among the 11 Giants who appeared in center this year, Matos logged the most games (57) and innings (438).

But Matos ranked 170th among 174 players who appeared in center field in outs above average (OAA), which looks at how many outs a player has saved .As a team, the Giants’ outfielders ranked 28th out of 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams in OAA, and 22nd in defensive runs saved, which measures the number of runs a player saved or cost his team relative to an average player. Their bats were also anemic. Matos batted .250/.319/.342 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 76 games. Collectively, the Giants’ center fielders had an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .666, putting them in 24th place in the bigs .All of this prompted Farhan Zaidi, the club’s president of baseball operations, to announce in November that center field was “a priority for us” this offseason. Zaidi noted that outfield defense was especially at a premium for his team because of the way their pitchers tend to pitch to contact .In comes Lee, whose career OPS sits at .898 with a robust .407 on-base percentage. Lee will never be mistaken for a power hitter — he slugged a career-high 23 homers in 2022 but surpassed double figures in only one other season — but he has always been able to put the ball in play .MLB teams don’t invest $100 million-plus over half a dozen years in an international player unless they’re convinced he can be an immediate help.

When KBO hitters move over to MLB, the most common question mark they face is their ability to handle high velocity. For all his hitting prowess, Lee is no exception here. Even though the KBO has seen some decent ex-MLB pitchers thrive here, hitters here simply don’t face as many high heats as their MLB counterparts .In 2023, the average velocity of the four-seam fastballs Lee faced came to 143.4 kilometers per hour, or 89.1 miles per hour, well below the MLB average velocity of about 94 mph. Though Lee hits a ton of doubles — his 244 doubles since his rookie year in 2017 lead all KBO players in the 2017-2023 span — he doesn’t have elite exit velocity numbers. His former Heroes teammate, Kim Ha-seong, was a much more accomplished power hitter in the KBO, with four 20-homer seasons and two 19-homer campaigns out of his six full years. In three seasons with the San Diego Padres in MLB, however, Kim has not been able to match that level of production and ranked near the bottom in MLB in maximum exit velocity in 2023.As has been the case with other KBO hitters who made the jump to the bigs, Lee will likely face a transition period against high velocity. But his excellent plate discipline, athleticism and defensive instincts should 온라인카지노 translate well to MLB.