The Giants pitched who they believe can be a starter for years to come.
San Francisco has signed Korean defenseman Jung Ho Lee to a six-year, $113 million contract, and the 25-year-old made his debut in the orange and black in his introductory news conference Friday at Oracle Park.
Lee is a former KBO MVP who won five straight Golden Glove Awards with the Kiwoom Heroes before signing with the Giants. The current plan is for Lee to become the everyday center fielder in 2024 and he envisions him starting at center on Opening Day, President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi said during the press conference.
The Giants have been looking to become younger and more athletic defensively, and while Lee undoubtedly checks that box, there are questions regarding his bat and how he will translate from the KBO to the major leagues.
Lee has elite hitting skills and was a career .340 hitter in the KBO with a strikeout rate of about 5 to 6 percent in recent seasons. While there may be an initial adjustment to the difference in speed, Zaidi and the Giants believe Lee’s rare contact ability will translate, even with less-than-impressive exit velocities.
“Yes, I think it’s an increasingly rare skill and (the question) about exit speed was interesting because that seems to be a goal for a lot of players here and the conversation about it is definitely less in Korea and Japan,” Al Zaidi said. “So I think when players are developing their skills and their games, it’s not a big focus in the context of player development.
“It’s interesting from a baseball standpoint, we have really sophisticated metrics around hitting. I actually remember a conversation I had with Dave Roberts when I was still in Los Angeles. He just said there’s something about a player that has the ability to find the outfielder.” “I think that’s true. I think he might have been talking about Ichiro.” [Suzuki] When we had that conversation. “You can see that (Lee) has tailored his game around him and he has a lot of the same skills.”
the FanGraphs and Steamer Models Project Lee is hitting .291/.353/.430 with 9 to 10 home runs, 55 to 60 RBI and six stolen bases at a very impressive 9.3 percent average in his 2024 rookie season.
In his MVP-winning 2022 season, Lee hit .349/.421/.575 with 23 home runs, 113 RBI and a .996 OPS. While those numbers are certainly impressive on the surface, Zaidi was more impressed with Lee’s hitting total. The young star hit just 32 times in 627 games.
“Forget about walks to strikeouts, getting homer numbers and hitting numbers that are close in any league is really impressive,” Zaidi explained.
The addition of Lee in center allows the Giants to shift Mike Yastrzemski to right field with veterans Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger splitting time in left field and at designated hitter.
It remains to be seen if the Giants will make any additional moves to the field this offseason, but for now these numbers will be the starting lineup in 2024 with Luis Matos, Austin Slater, and Tyler Fitzgerald mixed in on the bench.
The Giants are excited to add Lee, who checks multiple boxes at the plate and on defense and could quickly become a fan favorite with his unique skill set.
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