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Ask BD: How does Jung-Ho Kang affect the Pirates' plans?

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Thanks for your questions, and here's the second round of answers. There were some good questions about the Pirates' likely roster that I'll address in a separate post later.

PedroPower: What are the odds John Holdzkom meets or exceeds his Steamer projection of .7 WAR?

Pretty good, in part because Steamer projects he'll only pitch 55 innings. He could easily pitch more. But even an 0.7 WAR projection for a reliever is nothing to sneeze at. That puts Holdzkom in the same neighborhood as guys like Glen Perkins, Steve Cishek, Kelvin Herrera, Ken Giles and Mark Melancon. And, um, Jason Grilli.

Dr. Bluejay: We can't trust the Pirates' publicly-available defensive ratings, can we? Starling Marte is a minus, Jordy Mercer is a plus. Marte is an excellent defensive player, and I don’t believe Cutch is as bad as the numbers suggest. Can you ask Dan Fox what’s real and what’s not?

I can, but I don't think he'll tell me. One thing he might say is that you can't look at one year of defensive numbers to get a true picture of a player's ability. Also, the Pirates as an organization are well beyond the point where their defense is just a the sum of its parts. The Pirates shift all over the field, they use shifts that are specific to specific pitchers, and they pitch with the shifts in mind. Fangraphs marks them as a below-average defensive team and a terrible pitching team, but we've seen enough pitchers have success with the Pirates' system to know that can't be right. Dave Manel explains the reasons for the discrepancy. UZR is the best available starting point when examining the quality of a player's defense, but there are all kinds of reasons not to lean too hard on it on a single-season basis, and even the team defensive rankings don't always make sense. Marte is a good defensive player, and the Pirates are a good defensive team.

Yung-Han: Will Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker be traded this season? Is that the thinking behind the Jung-Ho Kang acquisition?

My guess is that the front office bid for Kang because they hoped they'd get a good value, not because of Alvarez or Walker. Now that it appears likely they'll get Kang, though, he certainly could impact trade plans if he plays well. Walker is a good player, so it's hard to imagine the Pirates trading him in-season unless they struggle badly or they get solid big-league talent back. Alvarez is another story, and if Kang shows he can hit enough to be, say, a big-league caliber third baseman, it wouldn't shock me to see the Pirates send Alvarez to an AL team and move Josh Harrison to second and Walker to first.

We're getting way ahead of ourselves, though. It's not at all clear yet that Kang is even a credible big-leaguer, much less a productive starter.

Marco Rincones: Will the Bucs need to re-train Kang in any aspect of MLB ball that Korean pro ball might do significantly differently?

This is a great question for which I don't have a great answer. I'm not a scout and have only watched Kang on YouTube. From what I've read, though, he will have to make some defensive adjustments. The Nexen Heroes' Mokdong Stadium has artificial turf, so Kang will have to adjust to playing on grass. Ryan Sadowski of Global Sporting Integration has said that Kang will need to work on charging in on balls. Kang has a good arm, and I've heard whispers that many KBO players don't run hard to first. All that tells a fairly consistent story, which is that in the KBO, Kang could rely on his arm and the turf to get throws to first in time. He won't be able to do that in the big leagues, so he might have to be more aggressive on getting to balls and getting throws to first more quickly.

Offensively, I have no idea. I know a lot of people have wondered about his very high leg kick.

Sadowski notes, though, that Kang hit many of his home runs last year off the KBO's best pitchers, so maybe the leg kick won't be an issue against better pitching. Kang is planning on keeping it.

Dr. Bluejay: Are the Bucs playing in the best division in baseball?

Fangraphs projects the NL Central will have 409 wins, with the AL East and AL West both projecting for more. That makes sense to me -- I'm not sure I'd want the Pirates to be in the AL East, say, where all five teams have a pretty good shot of being competitive. But the NL Central does seem like the best division in the National League. In the East, the Braves and Phillies should be giving away lots of wins, and the same is true in the West with the Rockies and Diamondbacks. Fangraphs' projections also don't seem to like the Padres much, despite all their crazy trades, and I don't either -- San Diego's offense should be much better than last year, but at a big cost to its defense. The NL Central is tougher, particularly given that the two teams with the most organizational problems (the Reds and Brewers) aren't even that bad. We're probably still a year away from the Cubs making the division really tough, although even the Cubs' continued emergence in 2016 or so might be balanced by the Brewers and/or Reds going into full rebuild mode.