When a team is 29-24, it will have plenty of deserving All-Stars. Among the Pirates, good cases could be made for any number of players, including Gerrit Cole, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Tony Watson and Francisco Cervelli. For now, though, let's examine an outside-the-box All-Star case: that of Jung-Ho Kang.
Statistically, Kang's case is somewhat modest -- he's hitting a strong but not outstanding .287/.357/.435, and he hasn't even played every day. His .792 OPS would, however, rank fourth among qualified NL shortstops, which isn't bad at all, particularly considering Kang's homer-stifling home park. As an All-Star, Kang would also give the NL's bench a bit of defensive versatility, a valuable commodity in a game that Matters.
As it stands, Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Crawford are currently first and second in NL All-Star voting at shortstop. That's good, because they're the two most deserving players at that position. If someone else, like Troy Tulowitzki or Starlin Castro, were to win the fan vote, it would be that much more difficult for Kang to make the team. If Kang receives much consideration (and who knows -- one bad month would knock him clean out of the running), it will likely be as a borderline candidate, and it will probably depend in part on the exact construction of the bench, on who's hurt (or "hurt"), and on who will represent each team. Unless Kang hits like crazy over the next month, it would be hard to fault anyone for failing to include him.
But an analysis from a purely statistical standpoint also sells Kang's candidacy short. As the first position player from the KBO to play in the majors, he's an important figure and a great story. He was among the very best players in the KBO last year. One of the Pirates' recent games against the Padres was broadcast in Korea, leading to this terrific home-run call:
Gonna play the Jung Ho Kang Korean HR call unlimited times on the show tomorrow morning pic.twitter.com/Fq78NjzdkT— Mikey (@fsmikey) May 29, 2015
Kang sees himself as a sort of "pioneer" for other players in Korea, and if he continues his big-league success, he'll pave the way for other top players from the KBO (like his former Nexen Heroes teammate Byung-Ho Park, who could join Kang in the big leagues next year). By any reasonable definition, Kang is doing an amazing job in that role, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a surge in KBO players transitioning to the big leagues in the coming years. The first top KBO player to come to the majors, Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers, pitched well in his first two seasons before an injury this year, but he hasn't yet made an All-Star team. Kang's presence on the NL All-Star roster would be historic, and it would be a way for MLB to roll out the welcome mat for other top Korean players.
Want a chance to cheer on your team’s All-Stars this year? Sign up for the Gillette Shave Club free membership (see rules here for full details on eligibility and alternative entry) for a chance to win a VIP experience at MLB All-Star Weekend in Cincinnati July 12-14 – brought to you by the Gillette Shave Club, Gillette’s razor subscription service that delivers Gillette’s best blades directly to your door. By signing up for the Gillette free membership program, you will be eligible for chances to win major league sports and entertainment tickets as well as free products and you’ll have access to exclusive content, grooming tips, and more.