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  • E.J. Fagan

Should the Yankees Be Interested In Jung Hoo Lee?

by EJ Fagan

November 3, 2023

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NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.


Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.

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Enter Jung Hoo Lee. Like Yamamoto, he just turned 25. He will be posted by his team. He’s considered one of the best players in his league, if not the best. However, Lee’s situation is very different from Yamamoto. He’s not an open-and-shut case. Let’s discuss why.


The Pro’s of Jung Hoo Lee

Jung Hoo Lee is a career .340/.407/.491 hitter in the KBO. It only takes a quick glance at his swing to see why he hits for average:

I’m not swing guru, but Lee’s footwork in the box reminds me of Ichiro. A lot. He puts the bat on the ball, almost never strikes out, and occasionally punches one with authority. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a lefty either. Fangraphs gives him a 60 hit tool, suggesting that he should be able to hit .300 regularly in the majors, though they aren’t projecting him at quite Luis Arraez levels.

Lee is also a strong defender. He’s won a bunch of Gold Gloves in the KBO. I was a little worried by his lack of stolen bases, but Lee sure looks fast on video. Fangraphs grades him at 60 speed.

The profile is really tempting for the Yankees. They need outfielders. They need left-handed hitters. They need contact hitters. They need youthful athleticism. I think we would all be excited if they signed Lee to a hefty contract.

The Cons of Jung Hoo Lee

Simply put, the KBO is not the NPB.

There is a long history of players successfully making the jump from Japan to the majors. Shohei Ohtani, Seiya Suzuki and Masataka Yoshida are all strong hitters in the majors right now after putting up similar star seasons abroad. Suzuki hit .315/.414/.570 in Japan, while Yoshida hit .327/.421/.539. Both batting lines are only better than what Lee has done, but against much stiffer competition. Each is putting up an OPS around .800 in the majors. In contrast, there has been basically one recent hitter who started their career in the KBO and jumped straight to the majors. Jung Ho Kang hit .298/.383/.504 in Korea before posting a .800 OPS in four major league seasons (ending in disgrace). You have to go all the way back to Hee-Seop Choi in the early 2000s to find another successful-ish hitter, other than maybe Eric Thames. The level of competition in Korea is a lot lower than in the NPB, or even in the Cuban leagues a decade ago.

On top of the level of competition issues, I question what king of production Lee will put up in the majors. Lee hit 6 home runs in 2019 (140 games), 15 in 2020 (140 games), 7 in 2021 (123 games), 23 in 2022 (142 games), and just 6 in 2023 (86 games). Very few major league players are productive with that level of power. Maybe he can hit a few extra out in Yankee Stadium, but Lee sure feels like a slap hitter. He might need to hit .310 to be a top of the order hitter, especially considering that he doesn’t steal a lot.

Bottom Line: High Risk, High Reward

I haven’t seen any real estimates of what contract Lee will get, but I’m guessing it will be around the 5/85 and 5/90 that Suzuki and Yoshida got. While Lee is younger and a better defender, he’s been a worse hitter in a worse league. To pull some numbers out of nowhere, let’s call it 5/90.

I think Lee is worth the risk. It’s not his fault that he started his career in Korea rather than Japan or North America. He’s been about as good as he can be given the type of contact hitter he is. He’s not going to hit a ton of home runs, but 23 in 144 games suggests he’s not merely a slap hitter and could maybe exploit Yankee Stadium.

And he’s 25 years old! If Lee does turn into a plus defensive center fielder who can hover around an .800 OPS, then he’ll be worth the contract and the some. He fits the Yankees like a glove right now, allowing the, to move Dominguez over to left field. Even if he’s a little less of a hitter, his defense will allow him to contribute more than someone like Yoshida.

The alternatives to Lee are weak. I’ll do a post about Cody Bellinger soon, but I’m afraid he’ll be almost three times as expensive to sign. Beyond him, the pickings are pretty slim. And the Yankees need two outfielders.

Unlike Yamamoto, I don’t think 30 teams are going to rush out to sign Lee. He’s an interesting player. He has a high ceiling. He could be the first true Korean star in the majors. But he could also end up being a pretty limp hitter that costs a big, but not cataclysmic, contract. That’s exactly the kind of risk/reward situation that the Yankees should be playing in.

6 Comments


Anthony Flynn
Anthony Flynn
Nov 16, 2023

Perfect commentary. Does cashman have the brains and balls for it, or will he trot out Oswaldo Cabrera for another go-round?

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edwalczykowski
Nov 10, 2023

Get him. Anything near .300 and a .360 OBP is a tablesetter for the power guys. Great OF, speed, young too. Makes too much sense, meaning Cashnan will never do it. I see him as a much better Steven Kwan.

Like

yankeesblog
Nov 05, 2023

Worth pursuing but I'd draw the line at the Yoshida contract.

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fuster
Nov 05, 2023

it'll be a major adjustment when and if Lee begins to bat against the high-velocity pitching featured in MLB.


he's unlikely to begin an MLB career with a .300 BA, but, as many have noted, the Yankees are going to need two outfielders at the start of 2024.

at least one of the two MUST be a reliable lefty hitting threat.

after securing that one, it might be reasonable to consider Lee as a second.

Like
fuster
Nov 05, 2023
Replying to

it's not going to be painless.

the Yankees are going to have to eat a lot of Stanton's contract.

perhaps all of it

unless they can locate a team that has lost their DH/outfield power bat.


and that's the simple part.


the difficult part involves enlisting Stanton's consent.


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