The curious case of Kim Tae Kyun’s power outage began on Sept. 18, 2010. That night in Sendai, the Chiba Lotte Marines slugger homered off Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace Hisashi Iwakuma in the sixth inning of a 4-3 Lotte loss.
That was his 21st home run of season. The thing is, he has yet to hit another one. Stranger still is that there doesn’t really seem to be a good reason either.
Of Kim’s 21 homers last year, his first season in Japan, 18 came prior to July 1, and it’s been nearly a year since he’s produced any consistent power numbers.
Which is troubling because the Marines are having problems scoring runs and could use a power bat in their lineup.
Kim’s last big month came in June, when he hit six homers, four doubles and ended the month with a .591 slugging percentage.
In 396 at-bats from July 1, including the postseason, Kim has just three home runs, 15 doubles and a slugging percentage of .316 to go with a .265 batting average.
His isolated power (ISO) value, which removes singles to get a more accurate gauge of power, is a minuscule .051 over that span. To give that a bit more perspective, the PL average last season was .133 according to data compiled by the website SMR-Baseball Lab.
Normally, you’d pinpoint pitching as the reason for Kim’s troubles, figuring it just took half a season for Japanese hurlers to get a handle on the Korean import.
That’s not such a clear cut explanation since he’s still getting on base at a fairly normal pace. In 22 games this year, before being removed from the roster with an injury, he was hitting .282 with a .364 on-base percentage.
It’s not a case of venues either, as the slugger hit eight homers at home and 13 on the road last season. Kim has homered in every Pacific League park except Sapporo Dome (45 career at-bats) and Seibu Dome (46 at-bats) during his time in Japan.
What can be noted is that he just isn’t getting the ball into the air as often, which to an extent can be traced to how he’s being pitched.
Through nine seasons in Korea, Kim had a fly-ball percentage of 38.4 percent (taking into account both fly outs and home runs), in the neighborhood of what you would expect from a power hitter.
Just for comparison’s sake, Orix Buffaloes star Lee Seung Yeop is in his eighth year in NPB. Once a prolific home run hitter, he has a 41.1 fly-ball percentage in Japan, including lean years from 2009-10 and a slow start this season.
Kim’s fly-ball percentage last year was 37.1. So far this season, he’s clocking in at 25.9, while most of the NPB’s big hitters are at 30 percent and above.
Among regular cleanup hitters, Kim is the only one without a home run this season.
He matches up favorably with the rest in few areas, though his numbers do outpace Fukuoka Softbank Hawks slugger Alex Cabrera’s in batting average, slugging and on base percentage.
Cabrera, however, does have four homers this season.
With few dramatic changes in his swing, and no real health issues until recently, it seems Kim has just lost his mojo.
Yes, pitchers have figured out how to attack him in order to maximize ground balls, but the book is out on a number of players who are still knocking in runs with regularity.
The Lotte slugger just isn’t getting the job done.
Which can’t sit well with the Lotte brass, who aren’t getting a lot of value from their second-highest paid player.
Kim’s ¥15 million salary is a hefty price tag for a player who isn’t hitting for power or driving in a lot of runs and isn’t particulary fast or a real threat on the basepaths.
Granted, Kim’s power drain hasn’t seemed to hold the Marines back too much seeing as how the team did just win the Japan Series.
Still, run production is becoming a major issue for Lotte. So getting Kim back on track would be a major boost for the team’s currently underwhelming attack at the plate.