The Benefits of Landing Jung Hoo Lee: A Closer Look at the SF Giants' New Star

World Baseball Classic Pool B: Korea v China
World Baseball Classic Pool B: Korea v China / Kenta Harada/GettyImages

The SF Giants have made their first offseason splash as they anxiously await to learn their fate in the race for Yoshinobu Yamamoto and other top remaining free agents. The club has announced that they have reached a 6-year, $113 million deal with Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) star Jung Hoo Lee.

The Benefits of Landing Jung Hoo Lee: A Closer Look at the SF Giants' New Star

While the club has hopes of landing other stars this offseason, the benefits of landing Lee should not be understated. Though his lack of MLB experience makes the KBO superstar a bit of a man of mystery, there are several reasons for Giants fans to celebrate this addition. Let's take a look at what Lee brings to the Bay Area.

What does Lee's Bat Bring to the Giants?

Firstly, Lee is an elite contact hitter. In his seven seasons in the highly competitive KBO, he hit an astounding .340 batting average. This number never dipped below .318. Not only this, but Lee posted a 9.7 percent walk rate against a 7.7 percent strikeout rate during his KBO career.

The former KBO Rookie of the Year and MVP will likely have a bit of a curve as he adjusts to MLB pitching (as most stars transitioning from international baseball do). However, the breakout season from fellow KBO alumni Ha-Seong Kim (in which he finished in the top 20 for NL MVP), is proof that the leap can be made gracefully.

His ceiling is that of an elite batting average hitter, with the potential to reach the .300 mark each season. In a modern baseball world where only 11 players eclipsed this mark in 2023, Lee could have tremendous on-base value.

What about His Glove?

The five-time KBO Golden Glove winner is widely considered to be an above-average defensive centerfielder at the MLB level. Adding him to the roster immediately takes pressure off young OF Luis Matos, who was the only true centerfielder on the depth chart. We should note that the KBO Golden Glove Award is one that factors in offensive production as well as defense.

Matos can now focus on his development as a corner outfielder, while Lee becomes the club's everyday centerfielder. This provides San Fransisco's defense with a top-tier anchor at one of their most important positions.

Does Lee have any MLB Player Comps?

The aforementioned Ha-Seong Kim shares some similarities with Lee's player profile. Both were outstanding KBO defenders. Both hit the ball hard (though Kim's power translates to home runs much more frequently than Lee's). And both have solid contact skills. However, Kim has noticeably high power and stolen base upside, while Lee has better contact skills.

At his floor, Lee likely profiles as an Andrew Benintendi-type player. The former Boston OF is a career .276 hitter with a .326 OBP who averages around 15 homers and 15 steals per season. All this, while playing Gold Glove-level defense in the corner outfield.

New York Mets' star Brandon Nimmo has another similar profile. The career .270 batter (.363 OBP) has also established himself as a contact-oriented hitter with solid glove. His 24 homers in 2023 likely represent something of a ceiling for Lee, though the KBO star has a higher defensive upside.

As a ceiling, Lee's upside has drawn comparisons to Milwaukee Brewers' top prospect Jackson Chourio. While the aforementioned MLB curve may keep Lee from reaching his peak in 2024, he offers immense OBP upside over the next six years.

The Steamer projections in Fangraphs paints Lee as an everyday contributor. It projects him to slash .291/.353/.430 (115 wRC+) with six home runs, 45 RBI, and 50 runs in 387 plate appearances. This includes a 9.3 percent strikeout, which should help a Giants lineup that struck out a bit too much in 2023.

The SF Giants still have work to do as they seek to build a sustainable postseason contender. However, adding Lee gives the club, and its fans, a reason to celebrate.