Why the SF Giants using Jung Hoo Lee as the leadoff hitter is a risky move

The SF Giants have made clear that they want Jung Hoo Lee to be their everyday lead off hitter. Given his inexperience, this could be a risky move.

2024 San Francisco Giants Spring Training
2024 San Francisco Giants Spring Training / Andy Kuno/San Francisco Giants/GettyImages

The SF Giants have been looking to add some speed and contact atop the lineup for years. The signing of Jung Hoo Lee seems to have solved this problem, but with Lee's inexperience against MLB pitching, it may be a somewhat risky proposition to have him bat leadoff.

Why the SF Giants using Jung Hoo Lee as the leadoff hitter is a risky move

SF Giants manager Bob Melvin said recently that he "would be shocked" if Lee is not the everyday leadoff hitter to start the season.

It makes sense why he would say this. Lee was the big splash free agent for the Giants. They gave him a 6 year, $113 million deal. They signed him because he is everything the 2023 Giants were not - solid defensively, contact-heavy swing, and has the promise of being exciting to watch.

The Giants did not invest that much money into Lee to bat him in the bottom of the order. I get that. At the same time, it is worth pointing out that there will likely be at least some learning curve for Lee as he adjusts to MLB pitching. This is the reality of making this type of investment. Ha-Seong Kim struggled to the tune of a .622 OPS in 298 plate appearances in his first season after leaving the KBO.

This is not to at all disparage the competition Lee faced in the KBO, but it is to point out that there are differences and that the level of pitching Lee will face this year will be tougher than what he has faced in the rest of his career.

Of course, Lee has proven in the past that he is capable of doing well against elite arms. There is the clip of him ripping a 95 mph fastball on the inside of the plate against Yu Darvish in the World Baseball Classic.

Then there is this video of him smoking a double against Yoshinobu Yamamoto during the Tokyo Olympics.

You know what Kruk and Kuip would be saying: ownage is ownage.

These are promising signs to be sure, but my fear is that Lee may feel a lot of pressure to get the offense going for the Giants. He seems to have a fun, easygoing personality but perhaps some part of him feels he has to prove why he was worth such a big contract.

If he starts to press too much and he struggles early on, it could hurt his confidence going forward. I do not hope this happens, but there is pressure for any player to live up to the expectations of a large contract.

On paper, Lee makes total sense as a leadoff hitter. He checks just about every box for what you would want in a guy at the top of the order. But if he struggles early on in the role, Melvin may be wise to bat him towards the bottom of the order to take some of the pressure.

But if he takes the job and runs with it as the Giants hope he does, then he will be a perfect leadoff man and will be the sort of fun, marketable, everyday player that the Giants have been searching for for a while. It is a risk to have Lee be the catalyst for the offense, but risks tend to pay dividends as well.