Where do you rank a guy, when he’s in his 30’s already and you’re only guaranteed to have him for two years? Pretty tricky. Well, one good thing is that the Korean Baseball Organization is equivalent to the American upper minors — like Triple-A, but a lowish Triple-A — so he’s effectively been effective in lowish Triple-A ball for more than a decade. (For those who don’t know, he was MVP of the league way back when he was just 20 years old.) Thus, there’s a huge body of work that should make his MLB projections more reliable.
Naturally I’ve been looking at Kim’s forecast per the ZiPS projection model, the only one available for Kim so far. And I have to say I’m pretty darn impressed.
ZiPS pegs him for 157 innings in 2020, with a 3.89 ERA and 106 ERA+. How good is a 106 ERA+ for a starting pitcher? At Fangraphs they are currently rolling out ZiPS projections one organization at a time, and have covered six teams so far (Mets, White Sox, and the entire N.L. West, save for Frisco). Here’s a list of all the starting pitchers projected to have an ERA+ between 102 and 110:
Robbie Ray, Dustin May, Ross Stripling, Marcus Stroman, Chris Paddack, Kenta Maeda, and young phenom Luis Patino. Conveniently, those seven pitchers actually average a 106, same as Kim. That’s a peer group and a half, really very very nice. (For instance, Marcus Stroman is the Mets’ clear #3 starter, and they’re supposed to have one of the top 4 or 5 rotations in the sport.) And moreover, KK is forecast to be almost exactly as good in 2021 as well.
I would rank him 4th in the system behind just Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson, and Ivan Herrera. He likely won’t give you as many wins above replacement in two years as I expect (or at least hope) to get from Knizner or Rondon or Arozarena in six years of team control — but given his recent consistent excellence, Kim has more certainty I think than any of them and could perhaps provide more wins above average in two years than they do in five or six seasons.