clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Dae-ho Lee, capable platoon partner

New, comments

Let's take a deeper look at the hulking Dae-ho Lee.

Early this morning reports started coming out that the Mariners had signed Korean first baseman Dae-ho Lee to a one-year contract. Kate already did an excellent job introducing us to Lee. Greg Johns is saying the deal is a minor league contract which allows the Mariners to stash Lee in Triple-A and let him get a acquainted with the US before committing to a 40-man roster spot for him. Let’s take a deep look at what Lee brings to the table and what we might expect from him in 2016.

The 33-year-old Lee is a veteran of both the KBO and the NBP. He’s spent the last four seasons playing in Japan and parlayed a very successful year in 2015 into a major league contract.  He’s averaged almost 25 home runs a year in Japan—impressive considering the lean run environment in the NPB since switching to a new ball in 2011. Here are some of his relevant statistics from the last four years:

Year

PA

BABIP

ISO

K%

BB%

wOBA

2012

601

0.299

0.192

14.1%

10.6%

0.367

2013

593

0.320

0.190

13.5%

10.8%

0.385

2014

625

0.333

0.154

15.5%

7.4%

0.361

2015

584

0.303

0.242

18.7%

10.6%

0.383

Totals

2403

0.317

0.193

15.4%

9.8%

0.369

Note: I used MLB weights to calculate Lee’s wOBA.

And here are those same stats compared to the NBP league average in the form of a "+" score (100 is average, and each point above or below 100 is equivalent to one percentage point).

Year

PA

BABIP+

ISO+

K%+

BB%+

wOBA+

2012

601

102

202

115

153

126

2013

593

105

167

122

130

123

2014

625

110

126

114

87

115

2015

584

101

200

96

126

123

His overall offensive production has been consistently around 20% better than league average during his time in Japan. His power numbers have been robust, and unlike your common power hitter, they’re supported by good plate discipline as well. As we might expect from a power hitter, his walk rate has been better than league average, except for the odd dip in 2014. His strikeout rate is the true outlier. Despite a three year downward trend, he’s shown an ability to avoid the strikeout and put the ball in play. That’s helped him post a career batting average above .300 and a well-rounded offensive profile.

Of course, offensive performance in the NBP doesn’t easily translate to MLB. Recently, we’ve seen more pitchers make the jump across the Pacific rather than hitters. In fact, Nori Aoki and Munenori Kawasaki were the last two hitters to come over to the United States, and that was back in 2012. And like I mentioned above, the run scoring environment in the NBP has shifted significantly since switching to a new ball in 2011. In April of last year, Justin Perline took a stab at projecting the effects of a transition from the NBP to MLB over on Beyond the Box Score. He found that BABIP, ISO, and BB% all took a hit when moving over to the US. Oddly enough, strikeout rates fluctuated the highest amount, with a range of -5% to +4%, and an average of +0%. But much of that data may be skewed by hitters switching leagues before the switch to a new ball.

For Lee, we can probably expect a dip in offensive output, but he should still be a very productive platoon partner for Lind. I worked on a rough projection for Lee based on his recent work in Japan and the penalties for switching leagues and came up with this line for him:

PA

BABIP

ISO

K%

BB%

wOBA

200

0.295

0.170

19.0%

9.0%

0.332

That’s much better than the .322 wOBA Steamer projects for Jesus Montero. I’m assuming that the spike in strikeout rate he saw in 2015 was part of his age-related decline and that his walk rate will take the normal hit from switching leagues. His power numbers should translate more capably than other Japanese power hitters that have moved to the US since he’s been able to mash the ball in the new offensive environment.

Defensively, he’s much harder to peg. He’s a big man and he’s certainly not fleet footed. His best fit may be designated hitter, but Nelson Cruz ostensibly has that position locked down. Mariner scouts may have had a chance to get a good look at Lee while he was training in Peoria with his former team, the Lotte Giants, so they probably have a decent idea of his fielding prowess. If he makes the major league roster, my guess is he’ll spell Lind at first base occasionally and fill in at designated hitter when Cruz is in the field against lefties (shifting Aoki over to CF for Martin).

Its clear Dipoto had very little confidence in Jesus Montero’s ability to perform at the major league level. Bringing in both Gabby Sanchez and Lee to compete for his bench spot are clear signs that Montero's days in a Mariners uniform are numbered. He’s out of options and I doubt he’d be able to sneak through waivers unclaimed. Lee is certainly an offensive upgrade over Montero and provides more reliable depth should Cruz, Lind, or any of our outfielders get injured. With an investment of just $4 million, that’s a very clever and affordable addition on the part of the Mariners.