This is one in a series of stories breaking down members of the Pittsburgh Pirates 40-man roster.
Somewhat of an enigmatic character, Pittsburgh Pirates middle infielder/center fielder Ji-Hwan Bae finds himself in an interesting timeframe.
On the Pirates’ 40-man roster, they currently have six capable middle infielders.
Of course, Bae has been thrown out into center field, but he looks uncomfortable out there. The path he takes to balls is awkward, and he makes fairly routine plays look difficult.
Where Bae needs to make his case is with the bat and on the bases. With Bae’s speed, he profiles to be either batting leadoff or placed in the nine-hole to act as a pseudo-leadoff.
While Bae’s walk rate (8.1%) was right around league average, he struck out in 24.8% of his plate appearances. In addition, his on-base percentage was at .296, well-below league-average and concerning given his profile.
The results Bae generated in 2023 draw comparisons to that of Billy Hamilton, who had elite speed but couldn’t steal first base.
When Bae did get on base, he stole 24 bases. Early on in the season, the Pirates were extremely aggressive on the base paths, and Bae seemed to flourish in those situations.
Eventually, teams figured out the formula and revealed that Bae’s aggressiveness didn’t continue to pay off like it did early in the season.
Pitchers’ pick-off moves seemed too much for Bae, and as a result, what looked promising became troubling. Bae was caught stealing nine times.
Those nine caught stealing attempts were tied for the eighth-most in all of MLB. The Pirates eventually stopped giving Bae the green light and had him go station to station most nights.
In Bae’s defense, a left ankle sprain sidelined him for a month and a half. In 35 games after returning from the injured list, he only stole four bases in seven attempts.
Bae’s strike-out tendency, his lack of base running discipline, and a lack of power leave a lot to be desired from the Pirates’ position. If Bae can’t figure out how to tap into his potential, then there are probably more capable options to man a starting spot.
Who that player is remains to be seen, but it should get figured out by Spring Training 2024.