Pittsburgh included Bae, 24, on its roster to open the season for a few reasons. They needed a utility player who could play both center field and middle infield defense, and it was clear that this year’s rule changes would increase the value of running the bases. Bae fits that bill.
In April, there was actually a tendency to focus on that “running image”. Grades, impressions, all of it, it was inevitable. In the month of April, Bae hit .234 with a .280 on-base percentage in 77 at-bats over 26 games. His OPS, which is the sum of his slugging percentage and on-base percentage, was 0.605. The bat was nothing special.
He hit two home runs, but he wasn’t the type of player you’d expect to hit long balls in the first place. A good percentage of his hits were infield singles or walks. Conversely, he stole nine out of 10 bases. Bae’s quick feet rattled opposing batters and in some cases changed the game.
There’s no denying that his quick feet helped him get on base in extra bases, both in hit production and stolen bases. On the contrary, his batting performance declined, so he was naturally labeled as a player with only fast feet. However, the Bae Bae-hwan of May is a different player. He’s no longer a player who can be labeled as fast.
Basically, in 24 games and 69 at-bats in May, Bae hit .304 (21 HR in 69 at-bats). He also picked his pitches well, improving his on-base percentage to .360 and his slugging percentage to .391. His OPS in May was .751, which is above league average for May alone.
Of course, there are still hits that are made with the feet, but the quality of the pitches he’s driving for good contact against lefties is starting to add up. You can’t hit .304 on a monthly basis with your feet alone. As he reduces his leg kicks and focuses more on making contact, his batting average is increasing.
There aren’t many Korean hitters who have achieved a triple-digit batting average while getting 70+ at-bats per month. Shin-Soo Choo (now SSG) has done it a few times, but the rest of the team hasn’t come close. Besides Shin-Soo Choo, there have been four other South Korean players with a monthly batting average of over 30% (70+ at-bats). Bae Ji-hwan is the fifth.
Kang Jeong-ho had a big month in July 2015 when he had 97 at-bats and hit .379 with a 1.064 OPS. However, he hasn’t had a monthly batting average over 30% since then. Kim Hyun-soo (now with LG) hit .333 in 83 at-bats in June 2016. It was the first and last time he had a monthly batting average over 30%.
Choi Ji-Man (31, Pittsburgh), who has been in the major leagues for quite some time, also hit .310 in 84 at-bats in June 2022, which is the first and, as of now, only instance of this. Kim Ha-seong hit .314 in 78 at-bats in July 2022. Bae is the sixth player to accomplish this feat, joining Choo Shin-soo, Kang Jeong-ho, Kim Hyun-soo, and Choi Ji-Man.안전놀이터
Of course, there were times when he tried too hard, and his stolen base rate dropped from the beginning of the season. There are also defensive errors. But as Pittsburgh officials said, Bae is still a learning rookie. This is how most players develop.
Bae isn’t a 20+ home run hitter every season, but if he can stabilize his batting average, stolen bases, and defensive versatility, he could be a major league roster player at any time. With the confidence he found in May, it’s reasonable to expect even better numbers in June.