How did Kwang-Hyun Kim do as the St. Louis Cardinals’ new closer?

Jarrod Castillo
Cardinals closer Kwang-Hyun Kim
Jul 24, 2020; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Kwang-Hyun Kim (33) pitches during the ninth inning of Opening Day against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

As one of the St. Louis Cardinals’ main offseason acquisitions, Kwang-Hyun Kim didn’t necessarily have a defined role. However as Opening Day crept closer, manager Mike Shildt made the decision to name Kim as the Cardinals closer, a position he’s never played before.

The big picture: As the Cardinals embark on a sprint to the finish known as the 2020 MLB season, how did Kim fare as the Cardinals new closer?

Kim has never been the closer in KBO

The 32-year-old Kim appeared in 298 games – 136 wins and 77 losses – during his 12-year career in the KBO. During that time, he was the SK Wyverns ace, being able to produce when called upon. However, he has never been a closer in the regular season.

Discounting a lost 2017 season – he missed the entire year after getting Tommy John surgery – Kim has remained fairly consistent.

  • Apart from a three-year stretch where his ERA was around 4.53, his ERA is 3.27 overall.
  • He averages about 121 strikeouts a year compared to 53 walks.
  • His fastball, change-up, slider and curveball were instrumental in his low WHIP – walks and hits per inning – at around 1.3 for his career.

Although it would have made sense for Carlos Martinez to be the Cardinals’ closer considering he was last season, Kim’s designation as the closer is fairly interesting. On a recent KBO broadcast on ESPN, Daniel Kim – MLB’s KBO Insider – said Kim felt a “level of disappointment” at first. But now that games have resumed, he says there is “much more” excitement as the Cardinals closer.

Kim’s performance with the Cardinals

A few days before the Cardinals’ home opener, the Kansas City Royals came to Busch Stadium for a Spring Training 2.0 matchup. With the Cardinals leading 6-3 in the ninth, Kim shut the door on the Royals.

He struck out all three batters he faced with 16 pitches. His combination of pitches looked sharp as two Royals hitters struck out looking.

When Opening Day came, Kim’s excitement showed on his first outing of the season. With 5-2 lead against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kim came out of the bullpen and his nerves were apparent throughout.

In the ninth inning, Kim:

  • Faced five batters, allowing the Pirates to score two runs.
  • Had trouble locating his pitches, as many of his off-speed pitches didn’t break, which Pirates hitters capitalized on.
  • Had his ERA shoot up to 9.00 because he allowed two runs to score, though only one was earned.

That said, this is Kim’s first time facing the best hitters in the world so jitters are to be expected. Considering it was the first game of the season, that was a pretty solid outing all around.

The bottom line: Kim will get things going

In all, Kim’s lone outing is not indicative of his performance moving forward. In game two and three of the series, the Cardinals rocked the Pirates 9-1 and Pirates did the same the next day, 5-1, respectively. One game is an extremely small sample size, especially for a starter-turned-closer.

As Kim gets more reps under his belt as the Cardinals’ closer and with pitching coach Mike Maddux’s help, he will get a better feel for the game and how MLB hitters approach each at bat. Along with better hitter recognition and time, Kim’s ERA should dip below 4.00 and should hover anywhere between 3.00 and 3.50 for the rest of the season.

For that to happen, he will have to have better command of his pitches. Considering he’s a rookie in MLB in a very strange season, the adjustment period could go one of two ways. Nevertheless, if Kim’s KBO success is any indication, he will adjust to MLB hitters and get things going from a pitching standpoint sooner rather than later.