McKinnon, ‘digesting 1-3 bunts

He played three seasons in a Samsung Lions uniform. His second season, in particular, was a breakout performance that earned him the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors.

For baseball fans, Jose Pirela, 34, is one of the most memorable foreign hitters of all time, but Samsung had a different idea. On Friday, it announced the signing of a new foreign hitter, David McKinnon (29). They agreed to pay him $1 million (KRW 1.296 billion), which is the cap for a foreign player’s first season.

Expectations are high. McKinnon played in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and has a good understanding of Asian baseball.

However, it will be bittersweet to say goodbye to Pirela after three seasons in a Samsung uniform. In his first year in a Samsung uniform in 2021, Pirela hit .286 with 29 home runs, 97 RBIs, 102 runs scored, nine doubles, and an OPS of .854 to earn his re-signing.

Last year was even more spectacular. He batted .342 with 192 hits, 28 home runs, 109 RBI, 102 runs scored, 15 doubles, and a .976 OPS. He led the team in runs scored and was second in batting average, doubles, home runs, and RBIs.

Unsurprisingly, Samsung held onto Pirela, but with the team’s batting struggles, Pirela also struggled. He was up and down. Although he improved a bit in the second half, his .285 average with 16 home runs, 80 RBIs, 66 runs scored, and six doubles with an OPS of .764 was a huge downward spiral from his previous two seasons.

His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 2.44 ranked 38th overall and sixth among foreign players, according to baseball stats site Statiz.

That’s why there was no news of Pirela’s re-signing, even though new manager Lee Jong-yeol, who took over after the season, has been busy. “The evaluation of Pirela is not as good internally as it is from the outside,” a Samsung official said, hinting that the team was looking for a new hitter rather than re-signing him.

Samsung eventually signed McKinnon, an infield defender. McKinnon is five years younger than Pirela and plays a different position in the infield.

“He is a medium-to-long range right-handed hitter with good initiative and good contact, and he has the ability to play solid first and third base defense,” Samsung said.

That’s one of the reasons they chose McKinnon over Pirela. Samsung’s outfield this season has been centered around Pirela, with Kim Hyun-joon, Koo Ja-uk, and Kim Sung-yoon. Koo has been a key player for Samsung, rebounding this season to win a Golden Glove in the outfield, while Kim Hyun-jun has also been outstanding. Kim Sung-yoon burst onto the scene as a replacement for the injured Lee Jung-hoo (San Francisco Giants) at the Hangzhou Asian Games, and he even solved his military service problem.

The confidence that the outfield problem could be solved with domestic players, coupled with Pirela’s decline, was the reason for looking outside for new players.

Fans have high hopes for McKinnon. McKinnon is taller and leaner than Pirela at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, but he’s no slouch when it comes to power. A mid-to-long range type of hitter, he hit .294 with 36 home runs and 210 RBIs in 357 career minor league games, and this year he hit .259 with 15 home runs, 50 RBIs, and a .728 OPS in 127 games for the Seibu Lions of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).

There are a lot of good pitchers in the NPB, and considering that he was a two-hitter, fans are saying that they can expect 20 home runs and 80 RBIs in Korea, or even 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.

“Based on his sincere training attitude and Japanese baseball experience, he is expected to quickly adapt to the KBO,” the Samsung team said, “and the center field is expected to be strengthened by securing diversity in infield operations.”

In the past, hitters who have had success in the NPB have often adapted easily to the KBO. Their success in Japanese baseball, where the pitching staffs are of a higher caliber, with a greater understanding of Asian baseball and often referred to as “microscopic baseball,” was a guarantee for the KBO.

While it will be hard to say goodbye to Pirela after a three-year run, Samsung fans are equally excited about McKinnon.

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