A major force behind the dominance of the Kia offense has been the unexpected emergence of their new center fielder Roger Bernadina, in his first season in the KBO. Just a season ago, Bernadina was toiling in the minor leagues, playing with the Las Vegas 51s, the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.
The difference between the old Bernadina, a failed prospect who had played seven partial seasons in Major League Baseball, mostly with the Washington Nationals, and the current Bernadina, who hits leadoff for the Kia Tigers’ offensive juggernaut, is stark.
|Statistics received from STATIZ, Fangraphs.|
This of course begs the question: What’s changed? In less than a season, how has Roger Bernadina improved this much?
|Kia Tigers center fielder Roger Bernadina bats in a game against the Lotte Giants on July 23, 2017. (Yonhap)|
Bernadina also still profiles as the same type of hitter, hitting a majority of his batted balls on the ground, with a moderate preference to pull. He never displayed particularly drastic platoon splits, hitting roughly the same against lefties and righties, and this tendency is also unchanged. Though his batted ball characteristics would have made him a reasonable shift candidate, shifts were almost never employed against him in the MLB, so his increased numbers in the KBO are also not the result of the KBO’s relative lack of defensive shifts.
The biggest difference is the change in Bernadina’s batting average on balls in play. His current KBO BABIP is .346, a drastic increase from his career MLB BABIP of .288.
On one hand, Bernadina profiles as the type of hitter who might naturally run a higher BABIP. He runs well, having rated as a positive baserunner and base stealer in both his time in the MLB (59 steals, 83 percent success rate) and the KBO (21 steals, 81 percent success), and the fact that he is primarily a ground ball hitter should give him ample opportunity to take infield hits and run a higher BABIP.
However, his track record shows this to not be the case. BABIP is a statistic that takes a long time to stabilize, and as such his career average is more indicative of him as a player than his current 2017 outlier mark. With no other changes in his batted ball profile or batting approach, Bernadina’s increased BABIP, and by extension increased offensive production, is more likely the result of fortunate circumstances and luck than any real change in skill.
That being said, simply acknowledging that Bernadina has been lucky this season does not diminish his performance. Regardless of whether he is performing to his true-talent levels or not, he has been a productive member at the top of the Kia Tigers’ lineup and, perhaps even more interestingly, has hit better as the season has progressed.
By Alex Park / Intern reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)