The KBO promised us lots of bat flips, lead changes, and late inning heroics and it continues to deliver ten fold.
If you haven’t been able to keep up with the KBO as much as you’d like to, or you’ve skipped a few of our daily recaps, or if you’re simply looking to get in on all the fun, Pitcher List has you covered. Every Monday, we’ll publish an article breaking down what’s happened in the past week of the KBO. While it isn’t required reading, if you haven’t yet, we recommend checking out this piece detailing the league, each of its teams, key players and more.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what’s happened over the last week (May 18-23), starting with the current standings:
The KBO has delivered a ton of KBO-ness in its opening weeks for both new and old KBO fans. We’ll break down which teams have been over/under performing, and which players have surprised us the most momentarily but let’s start by getting into some news around the league:
- While it’s certainly not “league” news, we should mention that the Pitcher List writers covering the KBO have switched up our naming convention for all Korean players when covering the KBO to reflect the way names in Korea are usually displayed. For instance, if Shin-Soo Choo currently playing in the KBO and was brought up in a piece covering the KBO, we’d refer to him as Choo Shin-soo instead of Shin-Soo Choo.
- The LG Twins maintained their tenuous grasp of second place in the standings, thanks in part to a walk-off grand slam by the Mexican-born Roberto Ramos, who was playing for the Albuquerque Isotopes at this time last season.
- A 3-3 week for Doosan doesn’t do justice to the up and down week the hitting-oriented Bears really had. After starting splitting a pair of very close and relatively low scoring contests with the Dinos, the Bears went full Ricky Bobby for the rest of the week. While they went 2-2 over their next four games, they either scored or allowed at least 10 runs each time. Their two wins were a combined score of 22-13, while their two losses were a combined score of 25-6.
- Consistency also continues to elude the Kiwoom Heroes. Despite a series with the SK Wyverns, who had just one win leading up to the series, and the reeling Lotte Giants who had just been swept, the Heroes went just 3-3. They even had nine errors in just one week. That 5-1 start seems more and more fluky each day.
- In a display that I can’t even imagine happening in the US, Jorge Cantu of the Doosan Bears bowed to fans as part of an apology for retweeting an insensitive tweet.
- There was eye black, and then there was MORE eye black.
- There was dancing.
- There was sadness.
- The bottom-dwelling SK Wyverns eeked out a win in the 12th inning against the KIA Tigers. In the KBO, the bottom of the 12th is sort of like a super-charged bottom of the ninth, as the KBO ends games after 12 innings even if it’s still tied.
- Switch-hitter Mel Rojas Jr. of the KT Wiz hit back to back home runs, which is an impressive feat in the KBO. To make it even cooler, he did it from opposite sides of the plate (one as a lefty, one as a righty). I don’t care what league you’re in, that’s just neat.
- The KBO is looking closely at, among other things, the re-opening of schools as a barometer on how and when fans can return to the ballpark.
- Speaking of fans at the park, one of the few fans permitted to watch games live is a Lotte Giants fan who goes by “Santa Grandfather“
Current League Averages
All metrics have been gathered from Baseball-Reference, KBReport and MyKBO. Links to all resources are listed at the bottom of the article.
Best Team: NC Dinos
Powered primarily by their league-leading 21 home runs and what is far and away the best ERA in the league (3.26, 65 points better than second place), the NC Dinos remain in first place for another week. While I’d just love to highlight another team in this spot, the fact of the matter is that the Dinos are in a different class right now.
I already talked about Koo Chang-mo, their top pitcher, but foreign pitchers Drew Rucinski and Mike Wright each have sub-3.00 ERAs (2.49 and 2.86, respectively) and above average strikeout rates. The trio is essentially the KBO version of the Astro’s big three in 2019.
On the hitting side, the slow start has started to melt away. The Dinos now have four different hitters who are at least 25% better than league average according to wRC+: Park Min-woo, Wang Euiji, Na Sung-bum, and Park Sok Min. Park Min-woo has easily been the most impressive of the three despite his general lack of power. He has nine walks to just four strikeouts in 78 plate appearances this season, with five of those walks coming in the last week along with seven hits. His excellent plate discipline and his ability to slap singles helps make the most of a less-than-fearsome lineup. Add that to the strong rotation, and the Dinos are a force to be reckoned with.
Worst Team: SK Wyverns
It was always going to take more than a week for the Wyverns to crawl out of the gutter, but a 2-4 week after a 1-10 start is absolutely a step in the right direction. They nabbed a win in each of their two series this week, including a 12-inning scrap with the Tigers. Two wins in a week isn’t season-changing, but the fact they came against a pair of top five teams adds a little glimmer of hope for Wyvern fans that there might be something interesting to watch one in a while.
Thanks to the pitching collapse of the Doosan Bears, the Wyverns are no longer last in pitching, though they are certainly still second to last while also being the worst offense in the league by a pretty comfortable margin.
Biggest Surprise: KIA Tigers and KT Wiz
The Tigers had about as good a week as anyone could hope for, winning five of their six games with the only loss coming in the previously mentioned 12-inning contest with the Wyverns. Even more impressive, they did it without many contributions from slugger Preston Tucker, who ended the week on a 0-15 and only managed a single extra base hit in his last six games.
While offense had carried the Tigers before, it was solid pitching that drove their success this week. All six Tigers with at least 10 IP have a sub-4.00 ERA, including a pair of Americans who have made their mark in the rotation so far in current strikeout leader Drew Gagnon (who was released by the Mets early this offseason) and Aaron Brooks (who spent time with the A’s and Mets in 2019 with mostly mediocre results).
The Tigers draw the rising KT Wiz to start the week and will end with it LG Twins, who are currently in second place. A 4-2 week would be a major statement to the rest of the league about their status as contenders.
Speaking of the rising KT Wiz, who started the season on a 1-7 skid, had another strong week to finish 7-10. While that record isn’t impressive, it’s enough to get them back towards the middle of the standings. On the mound, the Wiz are led by Odrisamer Despaigne and Bae Jae-seong, each of whom are in the top five in ERA so far. At the plate, Mel Rojas Jr. and Kang Baek-ho are both in the top five in OPS. If the rest of the team can find a way to support their top performers, the Wiz would be a sneaky and dangerous playoff team.
Hot Weeks: Hitters
Mel Rojas Jr. (KT Wiz): Recording a hit in five of six games last week is good. Hitting back-to-back home runs from opposite sides of the plate is good. Swatting multiple hits in four consecutive games is good. His 195 wRC+ (fourth best in the KBO) is good. His 1.36 WAR (second best in the KBO) is good. Mel Rojas Jr., it would seem, is good. If the Wiz find a way to make the jump from below average to above average, it will require the continued dominance of Rojas’s bat.
Jose Miguel Fernandez (Doosan Bears): While the Bears have struggled to be consistent as a team, Jose Miguel Fernandez has continued to consistently crush baseballs. He ended the week with four consecutive multi-hit performances, raising his triple slash to a gaudy .500/.531/.764 over 81 plate appearances with nearly as many walks as strikeouts (though he isn’t all that keen on doing either one). The only thing that could make him look better would be starting against his own team, as the Bears have allowed a league-most 122 runs and have a league-worst 6.53 ERA. I know he’s been discussed at length, but to be fair, it’s not often a guy raises his .473 batting average by 27 points in a single week. That’s exactly what we’re looking at with Fernandez.
Roberto Ramos (LG Twins): As we mentioned in this spot last week, Ramos hit 30 dingers in AAA with a .306/.400/.580 line for the Albuquerque Isotopes, but the Rockies sold him to the Twins anyway due to apparently feeling comfortable with Ryan McMahon and the trio of former first rounders they have in the minors at first base. The Twins have been a middling offense through three weeks, and the moderate success they’ve found is almost entirely fueled by Ramos, who has seven of the team’s 16 home runs, and is first or second in the league in most power-related categories (behind only Jose Miguel Fernandez). Elevated strikeout rates might have soured the Rockies on him, but his 202 wRC+ so far in the KBO should raise a few eyebrows in the States (and in super deep dynasty leagues).
Hot Starts: Pitchers
Koo Chang-mo (NC Dinos): Perhaps the most impressive performer for the powerhouse NC Dinos, 23-year-old Koo Chang-mo, continued his fantastic start to the season. He was 11th in ERA (3.20) and first in strikeout rate (25.4%) among KBO pitchers with at least 100 innings last season and he’s picked up right where he left off. His 0.42 ERA and 1.96 FIP are unsurprisingly the best marks in the league so far for qualified pitchers, which include an eight inning gem on Wednesday where he struck out seven and allowed just one run against the Doosan Bears, who also happen to be one of the (if not THE) best offensive teams in the league. As Alex Fast mentioned in our Wednesday recap, Koo Chang-mo is a must-watch arm.
Drew Rucinski (NC Dinos): He kicked off the best start of his season with four perfect innings and wound up striking out nine Hanwa Eagles over eight shutout innings. His fastball and splitter were dancing all over the place Saturday. Rucinski features three different types of fastball (four-seamer, cutter, and splitter), and if he can keep them moving and working the top and bottom of the zones, he can continue to be a strong part of the Dinos rotation as they look towards winning a championship. His game score of 83 in his start this week is tied for third best so far.
Drew Gagnon (KIA Tigers): In a much-anticipated duel with Dan Straily and the Lotte Giants, Gagnon emerged victorious after twirling six shutout innings with nine strikeouts. The performance makes him the top strikeout artist in the KBO so far. He features a 92 mph fastball with plenty of movement, a change, and a slider. He never had much success in getting strikeouts in the majors or minors, but he’s certainly found something so far in the KBO. The KBO is a contact-oriented league, so the high strikeout numbers are pretty meaningful from Gagnon and will be interesting to keep an eye on going forward.
There are literally dozens of twitter accounts and websites you can be using to help you follow the KBO. Here are some of our favorites, many of which were referenced in this piece.
Feel like something was left out from the opening weeks of the KBO? Have a resource that you feel needs to be shared? Let us know in the comments!