Since the publication of our last breakdown on the KBO, two things have remained: the MLB has made no progress, and the KBO is still delivering quality baseball on a daily basis.
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 (June 1-7), starting with the current standings:
*taken from www.mykbostats.com
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:
- After a 14 game losing streak, the manager of the Hanwha Eagles, Han Yong-duk , has resigned. The manager was in the last year of his contract. He’s been replaced by Choi Won-Ho for the interim.
- The list of MLB free agents who are interested in moving to the KBO seems to be growing by the day with Matt Harvey and others recently joining the fray. This is a development that I think is incredibly crucial to focus on. These players could gain a distinct advantage were there to be either no MLB season or a lockout. Players like Dan Straily or Roberto Ramos could be primed to make a return to the MLB as they’re theoretically less of an injury risk; they’ve been actually playing and don’t need to worry about ramping up and they’ve lost no time to the squabbles happening overseas.
- The Doosan Bears acquired RHP Hong Gun-hee from the Kia Tigers.
- Koo Chang-mo was named the KBO Player of the Month.
- The NC Dinos (23-6) are off to an historic start.
- Former Pirate Kang Jung-ho is looking to make a comeback in the KBO where he hopes to be reunited with the Kiwoom Heroes.
- Taylor Motter was placed on waivers by the Kiwoom Heroes. In the event he isn’t claimed by a KBO team, he will become a FA however, in the KBO, that means he will not be able to be signed for the remainder of the 2020 season.
- Je Yeong Jo is scheduled to make his debut for the Doosan Bears on Tuesday. He will attempt to bolster a rotation hindered by the loss of Lee Yong-chan who will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
- The KBO announced that their minor leagues, the Futures League, will adopt “robot umpires” beginning in August, with the chance that the KBO will follow suit starting in the 2022 season.
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: Kiwoom Heroes
Listen, the answer to this question every week now has been the NC Dinos and for good reason. They are the best team in the KBO, they’re on an historic run (all hail Koo Chang-mo) and they had another fantastic week. However, I want to shine light on a team that was just as dominant this past week in the Kiwoom Heroes. The Heroes went stagnant a bit in the third week of May falling to 12-12 before winning five of their last six and seven of their last ten. This is thanks in large part to Eric Jokisch, Park Byung-ho and Kim Ha-seong. The latter we’ll get to in the “Best Performances: Hitters” section so let’s focus on Jokisch and Park. The 30-year old LHP has a 1.49 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP over 36.1 IP (six starts). FIP is certainly an important metric but because of the defense struggles frequently on display in the KBO it’s more important than ever. Jokisch’s 2.35 FIP is currently 2nd best in the KBO. Park Byung-ho was undoubtedly off to a sluggish start: he currently has a .216/.365/.402 which is way off from the .280/.405/.560 line he put up in the 2019 season. However, this week he showed some signs of life with a multi hit game against Hanhwa and a few multi-walk games. The Heroes have a tough week ahead though as they face the improving Lions and league best Dinos.
Worst Team: Hanwha Eagles
It feels awful to keep harping on the same team week after week but the Hanwha Eagles are in a complete tailspin right now. As aforementioned, they’ve already parted ways with their manager after suffering a 14 game losing streak that could only get worse as they face a Giants team that just swept the KT Wiz. They’ve demoted ten underperforming veterans to the Futures League, and promoted the hitting, assistant hitting, bullpen and pitching coach from that same team to the KBO. The Hanwha Eagles of this week are quite literally a different team from the one that started the season in virtually ever facet imaginable as it seems the new GM is making it known that this sort of losing streak will in no way be tolerated. There are some silver linings: Kim Min-woo had an 8 K outing (though he gave up 4 ER as he got bit by the HR bug twice) and Lee Yong-kyu is still hovering near .300. We’ll see what the refurbished Eagles can do this week against the Giants and Doosan Bears.
Biggest Surprise: Samsung Lions
The Samsung Lions continued down the path of recovery from what was a sluggish start to their KBO season. They started off the week by taking two of three from the then 2nd place LG Twins before losing the series against the SK Wyverns, a team they should’ve easily beaten. While the inconsistency is a bit frustrating for the Lions faithful, it’s worth noting that the clubs win% has now gone up for three consecutive weeks – .333 to .417 to .433 – thanks to players like Tyler Saladino, Kim Sang-Soo and Won Tae-in. The new manager of the Lions also deserves a lot of the praise as he seems to be incorporating more of a data-driven approach. While I’ll break down Saladino’s recent success below, it’s worth nothing that Kim Sang-Soo went 5-11 in the series against the Twins and is now slashing .316/.444/.389 on the year with 18 walks and 19 strikeouts. The Lions will look to keep their win% increase streak alive this week against the Heroes and KT Wiz.
Best Performance: Hitters
Kim Ha-seong (Kiwoom Heroes): The Heroes shortstop has been a large reason why the Heroes have had success recently. Kim has a recorded a hit in every game played in June as he’s extended his hitting streak to eight games. Of those eight games, five have been multi-hit games, with four coming this past week alone. While Kim is going to lack a bit in the power department – just 2 HR on the year – he’ll make up for it with speed. The 24-year old has stolen four bases and is the only player in the KBO with four+ stolen bases that is yet to be caught. Kim is currently 7th in the league in WAR, has a 141 wRC+ and a top 20 wOBA (.407).
Kim Ho-ryeong (LG Twins): The outfielder, who was sidelined to start the year with a back injury, has certainly been making up for lost time. In his first full week of the season he’s slashing .375/.423/.833 with 2 HR and 2 SB. Unlike some other players I’ve watched in the KBO, Kim is not afraid to be aggressive. Through 25 PA he has a 3.8 BB% and a 38.5 K%, the latter of which leads the league (min 20 PA). It’s worth noting that this seems to be a bit of anomaly for Kim as he’s generally more of a low 20% K-rate type of player. If past performance and BABIP (.583; highest in the KBO) are any indication, Kim likely won’t be able to keep this up in the coming weeks. It’s also worth noting that the 28-year old has struggled to stay on the field every season as he’s only recored over 300 PA once in his four year KBO tenure.
Tyler Saladino (Samsung Lions): In the opening weeks of the KBO season, I saw a lot of Tyler Saladino AB’s. The former White Sox utility infielder didn’t seem comfortable at the plate, was striking out a good amount and not making very good contact. One thing that stuck out though is that he didn’t seem too bogged down by this, as if he knew he just needed some time to figure it out and figure it out he did. After starting the year hitting .143 in his first 13 games, Saladino has done a complete 180 hitting .417 with 3 HR and 13 RBI over his last 10. He walked in five out of six games this past week, recording multiple walk games in three of those five. While Saladino is still struggling in the power department – this was never his strong suit while in the MLB either – his .487 SLG leads the Lions.
Roberto Ramos (LG Twins): What were the Rockies thinking? A finalist for the KBO Player of the Month, Roberto Ramos has arguably been the best offensive player in the league so far this year. For what is I believe the third consecutive week, Ramos sits alone atop the HR leaderboard with 12 (he added two more this past week with a multi-homer game against the Heroes). Ramos also leads the league in ISO (.402), is 2nd in the KBO in SLG (.775) and OPS (1.120), and is tied for 2nd in WAR (1.97). This past week, Ramos recorded three multi-hit games while reaching base successfully in all games. He is likely heading towards league MVP as well as another MLB contract.
Best Performance: Pitchers
Jung Chan-heon (LG Twins): The converted closer had his best performance of the year this week as he went 7 IP with 0 ER, 3 H, 11 K’s and 2 BB’s. According to MyKBOStats, this was tied for the 5th best pitching performance of the year. Before Jung’s start, there had only been four pitching performances with double digit strikeouts this season. Of those four only one – Dan Straily’s – featured more than 10 strikeouts. Then came Jung and his fantastic CB.
Today's @KBOleague K leader was Jung Chan-Heon:
7 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 11 K
He became the 5th SP to record 10+ K's this season and ties Dan Straily for the most Ks in an outing. pic.twitter.com/KKnXiRvYtt
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) June 4, 2020
While Jung had been struggling pretty mightily to begin the year, there’s a chance a lot of that could’ve been a learning curve (no pun intended). One thing is for sure, the 30-year old RHP will only go so far as that CB can take him. If he can show a consistent feel for the pitch, he’ll have a lot of success.
Dan Straily (Lotte Giants): There’s a lot to be excited about here when it comes to Dan Straily’s recent performance. He lowered his ERA on the year to 2.23, has given up just 1 ER over his last 18.1 frames, and has rid himself of his command issues. The thing that is MOST exciting however? This brand, spanking new curveball.
Dan Straily, Beautiful 77mph Curveball (release/spin). 🤩 pic.twitter.com/yYFJU4Mjg0
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 6, 2020
Straily has featured this pitch before every once in a while over the course of the season but this past week was the breakers new coming out party. If this pitch keeps being prominently featured, I would expect to see a few more high strikeout performances from Straily in the future.
Drew Rucinski (NC Dinos): The former Miami Marlin has been absolutely stellar so far this year and this past week was really no exception. Rucinski went 6 IP with 0 ER, 5 H, 8 K and 3 BB thanks in large part to a sinker that has proven itself to be one of the better pitches in the KBO this year. The RHP can frequently put the pitch in the zone when he needs to but KBO hitters can’t quite square it up (.195 BAA) thanks to some really gorgeous movement. Though he’s yet to show as much consistency with the pitch, Rucinski’s splitter was looking really good this past start, too.
This splitter from Drew Rucinski today was a beaut pic.twitter.com/omcg2Eaibs
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) June 5, 2020
Koo Chang-mo (NC Dinos): Death. Taxes. Me talking about Koo Chang-Mo. I stayed up very late to watch my favorite KBO pitchers most recent performance and …to be honest? It wasn’t his best. The FB command was erratic, the SL never really seemed to go where he wanted and he never really utilized his CH all that well. His final line: 6 IP, 1 ER, 8 H, 0 BB, 6 K. The 23-year old continues to showcase maturity beyond his years and was named the KBO Player of the Month for a reason. He doesn’t feature a single pitch a batting average allowed above .180. While he’ll need to add some velo to that FB if he’ll ever want to come play in the MLB, I expect Koo to keep dominating the KBO as the season progresses.
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!