As the calendar turns to June, and the MLB season remains in limbo, KBO baseball has been nothing short of a godsend. Through dramatic wins and losses, bat flips, and plain raw emotion, the league has quickly endeared itself to baseball fans everywhere.
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 24-31), starting with the current standings:
The KBO has delivered a ton of KBO-ness in its first month 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 just want to mention again 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 have now held on to the 2nd best record in the league for over two weeks. They’ve been absolutely CARRIED on offense by Mexican-born Roberto Ramos, who was playing for the Albuquerque Isotopes at this time last season. The 25-year-old Ramos is an MVP candidate right now and has hit 10 home runs through the first 23 games of the year, and is the only player with more than seven dingers. That number becomes even more impressive with the context that the entire Lotte Giants roster has hit a combined 15 home runs in their 23 games.
- The past week was not kind to the Hanwha Eagles, who entered the week on a two-game losing streak and then went winless on the week. They have lost eight consecutive games to drop to the bottom of the league standings and showed they can lose in a myriad of ways. Hanwha endured a 15-4 thrashing last Wednesday, and a 9-3 loss on Saturday, to accompany 4 other losses all by 3 runs or less.
- On the other end, the SK Wyverns’s four-game winning streak is the longest active one in the league and allowed the Wyverns to pass the Eagles in the standings to finally escape the basement. It has still been a lean year thus far for SK fans, as their 3-16 start was so abysmal that they more than doubled their total wins with this streak. Can they keep it going into the summer? Do you believe in miracles?
- Former MLB player Taylor Motter had been slumping in the KBO and was released by the Kiwoom Heroes on Saturday. Motter was hitting only .114/.135/.200 in his 37 plate appearances and had recently caused some controversy on social media, where he retweeted a complaint from his wife to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul concerning the food she was receiving during a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Motter has since deleted the tweet and apologized, but with his struggles both on and off the field, the Heroes decided it was time to move in another direction.
- A growing number of KBO viewers have expressed frustration with the broadcasts of games on ESPN. The most common complaints have been about announcers not discussing the game going on around them, and only focusing on MLB politics.
- Former MLB pitcher and friend of Pitcher List Dan Straily talked last week about how eerie it continues to be playing in front of no fans. To Straily’s point, it is pretty bananas to be able to hear the air leave a diving shortstop’s lungs from the mound.
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
As much as I’d like to move in a different direction here, the NC Dinos remain the top team for another week. The LG Twins gave them a very real run as they’ve gone 8-2 over their last 10 games to get to within 2 games in the standings, but the Dinos have ultimately just been too dominant to unseat.
Heading into June, the Dinos lead the league’s offensive ranks in homers, OBP, OPS, and RBI, and are in the top-3 of runs scored/game, batting average, and stolen bases. Kang Jin-sung, Yang Ui-ji, and Na Sung-bum are all OPS-ing over 1.000 individually, and Na’s seven homers are the second-most of any individual player. Kang meanwhile, has five homers of his own over only 63 plate appearances and the 26-year-old currently is pacing the entire KBO in WRC+ at 241 per Fangraphs.
The other reason the Dinos simply couldn’t be pushed from the #1 spot here is their pitching, which also continues to be the most dominant in the KBO. At this point, the Dinos as a team lead the league in ERA, WHIP, and saves, while also ranking among the top-3 in total strikeouts. Koo Chang-moo (0.51 ERA) has been absolutely masterful, and Drew Rucinski (2.51 ERA) and former MLB player Mike Wright (3.21 ERA) have also each been very strong through their first five starts and give the Dinos an intimidating top of the rotation.
Worst Team: Hanwha Eagles
An 0-6 week that is part of an ongoing eight-game losing streak is enough to land the Hanwha Eagles the dubious honor of Worst Team. As mentioned earlier, the Eagles lost in blowouts, and they lost in close games, but man did they lose. At only 3.57 runs scored per game, they are more than a half-run lower on average than any other team offensively, and while they are “only” allowing the third-most earned runs per game, their pitching staff has been in rough shape as well.
Individually, Noh Si-hwan’s three homers pace the team, but his .231/.268/.832 slash line is only even mediocre because of his high slugging. Among Hanwha’s regulars with over 30 at-bats, only Noh even has an OPS over .771.
On the pitching side, there are some more reasons for optimism, starting with former MLB pitcher Warwick Saupold. The 30-year-old starter leads the team in innings pitched, and across his five starts has gone 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA and already has a complete-game shutout this season despite a very underwhelming 4.5 K/9. 24-year-old Kim Min-woo and 19-year-old Kim Yi-Hwan both have flashed in their starts as well, and carry ERAs of 3.90 and 3.50 respectively.
Biggest Surprise: SK Wyverns
The Wyverns’ week was arguably the best of anyone in one regard, as their current four-game winning streak allowed them to narrowly escape the basement of league standings for the first time in weeks. Their three-game sweep of the Hanwha Eagles toppled Hanwha to last place instead and should have the Wyverns feeling confident heading into their series against the first-place NC Dinos starting on Tuesday.
The Wyverns’ hot streak was primarily the result of their offense clicking, as they scored six or more runs in each of their four victories while outscoring their opponents 27-14 in those games.
Han Dong-Min had been enjoying a strong season for the Wyverns up until May 24th when he was diagnosed with a microfracture in his right shin and is currently expected to miss an estimated 6-8 weeks. Even after missing the past week, Han is leading the team in home runs and OPS, and it makes the strong 4-2 week from SK all the more impressive since they’ve done it without arguably their best everyday player.
Hot Weeks: Hitters
Jose Miguel Fernandez (Doosan Bears): One of these weeks, maybe Fernandez will miss the notable hitters list, but it certainly won’t be this week. Fernandez followed up a rare hitless performance on 5/26 with at least one hit in each of his next five games to close out the week, including multiple hits in three of them. The 32-year-old leads the league in total hits with his 44, and only Fernandez and Mel Rojas Jr can boast having both 20+ RBI and runs scored. Fernandez’s week also saw him walk more than he struck out, and he now has an even 8:8 K/BB for the season.
Kang Jin-sung (NC Dinos): Currently riding his own five-game hitting streak that has included two doubles and a home run, Kang has been raking. He hit over .400 for the week for the first-place Dinos and raised his WRC+ to a league-leading 241 as mentioned earlier. Kang is an extremely disciplined hitter with a great grasp of the strike zone, demonstrated by his 0.86 BB/K, and just in case there was any question that he wasn’t 100% legit, his .566 wOBA also is the best in the entire league.
Kim Hyun-Soo (LG Twins): Kim has been on an absolute heater, and has raised his slash line all the way up to .391/.446/.576 after enjoying a week where he went 9-for-22 with four doubles. The former MLB outfielder specifically feasted on the Hanwha Eagles’ pitching in the first half of the week, hitting three of his four doubles and reaching base a ridiculous nine times during a three-game series. Kim has always displayed a great hit tool and is currently on a pace to challenge the best offensive seasons of his career, as the 32-year-old currently carries a 166 WRC+ to accompany a gaudy 8.9% walk rate and minuscule 6.9% strikeout rate.
Hot Starts: Pitchers
Koo Chang-mo (NC Dinos): Until Koo slows down, he’s going to be mentioned as one of the standout pitchers. Koo ends the month of May leading the entire league in a multitude of categories including ERA, FIP, WHIP and BABIP allowed. On May 26th in his most recent start, he cruised through 7 innings for the win over the Kiwoom Heroes, scattering seven baserunners and racking up seven strikeouts while only allowing one run. Koo is must-watch right now, as he currently is pitching dominantly for the most dominant team in the league.
Dan Straily (Lotte Giants): Straily was masterful in both of his two starts last week, twirling 6 and 1/3 innings of shutout ball in a 1-0 win over the Samsung Lions on 5/26 and 5 innings of one-run ball against the Doosan Bears on 5/31. Straily has enjoyed success so far in his debut season in the KBO, as he currently has a sterling 2.70 ERA through six games and has struck out more than a batter per inning. With the exception of a single misstep against the Kia tigers back on 5/20 where Straily was tagged with five earned runs, he has not allowed more than 2 earned runs in any other single start.
Odrisamer Despaigne (KT Wiz): Despaigne’s performance on 5/27 was more than enough to earn him some recognition, as the former MLB journeyman twirled eight innings of shutout baseball on 112 pitches. The 33-year-old struck out seven Kia Tigers in a 5-0 win, and has been phenomenal so far for the Wiz. His ability to limit walks has been on display, as despite allowing three walks in this past start, he only has allowed a total of two others in every other start combined. Despaigne will be a critical piece for the Wiz moving forward if they want to contend, as Bae Jae-sung and Despaigne are the only starting pitchers the Wiz have that currently sport ERAs under 5.00.
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!