I hope the folks around MLB are watching the KBO. If nothing else, it might remind everyone that baseball can be fun. American baseball is at an intense crossroads and it looks like things will get worse before they get much better. All of the doom and gloom around MLB is such a stark contrast to the intense passion and entertainment offered by the KBO, even with no fans in the stands. I hope that soon we call can enjoy baseball as much as the folks in Korea do.
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 8-14), starting with the current standings:
*taken from www.mykbostats.com
News and Notes
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:
- The losing streak is over, but the Hanwa Eagles made unfortunate history during the brutal 18-game stretch.
- In fact, it was so rough that they apologized to fans and their ex-manager.
- In happier Hanwa news, they’ve partnered with a food company to release special spicy dumplings. Someone will have to explain to me why we don’t have more MLB team food collaborations, especially considering how much we worship ballpark food. I WANT BASEBALL-THEMED DUMPLINGS TOO!
- 16-year-old Park Ming-seo, the first elementary school female to hit a home run in Korean Little League, made Jessica Mendoza’s month by looking up to her and sending her clips of her swing.
- LG Twins slugger Roberto Ramos hit the KBO’s version of the IL. Unlike the MLB version, there is no minimum stay, and players on the IL can be reactivated at any time. He hopes to return this week.
- Apparently, international free agents would have to go through an extended quarantine period before joining a team, so odds are likely against seeing former MLB talent added to KBO rosters this season.
- Oh Seung-hwan returned to the KBO last week and fired off a scoreless inning for the Samsung Lions, the same team he played for in his first KBO stint. After moderate success as the Cardinals closer, he pitched a few innings for the Blue Jays and Rockies before finally heading back to Korea, where he is the all-time saves leader.
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 (other than NC): Lotte Giants
They’ve now won seven of their last nine contests and are just a game and a half back from the fourth-place Kiwoom Heroes. After a sluggish start to the season for one of the most consistently popular teams in Korea, the Giants (and their new front office) have seemed more invigorated of late. This is supposed to be a bit of a rebuilding year for Lotte, as they finished dead last in the standings in 2019, but the bad start was worrisome to observers like Justin Choi, who wrote up their issues over at Prospect 365. Since that article, they’ve put together a ton of wins (granted, three were against the Eagles) and look like they could be a solid middle-tier team. And of course, I can’t mention the Giants without mentioning their ace, Dan Straily, who has allowed just two earned runs in his last 25.2 IP and dropped his ERA below 2.00. We’ll learn a lot from their coming series with Kiwoom and KT. If they can string together another three or four win week, it’ll be a great sign that their “remodel” is working and that they’ve taken the right steps in building their team mentality.
Worst Team: KT Wiz
We’ll lay off Hanwa for this one, mostly because their 18-game losing streak game them more than enough negative press. Instead, we’ll look at the KT Wiz, who are just 3-9 so far in June. Such a rough beginning to the month for a team that has been at least decent all year would usually suggest an unusually tough schedule, but unfortunately for KT, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, they’ve just been entirely incapable of scoring runs. They were on the wrong end of three shutouts in the last ten days and scored three or fewer runs in four other contests. While an offensive slump hurts any team that has one, it’s especially brutal to the Wiz, who are designed to be offense first, offense second, and offense third. Anchored by Mel Rojas Jr., the Wiz hope to slug opponents into submission and rank in the top four in most batting categories. They’ve had some success with it, but as their offense outside of Rojas dries up, they struggle significantly due to having one of (if not the) weakest rotations and bullpens in the league. They rank at or near the bottom in almost every pitching category with little hope of major rebound, as exactly zero pitchers for the Wiz with at least 15 batters faced have an ERA south of 4.00. Unless the rest of the offense can provide support for Rojas soon, they’ll find themselves virtually out of the 2020 season.
Biggest Surprise: SK Wyverns
How about those Wyverns! While they only won two games this week, it’s worth noting that the one-time basement dwellers (who were 2-12 in their first 14 games) have slowly and methodically scrawled their way into second-to-last and are threatening to climb even higher. They faced down the Twins and Tigers for their two series, who happen to be the third and fourth best offenses in the KBO, and only allowed more than four runs in one of those games. While it’d be a stretch to say they have strong pitching, Park Jong-hoon is following up his career year in 2019 with an even better performance in 2020. He’s increased his strikeouts and is allowing fewer free passes, and it’s having obvious results as he now has a 3.44 ERA and 1.25 WHIP through 34 innings. If they’re going to keep putting their rough past behind them, they’ll also need guys like former top-100 MLB prospect Nick Kingham to find a groove. This team probably can’t fight their way to the playoffs, but they could certainly regain some respect from their followers by continuing to grow throughout the season.
Best Performance: Hitters
Mel Rojas Jr. (KT Wiz): You can’t blame the Wiz’s struggles on Rojas, not after he went three straight games with a home run last week and drove in nine runs. While Roberto Ramos isn’t likely to miss much time, even one game is enough for Rojas to catch him on the home run leader board as he now only trails Ramos by one blast (12-11). With any luck, this will be the KBO’s version of Long Gone Summer but without HGH and with bigger bat flips.
Son Ah-seop (Lotte Giants): The Giants slugger has seven consecutive seasons of double digit home runs and steals, and while he doesn’t have many of either so far this season, he did go on an absolute tear last week. Now on an eight-game hitting streak, he also put together multi-hit performances in four of his six games and drove in eight runners. Equally impressive has been his plate discipline this season, as he now has taken a third strike just 13 times in 159 plate appearances and has 24 walks.
Lee Myung-gi (NC Dinos): Lee enters a new week with an eleven-game hitting streak that he took to a whole new level recently, tallying 13 hits and four walks in his last six games while scoring five runs and driving in five more. There isn’t and hasn’t been much power to his game, but by slapping the ball into play as the table-setter for star slugger Na Sung-bum behind Park Min-woo is exactly the kind of game plan the Dinos have relied upon as they’ve continued to dominate the KBO.
Best Performance: Pitchers
Dan Straily (Lotte Giants): The command issues are still gone, and therefore, Straily still rocks.
Dan Straily has now given up just 2 ER over his last 25.2 IP. That's a 0.70 ERA with a 0.94 WHIP.
His final line from today:
7.1 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 7 K. pic.twitter.com/eJQEyX9Lmf
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) June 12, 2020
The curveball continues to keep even the most contact-oriented KBO hitters off balance. While there aren’t a ton of pitchers in Korea that project into major league hurlers, the refinement of the curveball and the impressive command make it easy to picture Straily on an MLB mound as a starter or reliever.
Yang Hyun-jong (Kia Tigers): The former first overall pick and 2017 Korean Series MVP has had a long and fairly successful KBO career (14 seasons despite being only 32!) but was at his best last season, putting together a 2.29 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 184.2 innings. He’s been good-not-great for most of this season but put it in high gear in his last start. The lefty was actually posted to MLB in 2014, but the Tigers ultimately pulled him back due to not feeling like they got enough cash in the deal. Command struggles have historically been an issue for Yang, but he seems to have put those problems behind him over the last few seasons.
Today's #KBO K leader was Yang Hyun-jong:
7 IP, 3 ER, 2 H, 2 BB, 10 K
This is just the 6th SP performance from the KBO this year featuring 10+ K's. pic.twitter.com/K51v9dP5ub
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) June 14, 2020
Koo Chang-mo (NC Dinos): Another 7 inning start with just one earned run. He’s simply the best the KBO has to offer right now. Here’s one illustration of that, courtesy of @chartinghockey:
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!