For what feels like the billionth straight week, the MLB and MLBPA are locked in negotiations while halfway around the world, the KBO is delivering high quality baseball. The Kiwoom Heroes recorded back-to-back-to-back walk-off’s against the Lotte Giants and SK Wyverns. The league worst Hanwha Eagles upset the league leading NC Dinos. There were web gems, players dancing, cold-blooded catchers, head first slides, knuckleballs, and, of course, bat-flips.
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 16-21), 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:
- As baseball fans, we often forget that the players we’re watching and evaluating are human beings dealing with issues we may not be aware of. At the beginning of January, Adrian Sampson’s father was diagnosed with cancer. Just four short months later, he passed away. Not only did Adrian Sampson have to navigate a new culture, a pandemic, being 5,000 miles away from his family, living isolated in quarantine, and who knows what else, he had to somehow deal with the incredibly difficult misfortune of losing a loved one. Oh yea, and try to play baseball in South Korea. This past Thursday however, with “dad” written on the brim of his hat, Adrian overcame some early performances and twirled a gem.
- After a shaky beginning to his 2020 campaign, William Cuevas hit the IL with a hip injury. After three weeks, he made his triumphant return on Sunday going 7 IP with 0 ER, 0 BB and 5 K. The 29-year old righty will look to continue his success against the lowly Hanwha Eagles next weekend.
- Kiwoom Heroes’ infielder Kim-Hye-song seems to have unlocked some power. “He’s slugging at a .491 clip after never posting a slugging percentage higher than .367 in any season before”.
- It’s apparently common for KBO players to be piggybacked off the field when injured.
- Literal garbage person Addison Russell signed a contract with the Kiwoom Heroes. A representative for the Kiwoom Heroes said, “Obviously, what he did was wrong, but we felt it wasn’t bad enough that he should no longer play baseball”. I’d kindly direct them to Melisa Reidy’s blog post.
- Eui Ji Yang (vertigo) was placed on the IL. Through 32 games and 125 PA, the Dinos catcher was slashing .294/.368/.560.
- The Hanwha Eagles traded RP Lee Tae-yang to the SK Wyverns for OF Ro Soo-kwang. For those still getting familiar with KBO teams, this would be the equivalent of the Tigers making a trade with the Orioles.
- Former St. Louis Cardinal and Colorado Rockie Oh Seung-hwan – who has one of my favorite nicknames in “Final Boss” – recorded his 400th professional save this past week.
- There was a delay in the Doosan/LG game because the called upon pinch hitter was in the bathroom. He would later strike out.
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
While the Kiwoom Heroes didn’t make any headway in the standings, they had arguably the best week of any team as they took two out of three from the Lotte Giants before sweeping the lowly Wyverns. We talk frequently about what is referred to as KBO-ness – the unpredictability of the KBO – and it was on full display from the Heroes this past weekend. I mentioned already how the Heroes had back-to-back-to-back walk-offs, but what I didn’t mention was how in two out of those three games, they never led until the end. As a matter of fact, the Heroes had only recorded three hits in their game against the Wyverns before taking advantage of some untimely walks in the bottom of the 9th to secure their then third consecutive victory. While there were a few notable offensive performances from guys like Lee Jung-hoo and Kim Ha-Seong, it was Ju Hyu-sang who may have made the biggest impact. The third string catcher hit a pinch hit walk-off double in the bottom of the tenth against the Giants. It’s also worth noting that the Heroes starting pitching kept all of their games close. Not a single starting pitcher gave up more than 3 ER with five out of six performances resulting in a quality start.
Worst Team: SK Wyverns
While the Hanwha Eagles only one won game this past week, the SK Wyverns didn’t win any. The Wyverns started off the week by losing back-to-back extra inning games against the KT Wiz and it kept going downhill from there. The team has now lost nine of their last ten games and are about to face two of the leagues best offenses in the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins. The good news is that, in large part, SK’s pitching isn’t really to blame. Moon Seung-won threw 6 IP of shutout baseball as he extended his quality start streak to four and the inconsistent Kim Tae-hoon had one of his better starts of the year against the Wiz giving up just 2 ER over 5 IP (the bar sadly isn’t that high for the 30-year old lefty). The bad news is that the hitting has continued to be abysmal. If you were to look at the qualified batting average leaders right now, you wouldn’t find a single Wyvern in the top 40. Only one hitter, Jeong Choi, has an OBP greater than .400 and only two hitters – Jamie Romak and Choi again – have a wRC+ above 100. Considering that arguably the Wyverns best hitter Dong Min-han is likely going to be out until the end of June with a leg injury, I don’t see the Wyverns turning into an offensive powerhouse any time soon.
Biggest Surprise: Samsung Lions
I wrote about the Lions two weeks ago as a team I was interested in keeping my eye on. The organization seems to have shifted to taking a more analytical approach and, recently, it has been paying off for them. Since that piece two weeks ago, the Lions have won a respectable seven of their last twelve but have continued to hover around .500 and at 7th place in the standings. In that time, Tyler Saladino has managed to stay hot as his once anemic slash has improved to .291/.415/.513 thanks in large part to him hitting .350 this past week. 30-year old second baseman Kim Sang-su continues putting up career best numbers as he hit .384 this week improving his season slash to .324/.434/.396. While David Buchanan gave up more hits than he has since the end of May, he also managed to lower his ERA to 3.62 while recording 7 K’s and Baek Jung-hyun continued to impress with a fantastic performance against an above league average Tigers offense. The Lions have a good chance to climb the standings this week as they face the Hanwha Eagles before traveling to Busan to take on the 6th place Giants.
Best Performance: Hitters
Dixon Machado (Lotte Giants): The Giants had a rough go of it this week. All four of their losses were in one run games, they lost back-to-back extra inning games, and lost two of three to the #8 KT Wiz and their awful bullpen. One of the bright spots however was the performance of former Detroit Tiger Dixon Machado. After a slow start to his KBO campaign, Machado has been a man possessed recording a hit in every game this week and extending his hitting streak to seven games. This past week alone Machado hit .560 with five multi-hit games, three of which were three hit efforts. While Machado has never been a power guy – he recorded just 2 HR over two seasons in the MLB (~400 PA) – he did add two 2B to his line this week. As a result of this recent success, Machado has seen himself climb from 9th in the batting order to as high as 5th.
Kuk Hae-sung (Doosan Bears): The Doosan Bears outfielder is the sort of player I always end up rooting for. Originally signed by the Chicago Cubs in 2007, Kuk’s elbow problems forced him to return back to the KBO before he even appeared in a minor league game. Since then, the now 30-year old has struggled to both find and take advantage of playing time; in his seven year KBO career he’s recorded more than 100 PA just once back in 2016. In his brief stint with the Bears in 2019, he slashed .171/.293/.257 over 41 PA. This year however, Kuk is off to a fantastic start. Though he didn’t join the team until the end of last week, Kuk Hae-sung is slashing .308/.379/.462 thanks to a mini hot streak he went on this past weekend which included his first HR since 2017. While I wouldn’t anticipate Kuk maintaining this kind of success, it’s still nice to see a seemingly perennial quad-A player have success.
Lee Jung-hoo (Heroes): Success is nothing new for this 21-year old right fielder. Lee has been playing in the KBO since 2017 and has hit higher than .300 every season with an impressive .342/.405/.466 career slash. This week featured more of the same for Lee. The contact machine hit .500 including a four-hit game on Tuesday against Lotte. Something a bit out of the ordinary happened for Lee this week, however: he recorded his 7th HR of the year. Out of context that may not seem like a big deal but it’s actually a new career high for Lee. Despite getting over 400 AB all three years of his career, Lee has never recorded more than 6 HR. Here we are, about 45 games into the season and Lee Jung-hoo is on his way to his first 10+ HR season. If the power continues to be there, there’s a good chance the young outfielder could make his way to the MLB someday soon.
Kim Hyun-soo (LG Twins): I won’t lie: I have a soft spot for Kim Hyun-soo. The former Oriole was booed on Opening Day of the 2016 season – in what I consider to be one of the most shameful displays in Baltimore Orioles history – and then went to slash .302/.382/.420 over 300 PA. Since Kim’s return to the KBO in 2018 he’s failed to hit below .300 and 2020 is shaping up to be no different. The LG Twins left fielder hit .291 this week (was .350 before an 0-4 on Sunday) with a double and a home run and had a modest four game hit streak going before an 0-2 performance on Friday. He currently leads the team in doubles (15), runs (32), K% (9.3), and is second only to Robert Ramos in wRC+ (136) and wOBA (.398).
Best Performance: Pitchers
Dan Straily (Lotte Giants): Dan Straily has been a bit of a mainstay in these weekly roundups and that’s for good reason, he’s arguably been the best pitcher in the KBO for the past month. I promised myself earlier in the week though that he would have to do something spectacular to make this week’s edition and…here we are. Straily set the record for most K’s in a game this season with 12.
Have a day, Dan Straily!!
His 12 Ks are the most from an SP in an outing this year. He now passes Koo Chang-mo (52) for the KBO K lead with 62. pic.twitter.com/fwMi9QRHSk
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) June 18, 2020
Koo Chang-mo would end up striking out nine so, as of today, Dan Straily is still the KBO’s K leader. I frequently get asked: did he do something to improve or is the KBO that much different performance wise and the answer is yes. The KBO is the equivalent of AA or AAA baseball so while the hitters are fantastic at making contact, they’re not at the same caliber as most MLB hitters. With that said, Dan Straily has made tweaks to both his change and curveball which has only served to set up his fastball to be more successful. This is no fluke. Dan Straily will, in all likelihood, continue to have a very successful 2020 KBO campaign.
Lee Seung-ho (Kiwoom Heroes): Lee’s performance didn’t get as much attention because it happened opposite Dan Straily and he has an ERA north of five. However, a little over a week ago, that ERA was north of seven thanks to a 2.1 IP, 8 ER performance. The southpaw seems to have righted the ship a bit as he’s given up zero ER over his last 13 IP including a 4 H gem against a potent NC Dinos offense. While the Giants don’t pack the same punch the Dinos do, Lee was able to minimize any damage over seven shutout innings. The positive performances seem to coincide with Lee figuring out his command issues; he’s now walked just two in his last two appearances with seven strikeouts. If Lee can remain consistent, he’ll do wonders for a Heroes team in desperate need of pitching.
Lim Chan-gyu (LG Twins): The 27-year old righty has been a bit up and down over the course of the 2020 campaign but when it comes to beating up on poor offensive teams, he’s pretty consistent. Lim is the prototypical KBO pitcher in that he’s not going to blow by you with velocity, his fastball sits about 88. Where he differs is that he uses his ability to mix speeds and movement to get K’s as opposed to inducing weak contact. For example, he’ll use that 88 mph fastball at the top of the zone, then drop in a 65 mph curve and make hitters look completely silly. 88 looks a hell of a lot faster when 65 is coming right behind it. When the fastball isn’t there – and his .311 BAA on the pitch is a testament to the fact that it often can go missing – Lim can’t get to his curveball and can get in trouble. When he does get into breaking pitch counts (something that shouldn’t be a thing, in my opinion) his curve and its .111 BAA can be very effective.
Koo Chang-mo (NC Dinos): Koo Chang-mo now leads the league in:
ERA – 0.82
Hits Allowed – 25
K% – 31%
BAA – .134
WHIP – 0.65
FIP – 2.45
kFIP – 2.03
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when he pitches, it is must watch television.
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!
-Featured image by Justin Paradis
Those Dinos so hot right now.