The KBO promised us lots of bat flips, lead changes, and late inning heroics.
It’s delivered 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.
Let’s kick of our inaugural article by taking a look at what’s happened since the KBO’s Opening Day on May 5th.
Standings provided by https://mykbostats.com/
Walk-off balks, players winning free cars, gorgeous bat flips; and that’s just what happened yesterday! 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:
- After a 1-3 start, the LG Twins pulled off an impressive six game winning streak including a walk-off single off the bat of the bat of Keun-woo Jeong.
- The KT Wiz had a rough go of it this past week. Not only did they lose four consecutive one-run games, they had three extra inning walk-offs in a row. Since that brutal stretch however, there offense has exploded for 33 runs.
- The Kiwoom Heroes have been very streaky to start off the year. After stringing together four consecutive wins that included a sweep against the Hanwha Eagles, they went on to lose four consecutive games. They broke the losing streak this past Sunday with a win against the LG Twins.
- Speaking of the LG Twins, they were victorious in both games of the KBO’s first doubleheader of the season on Saturday thanks to a 6 IP of shutout baseball from Casey Kelly in game one and a go-ahead single from Eun-sung Chae in game two.
- The best offensive team in the KBO so far has been the Doosan Bears. Led by Jose Miguel Fernandez and Jae-il Oh, the Bears as a collective are slashing .337/.385 /.530 with a .386 wOBA. The worst offensive teams have been the Samsung Lions and SK Wyverns who are both sporting .287 wOBA’s.
- The best staff so far has been the Chang-mo Koo led NC Dinos and their 3.26 ERA. If you go by FIP however, the best staff belongs to Won-tae Choi and the Kiwoom Heroes with their 4.14 FIP. Bringing up the rear in this small sample size are the Doosan Bears and their unsightly 6.24 ERA.
- Recently, the KBO hired a new director to oversee the umpires and he’s not taking flak from anyone. After a complaint from one of the veteran players on the Hanwha Eagles (Yong-kyu Lee), an entire crew was demoted to the minors. While this seemed to be a pretty unprecedented move, the league decided to demote more umpires a few days later.
- There have been a lot more HR’s than usual to start the season. Over the full 2019 season, there were 0.70 HR/G. In 2020, that number has skyrocketed to 2.00 HR/G. Now that could of course be a small sample size but there are concerns that there’s something going on with the ball. The KBO did some random testing on the balls and determined that the balls were not juiced while players have mentioned that, though the ball isn’t the same as the juiced 2018 ball, it’s also not “deflated” like the 2019 ball was. A report from the Yonhap News Agency suggests that batters are also hitting the ball harder than they were a year ago.
- A pitcher got in trouble for yelling too loud.
- As KBO insider Daniel Kim reports, injuries – specifically those to the lower half – have been occurring a bit more frequently than usual.
- KBO teams are utilizing unique ways to bring baseball to their fans. The NC Dinos frequently have cardboard cutouts behind home plate that feature the faces of different fans. They’ve also recently announced the “Recall Fans Project” to get American fans in on the fun.
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
“Wow. You took the team with the best record and labeled them ‘the best team’. Hard hitting journalism there.” Relax, sardonic inner monologue, there’s more to it than that. The NC Dinos finished the 2019 season four games above .500 and were eliminated in the Wild Card round. While they featured some of the best hitting in the league last year, their pitching was a bit more middle of the pack. Cut to 2020 and the Dinos have the best pitching staff in the KBO. Their 3.10 ERA is one of three team ERAs below 4 thanks to a staff led by Chang-Mo Koo (0.00 ERA over 14 IP) and bolstered by Mike Wright (2.45 ERA over 11 IP), Young-gyu Kim (3.27 ERA over 11 IP), and Drew Rucinski (3.63 ERA over 17.2 IP). The Dinos have also been helped by some clutch relief work – something that seems a bit rare to start off the KBO season – as they’re tied for the league lead with 5 SV.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Dinos have slightly struggled out of the gate with a middle of the pack .281/.369 /.482 slash line. Last year’s KBO WAR leader Eui-ji Yang is off to a slower start hitting .294 with 0 HR; a far cry from the .354 AVG with 20 HR he put up over 118 games in 2019. Min-woo Park and his .432 / .479 / .659 line however is currently 3rd in the KBO in WAR. Aaron Altherr (.206/.289 /.412) is struggling to live up to expectations while Sung-Bum Na is struggling to make contact; though his .412 OBP is top 40 in the league. The Dinos have been very aggressive on the base paths and it is not woring out for them. Their 67% caught stealing rate leads the league. The fact that the Dinos have been able to jump out to a 10-1 record with hitting that is yet to reach it’s ceiling and subpar base running only proves that they should be a force to be reckon with for the majority of the KBO season.
Worst Team: SK Wyverns
Two weeks in and the SK Wyverns have the 2nd worst AVG, 2nd worst ERA and worst OBP in the KBO. Considering this team finished 88-55 in 2019, advancing to the Playoff (KBO equivalent of the semi-finals), I’d say they’re a bit shell shocked with their 1-10 record. While a few of these games have been close – a 2-1 loss to the Giants (blown save in the 8th) and a 3-2 loss to the Twins (walk-off single in the 9th) – a majority of these losses have been blowouts. The Wyverns have given up 6.46 R/G while scoring 3.09 R/G. While the Wyverns led the league in ERA in 2019, they lost a fair amount of pitching talent in the offseason. In an attempt to keep their staff at the top of the league, they signed Nick Kingham who has not pitched well. In two starts, Kingham has gone 10.2 IP with a 6.75 ERA and a 1.88 WHIP. The slow start is likely due to injury however as Kingham was recently placed on the IL – new to the KBO this year – with elbow pain.
In 2019, Jeong Choi was arguably the Wyverns best hitter. He slashed .292/.399 /.519 with 29 HR and just 92 strikeouts. While he’s still not striking out all that often, Choi’s hitting a meager .167 with a .282 wOBA. Of the six players that have played at least ten games for the Wyverns, only three are hitting above the mendoza line with just two hitting over .250. There is a bit of a silver lining in Dong-min Han however who is tied with Preston Tucker for the HR lead with five. The outfielder is slashing .351/.409 /.811 with a whopping .459 wOBA and a top 15 WAR in the league.
Biggest Surprise: Lotte Giants
The Lotte Giants were predicted to finish near the bottom of the standings this year. Two weeks in and they’re currently tied for 2nd place in the KBO thanks to some great hitting and a two walk-offs. The Giants began the year winning six of their first seven before losing the rubber match to both the Doosan Bears and the Hanwha Eagles (the latter of which was the aforementioned balk-off). Even with the recent struggles however, the team has a lot to look forward to. Dan Straily – whose interview you should check out here – is currently 5th in the league in K/9 (10.06) due in large part to a fantastic start against the Wyverns where he went 7 IP with 3 H, 0 ER, 11 K and 0 BB. Thanks to Ah-seop Son’s .460 wOBA and Jun-woo Jeon’s 4 HRs (tied for 2nd most in the KBO), the Giants are currently top three in AVG, OBP and SLG. The Giants will face the 5-7 KIA Tigers and 7-5 Kiwoom Heroes this week in an attempt to prove to the KBO that they belong at the top of the standings.
Hot Starts: Hitters
Preston Tucker (KIA Tigers): The former Astros prospect has been off to a torrential start to the KBO season. He’s currently tied for the HR lead with 5, leads the league in wOBA (.586) and has a comical 258 wRC+. While Tucker was already sporting a low 11% K-rate last season, he’s virtually cut that number in half to start the new season. Fewer K’s with more power? AND he gets to drive a new KIA Sorento? Guys living on cloud nine.
Jose Miguel Fernandez (Doosan Bears): I feel like I sound like a broken record at this point but I think Jose Miguel Fernandez can still provide a lot of value at the Major League level. His performance so far in the KBO has backed that up as Fernandez’s .479 AVG and .519 OBP lead the KBO while his .539 wOBA is second only to Preston Tucker. While he’s only hit two homers, one of them went far enough that I think it should’ve been counted twice.
Min-woo Park (NC Dinos): There are a lot of impressive metrics that I can mention about Park. He’s got a .485 wOBA. As I mentioned in the “Best Team” paragraph, he’s currently 3rd in the KBO in WAR. He has a 1.116 OPS. All of these pale in comparison to what is truly the most impressive stat for Park in this young season: he has a 2.1% K rate. 48 plate appearances. 1 strikeout. That one strikeout? Opening Day. The Korean Willians Astudillo has not struck out since May 5th.
Roberto Ramos (LG Twins): After slashing .309/.400/.580 in AAA last year and earning a spot in the Arizona Fall League, there was some surprise that Ramos was going to be heading to Korea. If he keeps performing the way he has been however, the stint could be a brief one. Over 44 PA, Ramos is hitting .378 with a .521 wOBA and 4 HR.
Hot Starts: Pitchers
Chang-mo Koo (NC Dinos): Not only does Chang-mo Koo lead the league in ERA (tough not to when it’s a big fat 0) but he also leads the league in FIP (1.56), too. The southpaw does a fantastic job of painting the corners with his fastball and getting swings and misses on a slider that he’s able to perfectly locate at the bottom of the zone. If Koo can add a tick or two of velocity to his fastball (hits 91, sits 89-90), I could see him making the leap to the MLB at some time in the future.
Odrisamer Despaigne (KT Wiz): The MLB journeyman currently leads KBO in pitcher WAR and is one of three SPs with a sub 2 FIP. Despaigne has something that a majority of pitchers in the KBO don’t have: velocity. While his FB sits in the mid 90’s – hardly a flamethrower by MLB standards – the KBO is a different league and mid-to-high 90’s can often be a bit difficult to catch up to for some hitters. Despaigne is also doing a really great job locating too as he’s currently sporting a 2.9 BB%.
Aaron Brooks (KIA Tigers): FIP is a crucial metric to our understanding of a pitchers success and when viewed through the lens of the KBO it takes a different form. The KBO is a more contact driven league with a drastically higher league average BABIP. Therefore, any large gaps between ERA and FIP are really important to pay attention to. The 1.40 difference between Aaron Brooks‘ ERA and FIP may not seem all that significant but it’s important to note that his 1.60 FIP is currently is 2nd in the KBO behind only Chang-mo Koo. Brooks has also thrown 18 IP without giving up a single walk.
Dan Straily (Lotte Giants): One of the best resources for KBO statistics is MyKBOStats and one of the many metrics they keep track of is Game Score. If you click on that link and look at number three you’ll see a familiar name. Dan Straily became the first SP to record double digit strikeouts in the 2020 season and is the only SP so far to strike out more than 10. He’s been tinkering with a new curveball that’s been a lot of fun to watch while continuing to utilize his changeup and slider to get whiffs below the zone.
Jae-il Oh (Doosan Bears): For the past two years, Oh has been a very consistent offensive player for the Bears. In 2018 and 2019, his AVG hovered slightly below .300 as he seemed to sell out for power a bit with back-to-back 20+ HR seasons. So far in ’20 however, the power has remained and the average has skyrocketed. The first baseman is currently hitting .404 (6th in the KBO) with a .499 wOBA and a .319 ISO thanks to 3 HR and 6 2B. Considering Oh’s .516 BABIP and 25.5 K%, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that AVG start to creep down in the coming weeks but, for now, he’s a must watch AB.
Yi-hwan Kim (Hanwha Eagles): The 19-year old made his KBO debut in 2019 and it didn’t really go as planned. The RHP made eight starts with a 4.26 ERA, an ugly 1.66 WHIP and a 8.8 K%. While Kim’s K% hasn’t improved all that much to start the year – just 10.6% in 11 IP – his ERA (1.64) certainly has. Kim is never going to be one to rack up the strikeouts but he’s doing a better job at inducing weak contact and stranding base runners. The 2.58 gap between his ERA and 4.22 FIP hints at some regression ahead but the young arm has been a nice surprise so far for the Eagles.
There are literally dozens of twitter accounts and websites you can be using to help you follow the KBO. Here are some of my 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!