A Brief Introduction to Some KBO Awards

As I’m still scaling the learning curve when it comes to the Korea Baseball Organization, I got a little confused during this week’s conversations with Josh Lindblom 린드블럼 and Eric Hacker 해커, two pitchers who found greater success in the KBO than they had in MLB — to the point that both were recognized with end-of-season awards. Here I’ll offer some clarity, with a hat tip to MyKBO’s Dan Kurtz for pointing me in the right direction.

Every year, the KBO recognizes one player at each position (outfielders are grouped together) for its Golden Glove Awards, as voted upon by baseball writers, broadcasters, and analysts. In its inaugural year (1982), the awards were intended to be defense-based, as with its stateside counterpart, the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, but they now recognize the overall best player at each position. League leaders in major offensive and pitching categories earn automatic nominations, while other candidates must meet certain thresholds to qualify. For position players, it’s defensive innings at a position, while for starting pitchers, it’s enough innings to qualify for the ERA title (144, one per scheduled team game, as is also the case in MLB). Relievers can qualify by recording at least 10 wins, 30 saves, or 30 holds.

In 2015, Hacker was named as the Golden Glove winner among pitchers, that after winning a league-high 19 games (against five losses) for the NC Dinos while placing second in innings (204, six behind Lindblom), ERA (3.13), and ERA+ (153), and third in WAR (5.6). He was the middle pitcher in a run of three straight foreign-born pitchers to win, with Andy Van Hekken 밴헤켄 doing so for the Nexxen Heroes in 2014, and Dustin Nippert 니퍼트 winning for the Doosan Bears in ’16. Lindblom won in both 2018 and ’19. In the former year, he went 15-4, with league bests in ERA (2.88), ERA+ (175), and WAR (6.8), while in the latter he went 20-3, placing first in wins and second in ERA (2.59) and WAR (6.9), and third in ERA+ (164). As with MLB’s awards, while the stats are important, an element of subjectivity is bound to creep to the voting, leaving room to quibble over results.

Via a media vote, Lindblom also won KBO MVP honors in 2019, the third pitcher in four years to win after Nippert in ’16, and the KIA Tigers’ Hyeon-jong Yang in ’17. As if his mantelpiece weren’t already full enough, Lindblom also won the Choi Dong-won Award in both 2018 and ’19.

Amid my crash course in the KBO, I understood the Choi Dong-wan Award to be the league’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award, but in my conversation with Hacker, he referred to “the year I won the Cy Young over there” and I simply scratched my head, made a note to ask Kurtz, and moved on. When I touched base, Kurtz explained that the Golden Glove is the highest award one can get in the KBO save for MVP, and that while the Choi Dong-won Award was created to be a counterpart to the Cy Young, it isn’t officially recognized by the league.

The award is named for a South Korean pitcher (Dong-won Choi, using the English custom of putting the surname last) who first gained prominence for his exploits as an amateur, which included nearly completing back-to-back no-hitters in high school in 1975 and starring in the ’77 and ’81 Intercontinental Cup tournaments. The latter tournament, played in Edmonton, drew the interest of Wayne Morgan, a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays, who went so far as to sign Choi to a $250,000 major league contract. With the KBO in the planning stages, the South Korean government threatened to jail Choi if he tried to leave the country to play. A year later, they threatened him with mandatory military service before leaving; he would get a waiver if he stayed to pitch in the KBO, which had been founded in 1982.

Choi stayed to pitch, first for the Lotte Giants and then the Samsung Lions. In 1984, he went 27-13 with a 2.40 ERA and 223 strikeouts in 284.2 innings and helped the Giants win the Korean Series, while two years later, he went 19-14 with a 1.55 ERA. He worked in relief in addition to starting (51 appearances in 1984, with 14 complete games and six saves), ran up ungodly pitch counts (209 in one 15-inning tie in 1987), got traded after trying to form a players’ union, and retired in 1990. After dabbling in politics, acting, and color commentary, he returned to the KBO as a manager and executive, but died of colon cancer in 2011 at the age of 53.

The Choi Dong-won Memorial Foundation began presenting the award in 2014, but didn’t consider foreign-born pitchers for the honor until four years later. Nominees have to meet at least five of the seven criteria: at least 30 starts, 180 innings pitched, 12 wins, 150 strikeouts, 15 quality starts, a sub-3.00 ERA and 35 saves. Lindblom, Yang (who won in 2014 and ’17), and Kwang Hyun Kim 김광현 of the SK Wyverns were nominated in 2019, and Lindblom won for the second straight year, this time with fan voting accounting for 30% of the process, and the foundation’s judges making up the other 70%.

Anyway, I hope that clears that mystery up; a little bit of history is good when trying to appreciate an unfamiliar league. Here’s a look at last year’s Golden Glove winners, featuring many names I’ve written about over the past couple of weeks, including a record four foreign-born winners:

2019 KBO Golden Gloves Winners
Position Player Team
P Josh Lindblom Doosan Bears
C Euiji Yang 양의지 NC Dinos
1B ByungHo Park 박병호 Kiwoom Heroes
2B Min-woo Park 박민우 NC Dinos
3B Jeong Choi 최정 SK Wyverns
SS Ha-seong Kim 김하성 Kiwoom Heroes
OF Jung-hoo Lee 이정후 Kiwoom Heroes
OF Mel Rojas Jr. 로하스 KT Wiz
OF Jerry Sands 샌즈 Kiwoom Heroes
DH Jose Miguel Fernandez 페르난데스 Doosan Bears
SOURCE: https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20191209008751315

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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I appreciate you for a good article, but I see a lot of mistakes in the chart – here’s how they should be fixed. I hope this will help.
1B ByungHo Park 박병호 – NC Dinos (X) Kiwoom Heroes (O)
2B Min-woo Park 박민우 – Kiwoom Heroes (X) NC Dinos (O)
3B Jeong Choi 최정 – NC Dinos (X) SK Wyverns (O)
SS Ha-seong Kim 김하성 – SK Wyverns (X) Kiwoom Heroes (O)
OF Mel Rojas Jr. 로하스 – Kiwoom Heroes (X) KT Wiz (O)
OF Jerry Sands 샌즈 – KT Wiz (X) Kiwoom Heroes (O)
DH Jose Miguel Fernandez 페르난데스 – Kiwoom Heroes (X) Doosan Bears (O)