A Thumbnail Guide to the KBO’s 2020 Season

Like most people who cover Major League Baseball professionally, I am no expert when it comes to the Korea Baseball Organization. However, over the past six weeks — ever since that first flicker of hope glimpsed in the form of a Lotte Giants scrimmage streamed on YouTube, just as the nightmare of the COVID-19 pandemic was getting particularly heavy in New York City — I’ve learned a great deal about the league through conversations with MyKBO’s Dan Kurtz, FanGraphs alumni Josh Herzenberg and Sung Min Kim (both now Lotte Giants employees), and Samsung Lions international scout Aaron Tassano. I’ve read similar lines of inquiry from other baseball-starved scribes as well as English-speaking Korean journalists, dug through Baseball-Reference and Statiz, and delved into the work of my colleagues, particularly Ben Clemens’ two-part rundowns of the league’s foreign-born players, and Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the league. Along with a similar crash course in Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League, it’s been a fun project that has helped take my mind off not only the delays and uncertainty regarding the 2020 MLB season but also the grim backdrop of the pandemic in this country.

Spurred by Monday’s news that ESPN will carry English-language broadcasts of one KBO game per day, all the way through the league’s postseason, what follows here is my attempt to digest my KBO crash course into a usable guide for those who are similarly dipping their toes into the league’s waters for the first time. I can’t claim this to be comprehensive, but whether you’re looking to pick a team to root for or simply trying to find a few players to focus upon as you watch live baseball, I hope that it’s helpful.

A few reminders: this is a 10-team league whose team names carry those of the corporations that own them, not the cities they call home; the season is 144 games long; ties are called after 12 innings (15 in the postseason) and don’t count in determining winning percentage; it’s a contact-centric league with lower strikeout and home run rates than MLB, the latter after a conscious effort to de-juice the ball in 2019; and each team is allowed three foreign players. The playoff system is a “step-ladder” where the regular season winner gets a bye all the way to the Korean Series, the fifth- and fourth-place teams square off in a Wild Card round, with the winner facing the third-place team in the best-of-five Semi-Playoffs, the winner of that series playing the second-place team in the best-of-five KBO Playoffs, and that winner facing the top team in the best-of-seven Korean Series.

For the purposes of clarity and familiarity with the players who have gone between MLB and the KBO, I have used the English naming order, placing Korean surnames last instead of first, though as Dan noted, the multiple systems of Romanization of Korean and the variations from site to site can make this a challenge. The teams here are listed alphabetically.

Doosan Bears

Home city: Seoul
Home ballpark: Jamsil Baseball Stadium
2019 record (finish): 88-55-1 (1st via tiebreaker, won Korean Series)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 84-60 (2nd, 27.8%/90.8%)
Total championships (most recent): 6 (2019)
Notable Korean players: Jae-hwan Kim, Keon-woo Park, Hui-kwan Yu
Foreign-born players: Raúl Alcántara, Jose Miguel Fernandez, Chris Flexen

The Bears aren’t just the reigning champions, they’ve dominated the KBO in recent years, making five straight trips to the Korean Series and winning three times. They finished first during the regular season last year thanks to a 9-7 edge in head-to-head games against the SK Wyverns, and then swept the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korean Series.

Last year, the Bears hit the league’s second-fewest homers (84) but still ranked second in scoring (5.11 runs per game) thanks to the league’s top on-base percentage. They had the league’s second-best run prevention (3.82 runs per game) because they avoided walks and homers, ranking second in both categories (2.7 and 0.4 per nine, respectively). The team has built great depth through a strong farm system, including left fielder Jae-hwan Kim, the league’s MVP in 2018 (though he fell off considerably in ’19), right fielder Keon-woo Park (.319/.397/.465, 10 homers, 5.4 WAR), righty Young-ha Lee (17-4, 3.64 ERA, 5.0 K/9), and lefty Hui-kwan Yu (11-8, 3.25 ERA, but just 3.5 K/9).

They’ve made great acquisitions from other teams, such as slugging first baseman Jae-il Oh (.293/.369/.495 with team highs of 21 homers and 102 RBI), who was acquired from the then-Nexen Heroes after the 2011 season. They’ve also gotten great work from foreign players, including Fernandez, a DH who hit .344/.409/.483 with 15 homers and 5.0 WAR in 2019, and since-departed pitchers Josh Lindblom (the league leader in wins, innings, strikeouts, and more as well as the league MVP) and Seth Frankoff. Alcántara, who did league-average work for KT Wiz, and Flexen, a former Mets reliever who never got it together in Queens, have big shoes to fill in the rotation.

Hanwha Eagles

Home city: Daejon
Home ballpark: Daejeon Hanbat Baseball Stadium
2019 record (finish): 58-86 (9th)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 61-83 (10th, 0.1%/11.5%)
Total championships (most recent): 1 (1999)
Notable Korean players: Jaehoon Choi, Woo-ram Jung, Tae-kyun Kim
Foreign-born players: Chad Bell, Jared Hoying, Warwkick Saupold

The first team to join the league beyond the original six (circa 1986), the Eagles are most notable for producing Hyun-Jin Ryu, the most successful player to start his career in the KBO and then come to MLB, and for also being the team with whom South Korean trailblazer Chan Ho Park finished his professional career in 2012. They’ve experienced some hard times lately, with just one playoff appearance in the last 12 years, and one finish above .500 in the last 11. That came in 2018, when they went 77-67 and finished third but lost to the Heroes in the Semi-Playoff. They haven’t been to the Korean Series since 2006, and haven’t won in this millennium. Despite their lack of success — which could continue, due to a weak farm system — they do have a passionate fan base.

As you’d expect given their low ranking, the Eagles weren’t very good either on offense or defense, ranking among the bottom three in both scoring (4.22 runs per game) and run prevention (5.12 runs per game). They feature the league’s oldest position player, the going-on-38-year-old Tae-kyun Kim, who has spent all but two seasons of the past 19 with the Eagles; he did a two-year stint with Chiba Lotte in the Japanese Pacific League. Though his power isn’t what it once was, the DH/first baseman hit .305/.382/.395 (121 wRC+) in 2019, and hasn’t finished with a batting average below .300 in the KBO since 2007. He’s fourth on the league’s career hit list at 2,163, just 11 hits out of a tie for third. Hoying, briefly a Ranger in 2016-17, is a right fielder who placed second on the team in both homers (18) and WAR (3.5) in 2019. Catcher Jaehoon Choi, despite hitting just three homers, led the team in WAR (3.6) while batting .290/.398/.362. Bell (3.50 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 4.5 WAR) and Saupold (3.51 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 4.2 WAR) were teammates on the 2017 and ’18 Detroit Tigers and now anchor the rotation, while Woo-ram Jung (1.54 ERA, 3.8 WAR, 26 saves) is one of the league’s top relievers.

Kia Tigers

Home city: Gwangju
Home ballpark: Gwangju-KIA Champions Field
2019 record (finish): 62-80-2 (7th)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 66-78 (6th, 2.7%/29.1%)
Total championships (most recent): 11 (2017)
Notable Korean players: Hyeong-woo Choi, Hyeon-jong Yang
Foreign-born players: Aaron Brooks, Drew Gagnon, Preston Tucker

Though they’re historically the league’s most successful franchise, and the most-watched on television, the Tigers have won “only” two championships since 1997, and broken .500 just twice in the past 10 seasons. They did beat the Bears in the KBO Series in 2017, but have been well below .500 in each of the past two years; last year, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2015. They’re now managed by former MLB slugger and skipper Matt Williams, the league’s highest paid manager and the only foreign-born one, since Trey Hillman came back to MLB (via the Marlins) after leading the SK Wyverns to the 2018 championship. Former major league first baseman Hee-Seop Choi is the team’s hitting coach.

The Tigers were lousy on both sides of the ball in 2019. Their offense scored just 4.20 runs per game, the league’s second-lowest mark, and they were dead last in homers, with 76. Hyeong-woo Choi, their now-36-year-old left fielder/DH, was their only player to reach double digits in dingers, with 17. As a member of the Samsung Lions, Choi led the KBO in homers back in 2011 (30) and in batting average (.376) and RBI (144) in ’16; he parlayed the latter into a record-setting four-year contract worth 10 billion won ($8.5 million), and as of last year was the league’s second-highest paid player behind the Lotte Giants Dae-ho Lee. Last year, he hit .300/.413/.485 with a league-high 85 walks, the third-best on-base percentage, and a team-high 4.2 WAR. Tucker, six and a half years older than brother Kyle Tucker (and himself an ex-Astro, drafted in the seventh round in 2012 and with the team for 146 games in 2015-16), was second on the team with nine homers while batting .311/.381/.479. Second baseman Chi-hoi Ahn, their other top hitter, left to sign a two-year deal with Lotte.

On the pitching side of a team that allowed 5.02 runs per game last year, 32-year-old lefty Hyeon-jong Yang stands apart from everybody else. The league’s 2017 MVP and Korean Series MVP, and a two-time winner of the Choi Dong-won award (the league’s equivalent of the Cy Young, named for a 1980s Lotte Giants star pitcher who died of cancer at age 53 in 2011), he’s the league’s top returning pitcher given Lindblom’s departure. Last year, he led the KBO in both ERA (2.29) and WAR (7.4) while going 16-8 for a team that was nonetheless 18 games below .500. The Tigers’ second- and third-best starters from last year, ex-major leaguers Joe Wieland (4.75 ERA) and Jacob Turner (5.46 ERA), departed in free agency, replaced by Brooks, who scuffled with the A’s and Orioles in 2019, and Gagnon, who like Flexen served as a piñata in the Mets bullpen during the past couple of seasons.

Kiwoom Heroes

Home city: Seoul
Home ballpark: Gocheok Sky Dome
2019 record (finish): 86-57-1 (3rd, Lost Korean Series)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 86-58 (1st, 37.9%/94.4%)
Total championships (most recent): 0
Notable Korean players: ByungHo Park, Ha-seong Kim, Jung-hoo Lee
Foreign-born players: Taylor Motter, Jake Brigham, Eric Jokisch

The only KBO team not owned by a large corporation, the Heroes are sponsored by Kiwoom Securities. They’re the “economically challenged” team of the league; Kurtz likened them to the Oakland A’s for their ongoing search to get bang for the buck, and in the past, they posted both Jung-ho Kang and ByungHo Park to MLB in order to raise money. They’re one of three current teams not to win a championship, though in 2019, they made it to the Korean Series for just the second time in their history, that after beating the LG Twins in the Semi-Playoffs and the Wyverns in the Playoffs; alas, they were swept by the Bears in four straight.

The Heroes had by far the league’s most potent offense last year (5.42 runs per game) and ranked first or second in all three slash stats (.282/.354/.414). Park, a first baseman who spent 2016 with the Minnesota Twins, led the circuit with 33 homers while batting 280/.398/.560 (166 wRC+) with 5.5 WAR. The Heroes will have to offset the loss of right fielder Jerry Sands, who led the league with 113 RBI while hitting 28 homers and posting the circuit’s third-best wRC+; he signed with the Hanshin Tigers of NPB. Motter, their incoming foreign position player, is known for his versatility, not his slugging. The team does boast one of the league’s elite players in 24-year-old shortstop Ha-seong Kim, who hit .307/.389/.491 with 19 homers, 33 steals (in 37 attempts) and a league-high 7.2 WAR. Twenty-one-year-old outfielder Jung-hoo Lee, who’s coming off a 4.9 WAR season, is light in power, with just six homers in each of the past two seasons, but he’s had top-five finishes in batting average and owns a career .338/.397/.449 line.

On the pitching side, the Heroes were third in run prevention (3.97 runs per game) and allowed a league-low 61 homers. Brigham (2.96 ERA, 3.27 FIP) and Jokisch (3.13 ERA, 3.32 FIP) make up one of the top tandems of foreign starters and combined for 7.9 WAR (4.2 for Jokisch), 23-year-old Won-tae Choi is similarly stingy, and the team has the best bullpen in the league, anchored by righty Sang-Woo Cho and lefty Jae-yeong Oh.

KT Wiz

Home city: Suwon
Home ballpark: Suwon kt wiz Park
2019 record (finish): 71-71-2 (6th)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 65-79 (1.7%/23.7%)
otal championships (most recent): 0
Notable Korean players: Jae-gyun Hwang, Baek-ho Kang, Dae-eun Rhee
Foreign-born players: William Cuevas, Odrisamer Despaigne, Mel Rojas Jr.

The league’s most recent addition (2015) attained respectability last year after beginning their KBO tenure with three straight last place finishes and then a ninth-place one. They’re looking for their first playoff berth, though ZiPS expects them to take a substantial step backwards.

The Wiz were middle of the pack in terms of both scoring (4.51 runs per game, fifth), and run prevention (4.59 per game, sixth). Their top hitter is Rojas, who’s part of professional baseball’s largest family tree; not only did his father spent 10 years in the majors as a reliever, but his extended family includes current Mets manager Luis Rojas as well as the Alou brothers and Felipe Alou’s son Moises Alou. A strikeout-prone switch-hitting outfielder, Rojas hit .322/.381/.530 with 24 homers and 5.5 WAR in 2019.

First baseman Baek-ho Kang is coming off a stellar .336/.416/.495/4.7-WAR age-19 season; his stocky build (he lists at 6-foot, 215 pounds) and defensive limitations have drawn comparisons to Kyle Schwarber, but he’s considered to have superstar potential. Third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang played 18 games with the San Francisco Giants in 2017, after a six-and-a-half-year run with Lotte. Now 32 years old, he’s coming off a 20-homer, 4.1-WAR season.

Pitching-wise, Cuevas was the team’s top starter last year (3.62 ERA, 4.43 FIP, 3.4 WAR). Alcántara, their second-best starter, departed for the Bears and has been replaced by Despaigne, who spent six years getting knocked around MLB. If nothing else, his contact-centric profile is less out of place in this league.

LG Twins

Home city: Seoul
Home ballpark: Jamsil Baseball Stadium
2019 record (finish): 79-64-1 (4th, lost Semi-Playoffs)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 73-71 (5th, 3.9%/55.8%)
Total championships (most recent): 2 (1994)
Notable Korean players: Hyun Soo Kim, Chun-Woong Lee, Ji-hwan Oh
Foreign-born players: Casey Kelly, Roberto Ramos, Tyler Wilson

In the New York Timesleague preview, Kurtz likened the Twins to the Mets, because they take a back seat to the Bears (with whom they share a stadium), haven’t won in a long time, and have a reputation for falling short of expectations. Ouch. They weren’t bad by any means in 2019, their first season above .500 since ’13 (they were right at the mark in ’16), but after beating the Dinos in the Wild Card round, they lost to the Heroes in the Semi-Playoffs.

The Twins were middle-of-the-pack on both sides of the ball in 2019, scoring 4.45 runs per game (sixth) and allowing 4.40 (fifth), which made them Pythagorean overachievers by seven wins. The now-30-year-old Kelly, a 2008 first-round pick by the Red Sox and four-time Top 100 Prospect per Baseball America, was one of the league’s top pitchers last year, going 14-12 with a 2.55 ERA, 3.46 FIP, and 4.0 WAR. Wilson, a former Oriole, had a strong season as well (14-7, 2.92 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 3.4 WAR); the pair are projected to run fourth and second, respectively, in this year’s ERA race.

On the offensive side, the most familiar name is that of left fielder Hyun Soo Kim, who starred for Doosan before spending 2016-17 with the Orioles; he returned to the KBO on a four-year, $10.58 million deal with the Twins, won the league’s batting title in 2018, and last year hit .304/.370/.437 with 11 homers and 3.6 WAR. Shortstop Ji-hwan Oh is only a league-average hitter (.252/.339/.378, 101 wRC+), but an excellent baserunner (27-for-32 in steals); he rated as the circuit’s most valuable defender last year according to Statiz, and was third on the team with 3.4 WAR. Center fielder Chun-Woong Lee was first (4.0) despite hitting just two homers to go with his .308/.378/.374 line. Ramos, who barely cracked the Rockies’ top prospect list in December before signing with the Twins, is a first baseman with 70-grade raw power; the hope is that his swing-and-miss issues dissipate in a more contact-oriented league.

Lotte Giants

Home city: Busan
Home ballpark: Busan Sajik Baseball Stadium
2019 record (finish): 48-93 (10th)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 62-82 (9th, 0.2%/15.1%)
Total championships (most recent): 2 (1992)
Notable Korean players: Dae-ho Lee, Ah-seop Son, Se-woong Park
Foreign-born players: Dixon Machado, Adrian Sampson, Dan Straily

If you’ve been following along here, you know about the Giants, who employ the aforementioned pair of FanGraphs alumni. Herzenberg is now the team’s pitching coordinator and quality control coach, and Kim is in the R&D department. They’re just two of the notable hires by new general manager Min-kyu Sung, a self-described “devotee” of sabermetrics who worked for the Cubs under Theo Epstein, serving as the organization’s Pacific Rim scouting supervisor until joining the Giants last September. Former MLB catcher Hank Conger is on staff as well. Sung has a tall task ahead of him in turning the fortunes of a team that has made just one playoff appearance in the past seven years and ranked dead last in 2019 in both scoring (4.01 runs per game) and run prevention (5.31 per game).

The team did go 80-62 and finish in third place in 2017, and still has some players who contributed to that success, such as Lee, Jeon, Son, and Park. Lee, the DH, is the KBO’s highest-paid player, a former MVP, two time Triple Crown winner, and a Lotte legend, having spent all 15 of his seasons in the league with the team (he detoured to Japan and then, in 2016, the Mariners). He turns 38 on June 21 and is coming off a drop from 37 homers to 16, suggesting that his best days are behind him.

Jeon, a 34-year-old left fielder, was the team’s top position player last year, batting .301/.359/.481 with 22 homers and 4.2 WAR. Straily, with 803.1 major league innings and some solid seasons for the A’s, Reds, and Marlins under his belt, is more experienced and accomplished at the MLB level than any of the other foreign-born players here, but he’s coming off a year in which he was torched for a 9.82 ERA while allowing 22 homers in 47.2 innings with the Orioles. A dejuiced ball would serve him well, and he’s a Driveline devotee who should fit in with the team’s new analytical mindset. Park, a starting pitcher who was very good as a 21-year-old in 2017, has made just 24 starts over the past two years due to elbow woes, but did fare better upon returning midseason than during a miserable ’18.

NC Dinos

Home city: Changwon
Home ballpark: Changwon NC Park
2019 record (finish): 73-69-2 (5th, lost Wild Card)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 78-66 (4th, 11.6%/76.4%)
Total championships (most recent): 0
Notable Korean players: Sung-Bum Na, Chang-mo Koo, Suk-min Park, Eui-ji Yang
Foreign-born players: Aaron Altherr, Drew Rucinski, Mike Wright

The league’s second-most-recent addition — they joined in 2013 — has been to the playoffs in five of its seven seasons, though last year, they went one-and-done in the Wild Card round. The Dinos have a reputation for being one of the most fun teams to watch; they’re the ones with whom Eric Thames resurrected his career by hitting 124 home runs and flipping countless bats from 2014-16. Indeed, the team appears to have an outsized footprint when it comes to flips and other social media-shared highlights.

The Dinos led the league with 128 homers and a .416 slugging percentage last year while ranking third in scoring (4.68 runs per game). Leading the way was catcher Eu-ji Yang, with 20 homers. The 32-year-old Yang has a case as the league’s top all-around player; last year, his first with the Dinos after departing the Bears as a free agent (he signed for four years and over $11 million, the league’s second-largest free agent deal ever), he won the slash-stat triple crown (.354/.438/.574) while placing second in WAR (6.7). Third baseman Suk-min Park, who was second on the team with 19 homers while batting .267/.393/.478, is a favorite of Kurtz for his comedic moments as well as his skill — the range of the clips shown suggest he’s the league’s answer to Adrián Beltré, albeit without the standout defensive metrics.

The team’s 2019 offense was potent despite outfielder Sung-Bum Na being limited to 23 games due to a gruesome right knee injury that required season-ending surgery and delayed plans to post him. A career .316/.383/.535 hitter, he’s been likened to Shin-Soo Choo and is a Scott Boras client. Altherr, who had intermittent success with the Phillies, should make the lineup even more potent.

On the pitching side, Rucinski, who relieved for the Angels, Twins, and Marlins, was strong in his inaugural season as a KBO starter (3.05 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 4.6 WAR) and has been joined by Wright, an ex-Orioles reliever. Twenty-three-year-old lefty Chang-mo Koo came into his own last year (3.20 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 2.7 WAR), leading all starters with 9.6 strikeouts per nine despite the fact that he only tops out in the low 90s, though he does have a solid four-pitch mix.

Samsung Lions

Home city: Daegu
Home ballpark: Daegu Samsung Lions Park
2019 record (finish): 60-83-1 (8th)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 64-80 (8th, 0.3%/20.0%)
Total championships (most recent): 8 (2014)
Notable Korean players: Sang-soo Kim, Ja-wook Koo, Seunghwan Oh
Foreign-born players: David Buchanan, Ben Lively, Tyler Saladino

The Lions have made more trips to the Korea Series than any other team (18) and won more than any team besides the Tigers, but they’ve missed the postseason in each of the past four years after doing so just once from 1997-2015. During that recent span, only in 2018 did they finish above eighth.

They were not a good team last year, ranking seventh in scoring (4.32 runs per game) and eighth in run prevention (5.08 per game). The lineup had just two players exceed 2.0 WAR, and one of them — ex-Phillies slugger Darin Ruf, who hit a team-high 22 homers and was the only player with a wRC+ above 108 — returned to the States and went to spring training with the Giants. Among their recent foreign-born players, Ruf’s the rare one who worked out well; departed pitchers Justin Haley and Deck McGwire, for example, had ERAs north of 5.00. Right fielder Ja-wook Koo was mediocre last year (.267/.327/.444, 108 wRC+, 2.0 WAR) after never dipping below a 131 wRC+ and 3.9 WAR in his first four seasons.

The team’s double play combo is notable, in that second baseman Sang-soo Kim, who hit .271/.358/.355, finished with 3.0 WAR, and shortstop Hak-Ju Lee is a former Cubs and Rays prospect who made Baseball America’s Top 100 list three times from 2011-13. On Opening Day, he took a back seat to Saladino, who won’t come close to filling Ruf’s shoes, but surely won’t be as overmatched as he was over the course of 1,064 PA in the majors, where he produced just a 65 wRC+.

Lively, a midseason arrival after spending time in the Royals and Diamondbacks organizations (and before that the Phillies), struck out 58 batters and walked just 13 in 57 innings while posting a 3.95 ERA and 3.23 FIP; a full season of his work should be a boon, particularly on a staff where Jeong-hyun Baek’s modest 2.1 WAR led the team. Buchanan, yet another ex-Phillies player, is here after spending parts of two seasons in the majors and three with diminishing returns with the NPB’s Yakult Swallows. Reliever Seunghwan Oh, the Final Boss himself, is back with the club he starred for from 2005-13, before heading to NPB and then four years in the majors. The now-37-year-old is coming off a season-ending elbow cleanup.

SK Wyverns

Home city: Incheon
Home ballpark: Munhak Baseball Stadium (a/k/a Incheon SK Happy Dream Park)
2019 record (finish): 88-55-1 (2nd, lost KBO Playoffs)
2020 projection (finish, odds of 1st/playoffs): 81-63 (3rd, 20.2%, 83.3%)
Total championships (most recent): 4 (2018)
Notable Korean players: Jeong Choi, Jae-Hoon Ha, Jong-hoon Park
Foreign-born players: Nick Kingham, Ricardo Pinto, Jamie Romak

After winning the Korean Series in 2018 under Hillman (a first in league history), the Wyverns — those are winged, two-legged dragons, in case you were wondering — finished the ’19 regular season tied with the Bears in terms of record, but lost on head-to-head record, and then were swept by the Heroes in the Semi-Playoffs. Whoops.

The Wyverns had the league’s top run prevention at 3.79 runs per game, and by far the highest strikeout rate at 7.6 per nine, but their pitching has taken a considerable hit since the end of last season, as ace Kwang Hyun Kim signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Cardinals, number two starter Angel Sanchez jumped to the Yomiuri Giants of NPB, and midseason acquisition Henry Sosa returned to the CPBL. There’s a lot riding on Kingham, who dotted top 100 prospect lists circa 2014 and got cuffed in MLB (6.08 ERA and 5.58 FIP in 131.2 innings) but is still just 28 years old.

Their top returning starters are righties Jong-hoon Park and Seung-Won Moon, both of whom finished the year with 3.88 ERAs but gaudier FIPs (4.60 and 4.83, respectively); the latter allowed a league-high 23 homers. Closer Jae-Hoon Ha led the league with 36 saves and struck out 9.8 per nine while posting a 1.98 ERA, not too shabby for a guy in just his second season as a pitcher, as he spent 2009-14 as an outfielder in the Cubs’ chain.

On the offensive side, the Wyverns have an impressive one-two punch in third baseman Jeong Choi (.292/.399/.519) and first baseman Jamie Romak (.276/.370/.508), who tied for second in the league with 29 homers and ranked sixth and eighth in RBI (99 and 95, respectively); in a league where just seven players slugged at least .500, they’re the only returning pair of teammates who did so. The 33-year-old Choi, who’s entering his 16th season in the KBO, is fifth on the league’s all-time homer list with 335 and needs just 17 to climb to second.

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, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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3 years ago

As a member of the Samsung Tigers, Choi led the KBO in homers back in 2011 ……

You mean Samsung “Lions”, right?