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. Read the rest of this entry »