Archive for KBO

A First-Half Recap of the 2022 KBO Season, Part Two

Ashley Green-Worcester Telegram

With the 2022 KBO season halfway through, it seemed like a good opportunity to summarize the ins-and-outs of baseball over in Korea so far. Since I’m doing this in order of the standings, part one (in case you missed it) covered the SSG Landers, Kiwoom Heroes, LG Twins, KIA Tigers, and KT Wiz. Part two will focus on the remaining five teams: the Samsung Lions, Doosan Bears, Lotte Giants, NC Dinos, and Hanwha Eagles. Without further ado, here’s the latest on the Korea Baseball Organization.

Standings

KBO Standings as of June 29
Team W-T-L Winning% Games Behind
SSG Landers 47-3-25 .653 0.0
Kiwoom Heroes 46-1-28 .622 2.0
LG Twins 43-1-29 .597 4.0
KIA Tigers 38-1-34 .528 9.0
KT Wiz 35-2-37 .486 12.0
Samsung Lions 35-0-39 .473 13.0
Doosan Bears 32-2-37 .464 13.5
Lotte Giants 31-3-38 .449 14.5
NC Dinos 27-2-43 .386 19.0
Hanwha Eagles 24-1-48 .333 23.0

Team Notes

Samsung Lions

What do you do when you lose Hae-min Park, your All-Star centerfielder, to free agency? Casually replace him with a 20-year-old prospect, that’s what. A second-round pick in 2021, Hyeon Joon Kim is filling in some big shoes with a .307/.401/.394 slashline so far. That doesn’t mean he’s an instant star, though. Contact-orientated hitters do fare better in Korea than they do in the States, but Kim’s utter lack of slug forewarns BABIP complications, and he’s not a particularly amazing fielder. Still, it’s great that the Lions have found a suitable replacement so quickly.

As for the Lions’ foreign players, Jose Pirela’s 167 wRC+ leads the team, dispelling the shroud of doubt created by his meager second half in 2021. The power hasn’t gone anywhere, and he’s even trimmed his already excellent strikeout rate. Since arriving in Korea in 2020, David Buchanan has gone from “solid No. 2/3 starter” to “bonafide ace.” And his latest partner, Albert Suárez, is looking like a successful acquisition (2.31 ERA/2.96 FIP). Most KBO teams have qualms with at least one of their foreign recruits; the Lions certainly do not.

But there’s a reason why they are in sixth place. Despite a career-best season in 2021, veteran lefty Jung-hyun Baek has crashed and burned this year and is practically unusable. Chae-heung Choi, a rotation stalwart, has left to complete his mandatory military service. On the position player side, rightfielder Ja-wook Koo looks nothing like his normal, hard-hitting self, and his trips to the injured list are likely to blame. What’s worse, the entire infield save for first baseman Ji-hwan Oh is on track for less than 1 WAR.

Looking back, it’s surprising that the Lions climbed all the way to second place last season. This feels more like a knock-back from fourth place to sixth. New contributors are providing the Lions a step forward, but the departures of old ones are dragging them two steps back. They aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just that the losses have piled up. Read the rest of this entry »


A First-Half Recap of the 2022 KBO Season, Part One

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2022 KBO season halfway through, it seemed like a good opportunity to summarize the ins-and-outs of baseball over in Korea so far. Since I’m doing this in order of the standings, part one will talk about the SSG Landers, Kiwoom Heroes, LG Twins, KIA Tigers, and KT Wiz. Part two, which will be published tomorrow, will focus on the Samsung Lions, Doosan Bears, Lotte Giants, NC Dinos, and Hanwha Eagles, so don’t fret if your favorite team doesn’t appear here. Without further ado, here’s the latest on the Korea Baseball Organization.

Standings

KBO Standings as of June 29
Team W-T-L Winning% Games Behind
SSG Landers 47-3-25 .653 0.0
Kiwoom Heroes 46-1-28 .622 2.0
LG Twins 43-1-29 .597 4.0
KIA Tigers 38-1-34 .528 9.0
KT Wiz 35-2-37 .486 12.0
Samsung Lions 35-0-39 .473 13.0
Doosan Bears 32-2-37 .464 13.5
Lotte Giants 31-3-38 .449 14.5
NC Dinos 27-2-43 .386 19.0
Hanwha Eagles 24-1-48 .333 23.0

Team Notes

SSG Landers

A strong rotation is a key component of any dominant team, and the Landers have exactly that — the best in the KBO, in fact. It’s led by Wilmer Font, who threw nine perfect innings in his first start of the season but failed to receive a single run of support. He’s maintained that brilliance, posting a 1.94 ERA and 2.76 FIP so far. But guess who leads the league with a 1.43 ERA? That’s Kwang Hyun Kim, who I suspect took a few courses on modern pitching theory, because his sub-30% fastball rate and 40% slider rate are an analyst’s dream come true. Oh, and he’s throwing two ticks harder than he did in the States. Talk about a homecoming.

The Landers’ lineup, while not as untouchable, is no slouch, either. Shin-Soo Choo remains a valuable leadoff hitter with his penchant for walks at the ripe old age of 40. Seong-han Park is the best hitting shortstop in the league, team captain and rightfielder Yoo-seom Han is on pace for a career-best 5 WAR, and the ever-consistent third baseman Jeong Choi — think of him as a Miguel Cabrera-type who never experienced a drastic decline — is slashing .302/.410/.493. It’s not just the veterans, as Ji-hoon Choi, their 25-year-old centerfielder, is in the midst of a breakout campaign with a 130 wRC+.

Entering this season, however, the offense consisted of two major holes. Thankfully, the first has been addressed: In May, the Landers made a trade for Tigers catcher Min-sik Kim, which made sense given the negative WAR accrued by SSG catchers up to that point. Kim is wielding a league-average bat with his new team so far, and while his production will likely a dwindle a tad, he’s nonetheless a massive upgrade. Meanwhile, the second hole at second base remains an issue, and the Landers’ internal options are nonexistent. They may not go for another trade given that the current squad is enough to win the pennant, but it is a major weakness. Overall, these Landers are the team to beat this KBO season. Read the rest of this entry »


Kwang Hyun Kim Returns to Korea

© Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

With no clear end in sight to the owner’s lockout, free agent Kwang Hyun Kim 김광현 has decided to return to Korea for the 2022 season. On Monday, Jeeho Yoo of Yonhap News reported that Kim has signed a four-year deal with the SSG Landers (previously the SK Wyverns). The deal is worth 15.1 billion won ($12.3 million dollars) and breaks the record for largest KBO contract that was previously held by Dae-Ho Lee 이대호 and Sung-bum Na 나성범. In a statement released by the Landers, Kim said, “I was able to challenge myself in the majors because of support from fans here. I decided I wanted to give back to them once I returned to the KBO. The Landers recognized my value with the biggest contract ever in the KBO — I didn’t have to think long and hard about the reunion.”

Kim returns to his old team in Incheon, a squad that has missed the playoffs both years since he made the jump to the major leagues after the 2019 season: They placed ninth in the 10 team league in 2020 but came up half a game short of qualifying for the Wild Card game in 2021. Kim solidifies a starting rotation that also includes former major league pitchers Iván Nova and Wilmer Font. Font led the Landers pitching staff with a 3.46 ERA and a 3.25 FIP, but the four pitchers in the rotation behind him all had ERAs and FIPs over five. With Kim back in the fold, the Landers are likely one of the preseason favorites heading into the regular season.

I asked former FanGraphs contributor Sung Min Kim for some additional context on Kwang Hyun Kim’s return to the KBO.

“Landers are now in a very good position, especially with their pitching staff. Not only do they get one of the better KBO pitchers back in their rotation, but they also bet highly on Wilmer Font, who pitched very well with them in ’21, and Iván Nova, and they also have two solid Korean-born starters in Jong Hoon Park and Seung Won Moon set to return mid-season from injuries. Those five pitchers would make up the best rotation in all of KBO, and make them instant pennant favorites for 2022. They will certainly be a very fun team to watch.”

Kim’s time in America was anything but easy. A club legend while playing for the Wyverns from 2007-19, he made the transition to the US prior to the 2020 season. Unfortunately, his introduction to the major leagues was interrupted by a global pandemic. The next season was a little more normal, but his two-year deal with the Cardinals expired at the end of 2021 and the 33-year-old again found himself in strange circumstances, with the owner’s lockout disrupting his foray into MLB free agency.

While pitching for St. Louis, Kim’s role was as settled as the circumstances around him these past two years. He began the 2020 season as the Cardinals closer, notching his first professional save in his first major league appearance. A COVID outbreak on the team forced him into the starting rotation soon after, and he made seven starts during the remainder of the abbreviated regular season with an additional start in the Cardinals Wild Card series against the Padres. He allowed just nine total runs to score against him in those eight regular season appearances, good for a 1.62 ERA.

Last year, two separate stints on the injured list limited Kim to 21 starts and six relief appearances. The second of those trips to the IL came in mid-August after the Cardinals had acquired J.A. Happ and Jon Lester to bolster their rotation for the stretch run. Kim returned after two weeks on the sidelines but had lost his spot in the rotation by then. He made two more starts through the end of the season but was mostly relegated to mop up duty in the bullpen over the last month of the season.

All told, he made 28 starts during his time with the Cardinals and seven additional relief appearances. He compiled 1.8 WAR with an excellent 2.97 ERA that outpaced a more middling 4.34 FIP. He never racked up big strikeout totals, instead relying on good command and a solid ability to limit hard contact. Just 25.6% of the plate appearances against him ended with a hard hit batted ball, right in line with the league average over the last two seasons. He allowed a 6.3% barrel rate during his time in the majors and just a .348 expected wOBA on contact.

On the pitcher’s decision to return to Korea, Sung Min Kim had this to say:

“I think he was always inclined to stay in the US and try to prolong his career in the US by signing with another team. He’s had a desire to challenge himself in the majors for a long while, even before he signed with the Cardinals. With his age and the decreased velocity he showed during his two seasons in St. Louis, I wasn’t sure what the market looked like for him, especially given that he was relegated to a bullpen role later in 2021. I think, with the lockout taking awhile, him missing his family being back in Korea, and definitely having a clearer role guaranteed back in KBO, it was very hard to say no to a lucrative deal to come back.”

Kim’s departure from the US creates an even bigger hole in the depleted free agent starting pitching market. Twelve of the 18 starters listed on our top 50 free agents list signed new deals prior to the lockout. That leaves very few options for teams looking to bolster their rotations once the offseason resumes. Kim was ranked 35th on that list of top free agents, ahead of Zack Greinke, Michael Pineda, and Yusei Kikuchi. Though he probably wasn’t likely to land a significant payday from an MLB club, he could have been a solid back-of-the-rotation option for a contending team that needs a bit more depth in their rotation. Those teams that might have been interested in Kim’s services are now limited to looking at starters like Pineda, Kikuchi, Tyler Anderson, and Garrett Richards.

This may also be the first instance of the ongoing owner’s lockout influencing a player to leave the US to find other opportunities abroad. Obviously, Kim returning to his home country to play for the same team he starred for previously is a unique circumstance, but the fact that there was no clear end to his free agent limbo in America had to have entered into his decision-making process when opting to return to Korea. Kim chose to leave behind the uncertainty of MLB for a record-setting KBO deal.

If negotiations between MLB and the Players Association continue to drag on, jeopardizing more and more of the regular season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see players consider signing with international leagues to give them some guarantee of earnings and playing time. Bryce Harper already joked about playing in Japan and Taiwan on his Instagram account:

It’s not hard to imagine a situation where MLB players start to seriously consider their options abroad if progress towards a new CBA deal hasn’t been made. Opening day in Korea is set for April 2, while the Nippon Professional Baseball season begins on March 25. That gives players an increasingly narrow window to make a decision. Established stars like Harper probably won’t be making the jump to Asia this year, but for players still mired in free agency or on the fringe of a major league roster and ineligible to play in minor leagues, a guaranteed paycheck and playing time in a foreign league could become increasingly enticing.


Dan Straily Returns from the KBO with the Diamondbacks

© Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It might be overstating the case to say that for the second time inside of 24 months, Dan Straily has resurfaced to rescue us from the major league baseball-free doldrums. While the owners’ lockout has put a freeze on transactions that involve major league rosters, the Diamondbacks’ signing of Straily to a minor-league deal is comparatively eye-catching. The 33-year-old righty is returning to the States following a career-salvaging two-year stint with the KBO’s Lotte Giants.

Straily previously grabbed the spotlight, such as it was, on March 23, 2020. While MLB had recently shut down spring training due to the coronavirus pandemic, the KBO was able to proceed with its preparations for the season, albeit cautiously. Straily, who had signed a $1 million deal with the Giants, pitched opposite teammate Adrian Sampson in a surreal intrasquad game that was carried on YouTube. Not only did the stream offer a preview of what baseball in a mostly-empty ballpark would look like, it provided a flicker of hope that there would be at least some baseball into which fans could sink their teeth while so much of the world was shut down. Thanks to a last-minute deal with ESPN, the KBO found a stateside audience, and we had some fun at FanGraphs getting up to speed on the league and then following along.

Straily landed in South Korea after spending parts of eight seasons (2012-19) in the majors pitching for six different franchises with mixed levels of success, accumulating 3.6 WAR via a 4.56 ERA and 5.05 FIP in 803.1 innings. He put up 1.9 WAR in 27 starts with the A’s in 2013, 1.2 WAR in 31 starts with the Reds in ’16, and a career-best 2.0 WAR in 33 starts with the Marlins in ’17. Those last two campaigns were the only ones in which he didn’t also pitch in the minors, though in 2018, he went down only for a rehab assignment following a forearm strain. Read the rest of this entry »


Reviewing the KBO Offseason: Part 2

This is Part 2 of my recap of what happened this winter in the KBO, a league that saw a flurry of signings that changed the outlooks of several teams heading into the 2022 season. Part 1 can be found here, featuring analysis of the KT Wiz, Samsung Lions, LG Twins, Doosan Bears, and Kiwoom Heroes. Part 2 will cover the remaining five teams: Landers, Dinos, Giants, Tigers, and Eagles.

Team Notes

SSG Landers
Shin-Soo Choo 추신수 signed a highly publicized one-year deal with the Landers last season and proceeded to do what he does best: get on base. His .409 on-base percentage last season ranked sixth among qualified KBO hitters, and he took advantage of all those trips to first base by swiping 25 bags, which also ranked sixth. Choo didn’t generate the monstrous home run totals some Korean fans expected of him, but power was never his strongest suit. Instead, he’ll be an excellent leadoff hitter for the Landers for an additional year.

Also returning is Wilmer Font 폰트, a righty with mesmerizing stuff but a lack of consistency. He’ll fan nine or ten batters with ease when he’s on but will otherwise rack up pitch counts with substandard command, often failing to go beyond the fifth inning. He has the potential to dominate the KBO, though, which is why the Landers are committed to him once more. Count me in as well. I’m hoping Font gains trust in his stuff and starts locating more in the zone — even down the pipe. Few would have a chance. Lastly, because KBO players can now sign multi-year contracts in non–free-agent years, right-handers Jong-hun Park 박종훈 and Seung-won Moon 문승원, and outfielder Yoo-seom Han 한유섬 all agreed to five-year extensions.

As for newcomers, Kevin Cron is arriving to replace Jamie Romak 로맥, who served as the Landers’ (and formerly Wyverns’) first baseman for five seasons. Cron enters Korea with an eye-popping resume, including a .329/.446/.777 Triple-A line in 2019, but it’s worth noting he played in the Pacific Coast League, where offense skyrockets due to the hitter-friendly parks and the introduction of those bouncy, bouncy balls back in 2019. His NPB stint was lackluster (.239/.296/.433 in 95 games), which raises further concerns. But Cron is still 28, and the upside is enormous; 30-or-so home runs seem reasonable to expect from his rookie KBO season.

If asked to guess before this offseason which pitcher the Landers would sign, I legitimately think it would have taken 50 attempts for Iván Nova’s name to pop up. It’s just rare for a pitcher his age with his pedigree to consider baseball in Korea. But why even pursue him, anyways? Well, his average fastball velocity in 2020 was still a robust 92.7 mph, and he’s a groundball machine with decent walk rates that might be effective in the KBO. Nova is also 35, however, so there are clear pros and cons. All in all, he has enough positive qualities that he should end up a reliable contributor to the Landers, who barely missed the playoffs last season.
Read the rest of this entry »


Reviewing the KBO Offseason: Part 1

While MLB’s lockout means baseball in the United States has descended to the is-Jon-Lester-a-Hall-of-Famer level of purgatory, the KBO has been going swimmingly. As of this writing, all available free agents have signed, and only one team, the Doosan Bears, is without a third foreign player on its roster. And with the chances of a blockbuster trade extremely slim, I thought now would be a good time to recap what happened in the KBO this winter.

I’m doing this in order of the regular season standings, so Part 1 will discuss 2021’s top five teams, while Part 2 will deal with the remaining five. Without further ado, here’s the latest news on baseball in Korea:

Team Notes

KT Wiz
As defending champions, the Wiz only needed to maintain a certain amount of talent on their roster to have another shot at contending – and that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished. William Cuevas 쿠에바스 and Odrisamer Despaigne 데스파이네 both agreed to return on one-year deals, which is great news for the Wiz: Their rotation last season ranked first in ERA and innings pitched by a wide margin. Notably, Despaigne has tossed 396.1 innings since joining the Wiz in 2020, meaning even if he’s a bit rustier in 2022, he’ll still anchor what projects to be a deep staff.

Replacing Jared Hoying 호잉 in the outfield is Henry Ramos, who most recently appeared in 18 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hitting for a paltry 48 wRC+ before getting outrighted from the 40-man roster in October. But he absolutely raked in Triple-A (.371/.439/.582), and if there’s anything we’ve learned from his predecessors, it’s that minor league stats can be a reliable predictor of KBO success. Read the rest of this entry »


International Prospect Update and Signing Period Preview

The International Players tab on The Board has once again enjoyed a sweeping update, the second such update since the pandemic shifted the international signing calendar back about six months. Rankings and reports for the current class of amateur players set to sign in January 2022 (though that date could be delayed due to the lockout) have been expanded on The Board with help from Kevin Goldstein, while updates and additions to the notable pro players in other markets have been completed with help from Tess Taruskin and Brendan Gawlowski.

CBA/COVID Complications

There are a few factors that could potentially complicate the upcoming signing period. Remember that fallout from the pandemic has already pushed this signing period back six months. When most of the international amateur players on The Board agreed to their deals with teams, they assumed that they’d have put pen to paper by now and perhaps have spent the fall in Florida or Arizona for instructional league. Instead, they haven’t yet signed, and now a lockout may further delay or complicate their coronation. Read the rest of this entry »


Job Posting: Lotte Giants (KBO) Data Analyst

Position: Data Analyst

Location: Busan, South Korea

The Lotte Giants, an inaugural member of the KBO League, are looking for a Data Analyst to work out of the front office at Sajik Stadium in Busan, South Korea.

The KBO League (KBO) was founded in 1982 and is the top level of professional baseball in South Korea. Consisting of ten teams, the league is split into two divisions and each team plays a total of 144 games. The Lotte Giants are located in Busan, the country’s second-biggest city, on the southeastern coast of the Korean peninsula. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/22/21

These are notes on prospects from Brendan Gawlowski. Read previous installments of the DPN here.

Across the country and around the world, it’s the Daily Prospect Notes.

Graham Ashcraft, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Chattanooga Age: 23 Org Rank: 22 FV: 40

A threat to walk everyone in the ballpark in college, Ashcraft seemed like a surefire reliever after the Reds drafted him in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. But a weird thing happened between then and now: He found a way to throw strikes, started going deeper in games, and did both while still missing bats. Read the rest of this entry »


Keeping Up With the KBO: June Edition

This is the June edition of my monthly column, in which I recap what’s been going on in the Korean Baseball Organization on both a league- and team-wide scale. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or reach out to me via Twitter. Also, don’t forget to check out our expanded KBO stats offering. Without further ado, let’s talk some KBO.

Standings

KBO Standings, 7/8/2021
Team W-L-T Pct. GB
KT Wiz 44-28-0 .611 0.0
LG Twins 43-32-0 .573 2.5
Samsung Lions 43-32-1 .573 2.5
SSG Landers 40-34-2 .541 5.0
Kiwoom Heroes 41-38-0 .519 6.5
NC Dinos 37-35-2 .514 7.0
Doosan Bears 36-38-0 .486 9.0
Lotte Giants 31-42-1 .425 13.5
Kia Tigers 29-43-0 .403 15.0
Hanwha Eagles 27-49-0 .355 19.0
SOURCE: Naver Sports

Read the rest of this entry »