This is Part Two of the April 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. In case you missed it, Part One provided a brief introduction to this column, discussed league-wide trends, then covered the Samsung Lions, LG Twins, KT Wiz, and SSG Landers. Today’s post will cover the remaining six teams. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them as comments or reach out to me via Twitter. Without further ado, let’s talk some KBO!
The offseason was not kind to the Doosan Bears. Pitchers Chris Flexen and Raúl Alcántara both had phenomenal years, but were whisked away by foreign leagues. They also lost multiple regulars to free agency, including first baseman Jae-il Oh 오재일 and second baseman Joo-hwan Choi 최주환, both formidable hitters.
That doesn’t mean the Bears are no longer a playoff-caliber team – there’s still an abundance of talent on the roster, but there’s no guarantee this time around. At least replacement signee Walker Lockett has averaged six innings per start with a 3.54 FIP, but Aríel Miranda 미란다 seems like a disaster waiting to happen. His 36 strikeouts in 28.1 innings don’t look as impressive when you consider that (a) they’re spread across six starts, and (b) he also has 22 walks, six of them issued in a single outing. There’s upside, but unless Miranda finds the zone, the Bears will have a headache to deal with. Read the rest of this entry »
Last year, the arrival of the KBO was a breath of fresh air for our despondent, quarantined, and baseball-deprived selves. Between May and July, the entire baseball community became invested in a league that is in many ways different from MLB. There’s greater emphasis on contact hitting and baserunning, which recalled another, perhaps nostalgic, era of major league baseball for some. Sure, the defense and pitching could be clunky at times, but we embraced them as fun idiosyncrasies. And though baseball and a semblance of normalcy has returned stateside, there are still plenty of fans who want to monitor the KBO.
That’s why I’ve decided to start a monthly column that acts as a periodic check-in on the KBO. This isn’t, say, a power ranking, but rather an overview of which developments I find interesting. Today’s Part One will discuss league-wide trends and include updates on the Samsung Lions, KT Wiz, LG Twins, and SSG Landers. Part Two, which I hope to get published on Monday, will deal with the six remaining teams. Also, don’t forget to check out our expanded KBO stats offering as the season progresses! So without further ado, let’s begin! Read the rest of this entry »
KBO data is again updating daily on FanGraphs! We expect that all data should be updated around 12 AM ET following the previous day’s games.
In addition to bringing back KBO data for the 2021 season, we’ve also included a number of improvements for the 2020 and 2021 seasons thanks to our friends at Sports Info Solutions.
Pitch types, velocity, Swinging Strikes (SwStr%), Swing%, Contact%, First pitch strikes (F-Strike%), Called Strikes (CStr%), and Called Strikes + Whiff Percentage (CSW%) are now available:
Read the rest of this entry »
On this week’s episode, Brendan Gawlowski is joined by Patrick Dubuque of Baseball Prospectus to discuss the Korea Baseball Organization’s 2021 season.
Brendan and Patrick each recently wrote KBO previews, and they spend the episode going over what to expect from the league this year. How will Shin-Soo Choo fair in his return? Who are the most exciting rookies? And why does Patrick think Brendan is wrong about the KBO playoff structure?
The pair also discuss the normalization of bat flips, the weirdest rule in the KBO, why Patrick won’t speak ill of Matt Williams, and the biggest differences between the leagues.
Finally, Brendan and Patrick run down all 10 teams and where they expect them to finish this season.
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The Korean Baseball Organization is an entertaining league that stands on its own merits. The talent level is high, the games competitive, the playoffs spectacular, and the crowds unlike anything seen in an American ballpark. The league’s very existence offers a pleasant alternative for those who have grown weary of tanking MLB teams and the league’s clunky stewardship of the game. Even better, the action on the field is a refreshing reminder that the Three True Outcomes don’t have to be the Three Primary Objectives. Watch a little, and you’ll enjoy a few bat flips. Watch a lot, and you can get hooked.
For those new to the league, I want to start with a brief rundown of the KBO and how it operates.
The KBO is a 10-team league. Each club is named after the corporation that owns it (hi Samsung!), not the city where the team plays. Each team plays 144 games, facing the other nine teams 16 times apiece. Games are declared ties after 12 innings (15 in the postseason), and those contests have no bearing on a team’s winning percentage. Five teams make the playoffs, where the league uses a step-ladder format: The fifth- and fourth-placed teams battle in a Wild Card round, the winner faces the three seed, and so on. It’s way better this way. Read the rest of this entry »
Shin-Soo Choo’s seven-year contract with the Rangers didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to, either in the grand scheme or the specifics. In a season already shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, he missed additional time due to oblique and calf strains, then sprained his right hand on September 7. He recovered in time to return to the lineup for the season’s final game, beat out a bunt to lead off the home half of the first inning… and then sprained his left ankle tripping over first base. D’oh!
Alas, that might have been the final play of Choo’s major league career. Though the 38-year-old outfielder/DH sought a contract for the 2021 season and had interest from as many as eight teams (some of them contenders), earlier this week he agreed to return to his native South Korea via a one-year deal with the SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization. “I want to play in Korea because I want to play in front of my parents and I want to give back to Korean fans,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Jeff Wilson.
Hours after trading for Blake Snell, and hours before swinging a deal for Yu Darvish, the Padres continued their remarkable post-Christmas shopping spree by signing Ha-seong Kim. Kim, a 25-year-old infielder who spent last season with the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes, was listed as our eighth-best free agent in our top 50 roundup this fall, just ahead of Didi Gregorius and Justin Turner. Per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Tribune, it will be a four-year, $25 million deal. Additionally, Kiwoom will collect a bit of a tax, taking a $5 million release fee from San Diego.
In Kim, the Padres get a player who should claim a starting job right away, and potentially ascend from there. The best way to characterize his recent KBO production is to say that he’s outgrown the league. As the starting shortstop for one of the circuit’s better clubs, Kim has notched a 140 wRC+ in each of the last two seasons. He produced a .306/.397/.523 line last year, with 30 homers and more walks than strikeouts. He’s also swiped 56 bases in 62 tries over the last two years, a 90% clip. Mel Rojas Jr.’s absurd power production deservedly won him the KBO MVP award last season, but make no mistake: Kim was the brightest prospect in the league.
The scouting report backs up the numbers. A tremendous athlete, Kim’s a plus runner with quick hands and a plus throwing arm. At the plate, he has a mature approach, displaying good patience without being passive. Most of his power comes to the pull side, and he adeptly hunts pitches he can drive: Both his swing rate and whiff rate were above average last year, notable in a league that runs a lot of deep counts. Read the rest of this entry »
In recent days, the NC Dinos have asked the KBO to post outfielder Sung-bum Na 나성범. Once MLB and the KBO make the posting official, big-league clubs will have 30 days to sign the 31-year-old outfielder. Na’s posting isn’t official quite yet — neither is Ha-seong Kim 김하성’s — but should be after the Dinos send MLB additional medical information.
Na has had a decorated career in South Korea. He’s a six-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner, and annual MVP candidate. He’s won Gold in the Asian Games and starred on this season’s Korean Series winner. A .317/.384/.542 career hitter, he’s notched a 150 wRC+ in two of his last three full seasons, and probably would have made it three out of four had he not blown out his knee in May of 2019.
That injury is the main reason you’re reading this article now instead of a year ago: Na has long dreamed of playing in the majors, and he’d originally planned to test MLB waters following the 2019 season. At the time of the injury, he was loosely considered a five-tool player. He’d already shifted from center to right field at that point, but he was good there on the strength of above average speed and a strong arm. He wasn’t quite the same guy in the field last season, as he played more DH than right, and only attempted four steals. Read the rest of this entry »
As many readers have likely deduced from some of the early offseason transactions and the flurry of cuts made to scouting, player development, and other parts of baseball ops, owners are tightening their belts after a gate-less season and the repercussions are diffusing across the industry. If these early moves — like Brad Hand’s $10 million option being declined, and no team picking him up on waivers — are indications of how teams are going to behave this offseason, then this will, among other things, modulate some of the already-changing, pre-COVID shifts in the thinking surrounding payroll allocation and roster construction, which was already cutting deeper into the bottom of rosters.
I’d like to specifically talk about how I think the COVID-19 financial ripples will impact the way teams approach non-tendering players this offseason. It’s logical to assume that teams will be apt to non-tender players more often this year than ever before because of financial fallout from the pandemic, but based on recent trends, the game was perhaps likely to see a record number of non-tenders anyway. Here are the past 12 years of league-wide non-tender totals:
With the 2020 MLB season delayed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) received more attention in the United States than usual. While discerning fans — you! — were already aware of the quality of baseball in South Korea, others got their first extended exposure to the league this spring. And one of the players who might have stood out is the Kiwoom Heroes’ current home run leader, Ha-seong Kim 김하성. Kim, who is hitting .304/.396/.521 while splitting time between shortstop and third base, is in his sixth season as a full-time starter in the KBO, and has never had an OPS lower than his 2018 .832 mark despite debuting as a teenager. With the news that Kiwoom will be posting Kim this offseason, it’s quite likely that he’ll be bringing his talents to MLB.
Star shortstops don’t actually hit free agency in their primes all that often. If you’re strict and only count players who their new teams are signing to play the position — Manny Machado was brought in to man third base for the Padres and Hanley Ramirez never played a game at the position for Boston — the last free agent shortstops to sign for at least $20 million guaranteed were José Reyes and Jimmy Rollins after the 2011 season. This year, there’s a very good possibility that at least three — Andrelton Simmons, Marcus Semien, and Didi Gregorius — pass that threshold. Kim could be the fourth. Read the rest of this entry »