Archive for KBO

Daily Prospect Notes: 7/2/21

These are notes on prospects from Brendan Gawlowski, who will be chipping on Daily Prospect Notes once a week. Read previous installments of the DPN here.

Today, we’ll review some live looks, watch at a little video, and head off the beaten path for a bit. It should be fun, and apologies in advance for highlighting a few performances from earlier in the week. Onward!

CJ Van Eyk, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Level & Affiliate: High-A Vancouver Age: 22 Org Rank: 10 FV: 40+
Line: ⅔ IP, 4 H, 7R, 1 SO, 3 BB

It was a night he’d like to forget. The line probably oversells how rough he looked — a couple of gork singles extended the inning — but Van Eyk’s primary developmental goal this season is to pound the zone, and only 17 of his 33 pitches were strikes on Tuesday night. He often missed badly to his arm side with his fastball and curve, and a lack of competitive pitches limited him to just one true swing and miss.

Mechanically, Van Eyk has a loose arm, clean arm swing, and still head, all of which should help him throw strikes. His landing spot is very inconsistent though, and that seems to affect his ability to throw strikes. Sometimes he lands in a clean fielding position; on other occasions his left foot lands so awkwardly that he practically falls off the mound toward the first base dugout (you can see footage of that in action in Tess Taruskin’s notes from a few weeks back). Up to 94 with a curve that flashes plus, there’s good stuff here if he can find a delivery that facilitates more strikes. Read the rest of this entry »

Keeping Up With the KBO: May, Part Two

This is Part Two of the May 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 discussed league-wide trends, then covered the SSG Landers, LG Twins, Samsung Lions, and NC Dinos. 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!

Team Notes

KT Wiz

If there was any doubt regarding Baek-ho Kang 강백호’s superstar status, this season has blown it away. Through 52 games, the young first baseman is batting over .400. He’s second in the league in wRC+ and first in Batting WAR. What’s his secret? Kang doesn’t have overwhelming raw power – our Eric Longenhagen assigned it a 55 grade – but he’s consistent enough with what he has to sustain a high BABIP. He’s also extremely picky during at-bats, fouling and taking unfavorable pitches before pouncing on one he likes. Here’s a graphical representation of his swing decisions last season (courtesy of Statiz):

That’s some excellent selective aggression. Kang’s swing rates are in the 80s on in-zone pitches, but they drop dramatically on anything outside. He’s seeing and hitting the ball so well that in one game, the Lotte Giants introduced an extreme infield shift covering Kang’s pull-side. And what does he do? Why, he executes two perfect bunts the other way for hits, of course. Later that game, he deposited an 88 mph fastball into right field to go 3-for-5 overall. At this point, Kang’s defense is his only weakness. I think he ends up as a DH if he decides to tackle major league baseball, but he’ll mash enough to be at least a solid regular. Read the rest of this entry »

Keeping Up With the KBO: May, Part One

This is Part One of the May 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 them, be sure to check out Parts One and Two of my April recap. 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.


KBO Standings, 6/8/21
Team W-L Pct. GB
SSG Landers 29-22 .569 0.0
LG Twins 30-23 .566 0.0
Samsung Lions 30-23 .566 0.0
KT Wiz 28-23 .549 1.0
NC Dinos 27-24 .529 2.0
Doosan Bears 27-24 .529 2.0
Kiwoom Heroes 26-28 .481 4.5
Kia Tigers 21-30 .412 8.0
Hanwha Eagles 21-31 .404 8.5
Lotte Giants 20-31 .392 9.0
SOURCE: Naver Sports

League Trends

The League Has Split Into Two Groups

As evidenced by the standings, we’re starting to see a division between the contenders and the bottom-dwellers. The Landers, Twins, Lions, Wiz, Dinos, Bears, and Heroes are all within a few games of each other, while the Tigers, Eagles, and Giants have fallen behind.

Still, this is weird. There’s usually an even gap between each team; rarely does the league split into clear haves and have-nots. The parity of the first month or so has simply been partitioned into two groups, with teams fighting for the upper hand as we enter the heat of summer. It’s good fun, and I especially enjoy the Korean media’s attempts at celebrating the ascendance of team X, only for team Y to dethrone it the next week.

So who ultimately joins the group of five headed for the playoffs? It’s early, but I’d pick (in no particular order) the Dinos, Twins, Bears, and Wiz, with a toss-up between the Lions and Heroes for the final spot. Next, it’s time to check on the individual teams. Have they been good? Bad? Just hanging in there? Find out below:

Team Notes

SSG Landers

When I first wrote about the Landers, I blasted them for hogging the fifth place spot with a shoddy run differential. One month later, they’re in first. Nostradamus, I am not. The run differential is still negative, but it’s better than before – I’ll give them credit for that. All-Star third baseman Jeong Choi 최정 went on an absolute tear in May, slashing .357/.495/.743 with seven home runs. I underestimated Wilmer Font 폰트 in my initial recap, but he’s blossomed into an ace. Here’s footage from his most recent start, in which he struck out 12 and didn’t issue a walk:

As the GIF shows, Font’s repertoire is anchored by a fastball that touches 98 mph and a 12-6 curveball with massive vertical drop. He throws a slider, too, which looks average at best but does generate whiffs. He drastically reduced his sinker usage in recent starts in favor of the four-seamer, which could explain the uptick in strikeouts. Barring a sudden collapse, Font looks to be the Landers’ No. 1 starter moving forward.

But the team isn’t without strife. After removing himself from a start due to right elbow pain, submariner Jong-hun Park 박종훈 flew to LA to receive a diagnosis from Dr. ElAttrache (uh-oh). The Landers have replaced foreign pitcher Artie Lewicki, whose health issues became apparent, with Sam Gaviglio. So at least for now, the team lacks two reliable starters.

Meanwhile, I want to direct your attention towards Shin-Soo Choo 추신수’s .268/.427/.451 line. After posting an uncharacteristically low BABIP in April and parts of May despite hard contact, Choo’s batted balls have begun to land for hits. He isn’t hitting for consistent power, a fact that’s garnered criticism. It seems unjustified, though; his career slugging percentage stateside was .447. Choo’s value lies in his plate discipline, and it’s been on full display en route to a 143 wRC+. He’s doing his best.

LG Twins

Most of what I wrote about the Twins last month is still relevant: The bullpen is excellent, and while Roberto Ramos 라모스 is finding his footing, this is still one of the league’s best teams. Since then, they’ve become even better. I noted that the rotation beyond Andrew Suárez and Casey Kelly 켈리 was bare. But Woo-chan Cha 차우찬, who hadn’t pitched for nearly a year due to injuries, made a successful comeback with five scoreless frames. Twenty-year-old Min-ho Lee이민호 has settled in as a fifth starter, and veteran righty Chan-heon Jeong 정찬헌 has been solid with a 4.42 FIP.

In addition, I’m surprised by how useful the team’s depth has become. Bo-gyeong Moon 문보경 was called up this season to share first base with Ramos, and it’s Moon’s ability to draw walks that has mitigated the position’s weakness. The Twins have two fantastic options at right field. Hyung-jong Lee 이형종 is a consistent pull-hitter with 20 home run potential, and Eun-seong Chae 채은성 has a 144 wRC+ this season via a higher rate of line drives.

Rhe Twins also have breakout stars who are continuing their success in 2021. The most notable example is outfielder Chang-ki Hong 홍창기. After playing in just 38 games from 2016-19, he became the team’s everyday center fielder in 2020 and excelled, posting a 126 wRC+. Similar to Moon, his greatest asset is plate discipline, and it’s scary to think it might have improved. Hong has 43 walks against 27 strikeouts this season, for an on-base percentage of .457; that’s third-best in the league. The team as a whole has the KBO’s highest strikeout-to-walk ratio, hinting at an organizational philosophy.

Samsung Lions

The Lions have followed up on their torrid April start, and they don’t seem out of place at third. That being said, I’m slightly worried that cracks will begin to form. For example, I do think Tae-in Won 원태인 is legitimately good, but batters are figuring out his changeup and are making more contact against it. Jose Pirela and Minho Kang 강민호 have the team’s best and third-best wRC+ respectively, but it seems like their production has been driven by grounders, which is less ideal even in the KBO.

David Buchanan 뷰캐넌 has been a rock solid ace. The team hoped for Chae-heung Choi 최채흥 to successfully rejoin the rotation, but a few disastrous starts have shown that he’s nowhere near ready; it could be that the effects of his injury still linger. Speaking of injury, the Lions signed Mike Montgomery to a one-year deal after it became necessary for Ben Lively 라이블리 to undergo surgery on his shoulder. It’s a decision that should have fans excited given Montgomery’s pedigree. I’m also optimistic about his pitching style, which prioritizes soft contact over strikeouts and reminds me of Aaron Brooks or Eric Jokisch.

In the bullpen, Seunghwan Oh 오승환 is still closing out games despite a heater that now averages 90 mph. He’s been effective, too, with a 2.57 ERA and 3.42 FIP. The longevity of his career is awe-inspiring, and I hope he has a few years left in the tank – watching him lob fastballs down the pipe is a can’t-miss KBO experience. He’s accompanied by 36-year-old Kyumin Woo 우규민, who has technically been the Lions’ best relief arm. It’s great to see the former-starter-turned-reliever receive the spotlight.

NC Dinos

See, there’s no need to worry about our swole daddy overlords. The Dinos are just two games behind first, with more runs scored than any other team. Among the many standouts in the Dinos’ lineup, Euiji Yang 양의지 deserves his own paragraph. First, his offensive line is ridiculous: .360/.475/.646, which works out to a 196 wRC+. Here are some frequently asked questions about him:

  • Is he a first baseman or a designated hitter? He’s a catcher, though he does occasionally DH to preserve his strength.
  • Does that mean his defense is lacking? Several pitchers, including foreigners, have praised his ability to call games.
  • He must be in his prime then, right? About that – Yang turned 34 this year. Overall, if you fused Joe Mauer’s contact, Mike Piazza’s power, and Yadier Molina’s defense into one athlete, the end result would be Euiji Yang. He struck out once in May while slugging above .700. As a 34-year old catcher.

But enough fanboying on my end. Once again, the pitching has been an issue for this team, though it’s at least looking up. Min-hyeok Shin 신민혁, who I covered last month, has indeed become a reliable starter. Wes Parsons’ pre-season injury didn’t lead to a dramatic decline in performance; his FIP (3.31) is lower than his ERA (4.13) and that, along with an elite strikeout rate (by KBO standards) of 27.1%, suggests that he can be a No. 2 starter.

The Dinos snagged last-standing free agent pitcher Yongchan Lee to bolster their bullpen, which is currently seventh in WAR. And best of all, after multiple setbacks and murky progress reports, Chang-mo Koo 구창모 finally appeared in a one-inning rehab start. His velocity was down as expected, but manager Dong-wook Lee 이동욱 expressed his satisfaction with the outing. If Koo can recapture some of the magic of his 2020 campaign, that’s one less worry for the Dinos.

Part Two to come!

Keeping Up With the KBO: April, Part Two

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!

Team Notes

Doosan Bears

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 »

Keeping Up With the KBO: April, Part One

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 »

New and Updated KBO Data Now Available!

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 »

FanGraphs Audio: The KBO Preview Episode

Episode 917

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presenting a 2021 KBO Preview

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 Heads Home to South Korea

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Padres Continue to Padre, Sign Ha-seong Kim

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 »