For this analysis, we crowdsourced answers from some writers for the KBO Baseball blog “Yagongso”. With the help of Geehoon Hong (@geehoonbaseball), the answers were aggregated and translated from Korean to English.
You can check out their website and social media here:
What has been the biggest storyline of the KBO season so far?The most obvious story would be Coronavirus and the delay of the start of the season, along with playing games without fans. ESPN broadcasting the games is a big deal, with American fans now enjoying KBO (and its bat flips!). Korean fans are excited about how KBO players are making the headlines in various places, including Fangraphs. It’s also entertaining how people in North Carolina, including their governor, are becoming fans of the NC Dinos largely because they play in “NC”!
What team has been the biggest surprise of the KBO season so far?Other than the Dinos, the big buzz this season is around the success of Lotte Giants. They finished in last place last year, but they’re 6-2 so far this year.
The Giants General Manager, Sung Min-kyu, is actually a former MLB scout, having worked in the Chicago Cubs front office. Korean GM’s don’t usually get a lot of attention, but there’s a lot of excitement around Sung because he’s only 37 years old and because the Giants play in Busan, the second biggest city in Korea.
What players have been the biggest surprises?If I had to pick one, it would be Hyeong Jun So (Wiz). This 18-year-old rookie pitcher straight out of high school is making an immediate impact. He made his debut last week against a good Doosan Bears lineup and got the win, pitching five innings and giving up two runs with two strikeouts and only one walk.
Another rookie, Chang Pyeong Kim (Wyverns) hasn’t been hitting much yet, with a .250 average. He has just one extra-base hit through seven games, but he’s already stolen 5 bases, and he should be solid at second base.
Young superstars like Jung Hoo Lee (Heroes) and Baek Ho Kang (Wiz) have had a great start to the season, but it’s not that surprising. They are MVP caliber players and they are showing it.
What players do you think will have the biggest turnarounds going forward?Ha Seong Kim (Heroes) – He’s hitting .143 with a .231 on-base percentage and has only one home run so far, but he hit 19 or more home runs each of the previous five seasons and had career-highs with a .307 average and .389 on-base percentage in 2019.
Byung Ho Park (Heroes) – One of the former MLB players in the KBO, Park is hitting just .212 with 2 home runs so far, but he hit .280 with 33 home runs in 2019 and .345 with 43 home runs in 2018.
Kun Woo Park (Bears) – Park is hitting just .219 but he’s hit well-above .300 throughout his career and is probably just off to an unlucky start. There’s also some speculation that he’s currently dealing with a minor issue in his left thigh and his results should improve if he can get past it.
What players are overachieving to the largest extent?Jae-il Oh (Bears) – Oh has been a very good hitter the last few years but his strong start this year isn’t very sustainable. He’s being carried by a very fortunate .500 BABIP, so while he’s a good player he’s not quite this good.
Jin-hyuk No (Dinos) – No has made some real improvements in plate discipline this year, and he was already a decent hitter, but he’s still likely not as good as he’s been so far.
Dong Yub Kim (Lions) – He’s got great power and I’ve been a fan since he was on the Wyverns. It’s good to see him starting the season strong but he needs to work on his plate discipline and stop swinging at breaking balls way out of the zone. He has a 2.6% walk rate and a 25.6% strikeout rate in 2020.
Is there a bench player in the KBO that would be worth knowing about if they got the opportunity to start?Ji-hyuk Ryu (Bears) – Ryu has only made one plate appearance this year, but he’s been a semi-decent producer as a shortstop and could make an impact if he gets more of a chance. He’s behind Jae Ho Kim (SS) and Kyoung Min Heo (3B) on the depth chart, so he doesn’t really get playing time, kind of like Brendan Rodgers who got blocked by Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado. He isn’t that young anymore and needs to prove himself but he does have potential.
Will any impactful players be returning from injuries soon?Sung-bum Na (Dinos) – He had a down year last year because of an injury and is already making a big impact, with a game-tying home run against the Wiz the other day. He has three home runs for the season and is hitting .281.
Ja-wook Koo (Lions) – Koo is sidelined with a forearm issue, but you should keep an eye on him as he’ll produce as long as he’s healthy. Koo hit at least 15 home runs and stole at least 10 bases in each of the past three seasons.
Woo-in An (Heroes), Been Gwak (Bears) – These two young pitchers are aiming to come back later in the season. An is scheduled to be back in late June or early July, and Gwak a bit later than that. An struggled last season but he’s only 19 years old, and Gwak had an abbreviated rookie season in 2018 and hasn’t pitched since.
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