Friday, April 03, 2009

Matt's KBO Baseball Preview 2009

With the 2009 season literally right around the corner and tens of new readers descending upon my little blog, the time has come for a KBO season preview.

I personally detest power rankings and lazy writers that pass them off as an actual column, but four our purposes, power rankings are the best way to structure this post.

2009 KBO Season Primer: Lotte Giants

2. Lotte Giants

In 2007, the Giants were essentially a laughingstock. They had talent on the roster, but the team lacked direction and wandered to a 7th place finish. That winter, they replaced their manager with the first foreign manager in the KBO, Jerry Royster. Things changed right away. The Giants started winning. Royster managed to instill a positive attitude in this talented roster and it paid off. The Giants finished 3rd last year, but sputtered in the opening round of the playoffs against an over-achieving Samsung Lions team.

This team probably has the best 1-2-3 starters in the KBO. 34-year old ace, Son Min-han started with Lotte in 1997. He finished last year with a 12-4 record in 26 starts. He worked 179 innings with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. Son struck out 80 and walked 40. #2 starter Song Seung-jun finished 12-7 over 26 starts. Song threw 153 1/3 innings with a 3.76 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He struck out a team best 114 and walked 70. #3 Jang Won-jun finished 12-10 over 26 starts. In Jang's 155 2/3 innings, he posted a career best 3.53 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. He struck out 102 and walked 54. Lotte has added American Jon Adkins to shore up a bullpen that struggled all year. Not a single Lotte reliever recorded double-digit saves last year. 37-year old Choi Hyang-nam posted 9 and he was last seen in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league camp. Kang Yeong-sik was one of the more reliable bullpen arms last year. Kang lead the Giants with 16 holds, but he had problems with keeping the ball in the park. He surrendered 6 homers in only 56 innings.

Last year, Lotte finished second in the league with 93 homers. Mexican national, Karim Garcia lead the team with 30. He also lead the team in RBI(111) and OPS (.894). He was a legitimate MVP candidate last season. Garcia was everything Lotte needed. His outgoing personality and strong hitting endeared him to the fan base. At most Lotte home games Mexican flags would be waived alongside Korean flags. Garcia's bat was a big reason for the Lotte turnaround. Infielder, Cho Seong-hwan also posted a career year last season. Cho lead the team in batting average by posting a .327 BA in 423 AB's. He led the team in doubles(27) and runs scored(81). He also came in 4th on the team in OPS with an .845 mark. Cho was also successful in 31 of 34 stolen base attempts. Lee Dae-ho had a monster season hitting next to Garcia. The large third baseman clubbed 18 homers, drove in 94 RBI and posted a .879 OPS. Catcher Kang Min-ho also came into his own last season. Kang finished 2nd on the team with 19 homers and 3rd with 82 RBI. This team was an offensive juggernaut.

In the off season, the Lotte Giants made the only real splash in the free agent market. They added Doosan catcher, Hong Seong-heun. Hong posted a .331 batting average and .812 OPS over 423 AB's last year. He figures to see more time at DH with the Giants. The Giants should post an everyday line up of 1. Cho, 2. Kang, 3. Lee, 4. Garcia, 5. Hong. That's probably the best 1-5 in the KBO.

This year, I think with more consistent effort out of the back end of the Lotte bullpen and EVEN MORE offense, this team could slug its way to a 2nd place finish.

2009 Season Primer: Doosan Bears

3. Doosan Bears

Last season the Doosan Bears clawed their way to a 2nd place finish despite not having a single starting pitcher reach double digit wins. 16 different pitchers started for Doosan last year. Foreign ringer, Matt Randel finished the year with a 9-9 record in 29 starts. Randel wasn't spectacular or pretty, but he got th job done. Randel ground his way through 150 2/3 innings last year. His ERA ended at 4.48 and his WHIP was a robust 1.46. He struck out 101 while walking 49 batters. Randel is the de facto ace for this Doosan Bears team. Lee Hye-chan started 22 games and relieved in 15 others. He finished the year with a 7-3 record. His ERA was 4.69 and his WHIP was at 1.40 in 109 1/3 innings. Kim Myeong-jae figures to have a larger role in the '09 Bears pitching staff. In 2008, Kim made 17 starts and 5 relief appearances. He posted a 3.81 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 111 innings. Former Boston Red Sox, Kim Sun-woo spent most of 2008 moving between the rotation and the disabled list. Kim finished with a 6-7 record in 21 starts. He had a 4.25 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP in 101 2/3 innings. He'll probably be the #3 or #4 starter this season.

The Doosan bullpen is possibly the deepest in the league. Lee Jae-woo and Lim Tae-hoon both finished with double digit holds. Lee managed a 1.55 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 85 innings. He also lead the team with 11 wins. Lee struck out 68 and walked 27. Lim worked 86 2/3 innings with a 3.22 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He posted 83 K's and 28 walks. Jeong Jae-hoon spent most of the year as the Doosan closer. Jeong nailed down 18 saves in 41 appearances( 3 of which were starts, WTF?!?!). He posted a 3.25 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 52 2/3 innings. Jeong has been used as a starter during the exhibition games so far. He'll probably be used as the #2 starter behind Randel.

In 2008, Kim Dong-ju had a solid season at third base for the Bears. Kim lead the team with 19 homers and 104 RBI. Kim posted a .916 OPS in 363 at bats. For the second consecutive season Kim tried and failed to make the jump to the NPB. As good as Kim is at the plate, he's not quick enough in the field to play third base everyday in the NPB. Doosan lost catcher/DH Hong Seong-heun to Lotte in free agency. They received a pair of warm bodies in exchange. I'm not expected much from pitcher Lee Seok-man, but infielder Lee Won-seok could have a role in the 2009 Doosan infield.

The only other new addition that should have any impact on the 2009 season is foreign ringer, Matt Watson. Matt figures to play right field and provide some protection for the big bats in the Doosan lineup.

Left fielder, Lee Hyeon-su lead the KBO in hitting last year with a .357 batting average. Lee drove in 89 runs and scored 83 runs. He also completely choked in the Korean Series. In Doosan's last two losses to SK, Kim grounded into game ending double plays in both. To be fair, Kim is still only 21 years old and this was his first full season in a run producing role. It's too early to tell and I don't want to base this on one post season(and one WBC), but he could become the KBO's answer to ARod. However, I don't think we'll be seeing him in any creepy photo shoots or giving bizarre interviews. I'm not labeling Kim a choker yet, but the evidence is starting to mount.

2009 Season Primer: Hanwha Eagles

4. Hanwha Eagles

I really wish this team had more pitching than Ryu Hyeon-jin and Brad Thomas. If this team could find anyone else to throw the ball, they could compete with SK for the top spot in the league. Ryu is a legit ace and Australian national, Brad Thomas, is one of the top relievers in the KBO, but there isn't much after them. This team's pitching reminds me a lot of the Chinese National team. They were competent enough to keep things close and make the game competitive, but every so often they would bring in some zombie who would just get lit up. Hanhwa had last year's TSOKB Cy Yuck Award Winner, Mr. Yang Hoon. Yang worked 65 1/3 innings for Hanhwa last year. He allowed 81 hits and 34 walks. His ERA was 7.71 and his WHIP was 1.73.

Ryu Hyeon-jin is one of the guys worth knowing in the KBO. Ryu finished last year with a 14-7 record in 26 starts. He struck out 143 batters in 165 2/3 innings. He walked only 67 hitters last year. He posted a 3.31 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP. He's left-handed and he just celebrated his 22nd birthday. Last year was his 3rd KBO season, so only 6 more until free agency! The clock is ticking!

Brad Thomas finished 2nd in the league with 31 saves last season. He was the one reliever that manager Kim In-sik could always count on. He threw 63 1/3 innings in 59 games last year. In those 63 1/3 innings, he struck out exactly 63 batters. Hanwha has to be thrilled that he's returning for another season. Hanwha has a few okay relievers to bridge to Thomas, but the staff is fairly thin. Yoon Gyu-jin and Koo Dae-seong are a nice righty, lefty combo, but they're not exactly shut down relievers.

Hanwha spent most of the season looking for a #2 and #3 starter behind Ryu. They would have settled for a #4 or #5. They usually found pitching machines. Actually, scratch that. Pitching machines can be programmed to throw strikes. Ooooooohhh! Song Jin-woo and Yu Won-sang had moments of competence, but they were never reliable. Hanwha added Choi Sang-deok from SK, but his best days are very far behind him. The last time the 38-year old righty was KBO relevant was 2003. Kim Hui-kwon was signed from LG. He's only 23. At least he has some upside.

As lacking as Hanwha is in the pitching department, they try to make up for it by hitting baseballs really, really hard. WBC star Kim Tae-kyun lead the KBO in homers(31) and OPS(1.039). If Hanwha had qualified for the playoffs, the slugging first baseman would have been in the mix for the MVP award. Protecting Kim this year will be foreign ringer Victor Diaz. Diaz should man right field for the Eagles and bat behind Kim in the lineup. Diaz is really intriguing as a middle of the order prescence in the KBO. In just under 500 career MLB AB's, Diaz has 24 homers. He's coming off a 24 homer, 100 RBI season at AAA. I think he has a chance to out-produce Doug Clark and at the very least he'll fill the void created by Clark's departure. Third baseman Lee Beom-ho is a nice power/speed guy. He finished last year with double-digit homers and stolen bases with an .844 OPS in 434 AB's. DH Kim Tae-won also posted a solid season last year. He clubbed 23 homers with 73 RBI and a .850 OPS.

One guy to watch out for is Song Kwang-min. I'm not sure where he's going to play, but if he does he could be another thumper for this lineup. He posted an .805 OPS in 140 AB's with 7 homers. He's also had a nice exhibition season. He's leading all batters with 5 homers and 15 RBI. He still strikes out a ton. He struck out 44 times last year. He could be the KBO's answer to Pablo Sandoval.

Unless Ryu Hyeon-jin is starting, this team is going to play a lot of 10-8, 9-6, 11-7 ballgames. This is a lineup of thumpers. They'll live and die with the long ball. I think they can bash their way to a 4th place finish. If it weren't for a late season swoon, they probably would have edged out Samsung for the 4th playoff spot. They should be able to get there this season. Even if the KBO has to rig the league, NBA style. The KBO needs Kim Tae-gyun and Ryu Hyeon-jin in the playoffs.

2009 KBO Season Primer: The Rest

I'm sick and lazy. That's a deadly combination when it comes to blogging. So, before I go home and build a fort out of my pillows and blankets, I'm going to run down the last 4 teams in my projected order of finish.

5. Samsung Lions

My beloved Samsung Lions could be completely awful this year. A 5th place finish is actually a little optomistic. They've got serious holes in their lineup and even more serious holes in their pitching staff. They tried and failed to acquire(buy) lefty Jeong Won-sam from the Seoul Heroes. He could have been the ace that this team is missing. Yoon Seong-hwan could emerge as a potential ace this season. After completing his military service in 2007, Yoon returned to the Lions as a reliever and did a servicable job. In 2008, he went back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. Somehow, he ended the year with a 10-11 record in 35 appearances. He lead the Lions with 135 2/3 innings last year. He posted a respectable 3.92 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. After Yoon, the Lions will use their 2 new foreign arms, Runelvys(Run! Elvis! Run!) Hernandez and Francisco Cruceta. The rest of the rotation is anyone's guess. Most likely Bae Yong-su's rotting corpse and Lee Sang-mok's rotting corpse will be propped up and forced to throw pitches. Personally, I'd like to see Ahn Ji-man turned into a starter. He looked strong working long relief in last year's playoffs.

The Samsung bullpen should be strong again. Oh Seung-hwan looked awful in the WBC, but he should make a run at another 40 save season. Kwon Hyeok should continue in his role as top set up man. Oh and Kwon were a deadly 1-2 punch in 2008. Both posted ERA's under 2.00.

The biggest story for Samsung is ageless DH Yang Jun-hyeok's run at the KBO homerun record. With any luck, he should have the record wrapped up by mid-April. I believe he needs 2 more homers for the record(He currently sits at 339). Rightfielder Choi Hyeong-woo was the 2008 KBO Rookie of the Year. That sounds more impressive than it is. He was the best of a mediocre crop of rookies last year. He's also 26 years old. I'm looking forward to watching Park Seok-min handle the everyday 3rd base job and I can't help but wonder what Park Han-yi would look like patrolling centerfield for the White Sox. He can't be worse than this guy. Other than that things look bleak for the Lions in the field. Shortstop Park Jin-man and catcher Jin Kab-yong are really starting to show their age.

6. Seoul Heroes

For a team without a sponsor, they're not that bad. Really, they're not. Assuming they can complete the season without folding(they should, the worst thing that happens is they get taken over by the league office again), they could hang around and possibly post a winning record. The middle of their order should be stronger. Cliff Brumbaugh will be back for another season(his 5th!) and Doug Clark was signed away from Hanwha. I like a #3/#4 combo of Clark and Brumbaugh. Leftfielder, Lee Taek-geun was a catalyst for this team last year and he should continue in his role as a leadoff hitter. He posted a .398 OBP in 2008 with 59 runs scored and 18 SB's. Veteran KBO infielder, Song Ji-man is returning for his 14th KBO season. He's spent every year with Hyundai/Woori/The Heroes. He should provide some protection for Clark and Brumbaugh. He can still hit.

On the mound, the Heroes have the best 1-2 combo in the league. Ace Ma Il-yeong and Jeong Won-sam combined for 23 of the team's 50 wins. Ma Il-yeong finished 11-11 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. In 173 KBO innings, he struck out 83 and walked 69. Jeong finished the year with a 12-8 record in 27 starts. He worked 167 1/3 innings last year. In those innings, he struck out 126 and walked 59. These two could pitch the Heroes into contention....if the Heroes bullpen wasn't completely awful. Only The Great Shingo Takatsu could stabalize the backend of the Heroes bullpen. Shingo joined the Heroes in mid-June and started putting zeroes on the scoreboard. He posted a 0.86 ERA and 8 saves over the last 3 months of the season. He also won the heart of this poor, bitter White Sox fan all over again. (swoon) Sadly, he wasn't brought back and this bullpen is a mess again. I guess Hwang Doo-seong is the de facto closer, but he was the reason Shingo was signed in the first place.

7. KIA Tigers

The highest OPS on this team was a 242-year old catcher that had posted solid #'s exactly once in his 203-year career in Korean baseball. Actually, Lee Jin-ju is only 36, but he was still the best hitter on this team last year. He LEAD the team with 58 RBI's. It was that kind of year for KIA. Supposedly former mediocre MLB slugger, Choi Hee-seop slimmed down in the off season. I'll believe it when I see it. He was eating his way out of the league last year. This team has a little speed on offense(5 Tigers registered double digit steals last year), but not much else. I don't see how this team is going to score any runs.

On the mound, things aren't nearly as bad. Staff ace/WBC hero Yoon Seok-min turned in an excellent 2008 season. Yoon finished the year 14-5 in 24 starts. In his 154 2/3 innings, he struck out 119 and walked 46. His ERA ended at 2.05 and his WHIP was a solid 1.05. If he pitched for any other team(except LG) he would have been in contention for the MVP award. Lee Beom-seok was a solid #2 starter. Lee ended the season with a 7-10 record in 28 starts. He worked 119 2/3 innings with a 3.08 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Former Tampa Bay Devil Ray, Seo Jae-weong was a disappointment. He spent the year moving between the rotation and the DL. In 16 starts, Seo was 5-5 with a 4.05 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. Somehow, closer Han Ki-joo saved 26 games last year. He struck out 46 batters in 58 innings and finished with a 1.71 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Yoon Dong-hoon and Son Yeong-min were solid in middle relief. Both posted sub 3.50 ERA's. Lacking an semblence of an offense, KIA of course chose to bring in two foreign pitchers to bolster their staff. Rick Guttormson and "Senor Smoke", Aquilino Lopez, will likely fill out the KIA rotation.

8. LG Twins

This team was among the more active in the offseason. At least they realized that sticking with the same group of corpses was a bad idea. Roberto Petagine will be asked to be the only middle of the order prescence on this roster. Big Bobby delivered a .984 OPS in 216 AB's last year, but if LG can't find someone to protect him, he's not going to see a pitch all year. Lee Jin-yeong was signed from SK to bolster the outfield and provide some punch near the top of the order. The 29-year old vet has a .301 career batting average over 10 KBO seasons. Mediocre slugger Choi Dong-su figures to bat behind Petagine. Choi lead the team in homers(16) and RBI(62) last year. Center fielder Lee Dae-hyeong's .598 OPS will likely be back at the top of the LG batting order next year. (But he stole 63 bases! He drives in runs with his legs!).

LG is solid at the top of the rotation with Bong Jung-geun and Austrialian hero, Chris Oxspring. Dr. Bong pitched magnificently for this motley crew. In 28 starts, Bong finished with a 11-8 record. In his league best 186 1/3 innings, he struck out 140 and walked 80. He ended the year with a 2.66 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Oxspring is essentially a foreign innings eater, but he finished with a .500 record and a sub 4.00 ERA last year. The LG bullpen is absolutely rotten. 34-year old Kim Kyung-tae was brought in to help stabilize the middle relief. He wasn't that bad with SK. He posted a sub 3.00 ERA in 24 1/3 innings with 6 holds. Jeong Jae-bok's 3.89 ERA and double-digit holds and saves don't sound that bad, but he managed to be responsible for 10 LG losses last year.

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