NC Dinos outfielder Son Ah-seop, 35, is a sophisticated hitter in the KBO, where his .321 career batting average ranks third among active players.
Since establishing himself as the Lotte Giants’ starting outfielder in 2010, Son has been a consistent performer, with only two seasons in his 13 seasons in the KBO where he didn’t hit over .300.
Last year, when he switched to the NC, he hit .277 with four home runs and 48 RBIs, but this season, he is back to being a ‘triple-digit hitter’ with a .307 batting average.
“My age is not yet the age of the aging curve,” he emphasized when we met at Sajik Stadium in Busan on the 23rd.
“Aging Curve” is a term widely used in sports to describe the parabolic decline in physical performance as a result of aging, and is similar to senility.
Son’s on-base percentage peaked at 0.546 in 2018 and then fluctuated, dropping to 0.397 in 2021 and 0.367 in 2022.
Some analysts have suggested that the aging curve has set in for Son, who is in his mid-30s.
However, Son has rebounded this season with a .411 on-base percentage, albeit without a home run.
“When I’m not performing well, the first thing that comes up is the aging curve, but it’s actually the effect of my batting balance and not swinging properly,” Son emphasized.
“When my balance is out of whack, I can’t hit it even if I try to hit it hard, and of course, my bat speed drops,” he said. “Unlike the aging curve, my bat speed doesn’t come out even though I swung properly. This is what they mean when they say, ‘If you feel like you’re going to hit a home run and you get caught in front of the fence, it’s time to stop playing baseball.'”
Son, who still hasn’t fully regained his old swing, said it started to break down in 2018, when he hit 28 home runs.
“As I got to know the taste of home runs, my swing got bigger and bigger, and my body remembered it badly,” he explained.
This year, he’s found some answers, and his bat speed is significantly higher than last season.
However, he says, “I know that even if my swing comes back, I’ll never be back to where I was physically at my best. Everyone’s physical abilities decline, but the fact that my swing was broken was a bigger reason (for my struggles).”
Instead, “I train every day to somehow maximize what I have now. The present is more important than trying to find past glory,” he said, declaring that he would continue to search for answers.
Choi Hyung-woo (40-KIA Tigers) is the player who most clearly defied the “aging curve” Son saw.
Once known for his precision hitting and long balls, Choi seemed to be on a downward spiral with a .233 batting average and 12 home runs in 2021 and a .263 batting average and 14 home runs in 2022.
안전놀이터 This year, however, he has rebounded, batting .326 with four home runs and a .924 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
“It’s easy to talk about an aging curve, but that doesn’t explain Choi’s performance this year,” Son emphasized.
In addition, Son believes that the reduced rebound of KBO balls has also contributed to the decline in long balls.
The league’s on-base percentage dropped from 0.409 in 2020 to 0.383 in 2021, 0.379 in 2022, and down to 0.360 this year.
“When the bounce of the ball decreases, the bat speed decreases, and the overall league batting average decreases. No matter how good your swing is, you can’t do anything about reduced rebound,” he said.