The veterans of South Korean baseball’s storied history are no match for age. The 2023 season was a tough one, with the team struggling in the aftermath of the World Baseball Classic (WBC). Only Yang Ji Won and Choi Jeong-do have defied time.
Of the 30 players who wore the Korean flag at the WBC in March, only seven were 35 years old or older. On the mound, the duo of Kim Kwang-hyun and Yang Hyun-jong, who were born in 1988, were the ‘youngsters’. The duo, who have been a key part of the pitching staff at every major international tournament, were disappointing, giving up four runs on three hits in two innings and three runs on three hits in three innings, respectively.
Their struggles continued after the WBC. Kim Kwang-hyun, who finished second in the regular season last year with a 2.13 ERA, had a particularly tough time. Twelve days ago, he had a 4.03 ERA in 23 games this season. Both his fastball and slider have less velocity than in previous years, and he hasn’t been able to dominate hitters like he used to.
Yang has also struggled. Until May, he maintained a sub-2 ERA, but his frequent walks became a concern, and in June, his vestibule burst. In his 12 starts from June through August, he gave up four or more runs five times. Only three of his starts lasted more than six innings, and he was sent down once to regroup.
The same can be said for the sluggers who have been through the wringer. Kim Hyun-soo lost his long ball power. His batting average and slugging percentage are not much different than before, but his home runs have plummeted from 23 last year to just five this year, resulting in a career-low 112.3 adjusted run production (wRC+), the lowest of his career except for 2006-2007, when he was a rookie. That’s not good enough for a third baseman for the LG Twins, who came closest to winning a regular season title.
Park Byung-ho, the previous year’s home run king, also saw his numbers plummet. He hit just 12 home runs in 110 games due to injuries and slumps. His chances of becoming the first player in baseball to hit 20 home runs in 10 consecutive years are slim. Lee Ji-young, a stalwart of the Kiwoom Heroes’ bullpen, was also sent down to the Futures League (second team) early last month due to a combination of fitness issues and missed at-bats.
Of course, there are exceptions. Choi, who went 1-for-9 at the WBC, has been a stalwart at the plate, boasting the highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of any SSG Landers hitter. Finishing first in runs scored was a bonus. Yang, who returned home to his family last winter, did his part as a field commander in the field. His home run total was cut in half, but his triple and quadruple slugging percentages were among the best offensively of any catcher in the league. 먹튀검증