I'm not going to start with a BS paragraph or two about the poetry of baseball or how it relates to my dad or any other nonsense. This is a prediction post. Yes, there is a new KBO season. Yes, I've missed baseball in my life. Saturday can't come fast enough.
8. Hanhwa Eagles - These will be the "Get-To-Know-Your Eagles." They lost their two franchise corner infielders to Japan. Six players who started games ended the year with ERA's over 5.00. One guy started eight games and ended with an ERA over 9.00. The Eagles were amazingly bad last year and they'll probably remain bad this year. They have exactly two players that I'm interested in watching on an every day basis. The first is ace Ryu Hyeon-jin. I get the impression that the K Monster is going to make a run at the MVP this year. My guess is that Hanhwa gets about 40 wins this year. I would be surprised if Ryu earned the W in half of them. He could be the KBO's answer to Steve Carlton. The other guy I'm interested in is right fielder Kim Tae-wan. He posted a .958 OPS in a lineup with Lee Beom-ho, a knocked silly Kim Tae-gyun and six other guys who played baseball instead of delivering Chinese food. One guy to watch out for this year is left fielder Choi Jin-haeng. Choi had a solid exhibition season and is in line to get an extended look. He sounds intruiging.
7. Nexen Heroes - Not finishing last is going to be an accomplishment for this group. At least they have a sponsor this year. I can't imagine how embarrassing it must have been to have been called "The Heroes." They might have a possible franchise player with their 23 year old shortstop, Kang Jeong-ho. Actually, their left side of the infield should be one of the best in the league with Kang and 3rd baseman Hwang Jae-gyun. Both should be over .850 in OPS. On the mound, things...aren't quite as clear. Gone are mainstays Ma Il-yeong Lee Hyeon-seung and Jeong Won-sam. The new non-Korean pitcher, Adrian Burnside, is expected to lead the staff. 20-year old 2nd year man Kang Yoon-guh will probably follow him in the rotation. After that is Doosan castoff Geum Min-cheol. After those three...who knows?
6. Lotte Giants - I'm sad to say it but, I think Jerry Royster's run in Korea is about over. The Giants will have all the usual suspects back in the field. Lee Dae-ho at 3rd, Kim Ju-chan at 1st, Kang Min-ho catching. Even Karim Garcia is back for another season of mediocre power production and inflated expectations. They never found another solid arm to use as bridge between their starting staff and their closer last year. I still think they're a starting pitcher away from the playoffs and an ace reliever away from being an elite team in the KBO. They don't have the staff depth that the elite KBO teams have. I think they're going to miss Jon Adkins more than they realize. He was their only reliable relief pitcher last year. I guess Lee Jeong-hoon is going to take over the closing duties, but who's going to be the bridge between the starters and Lee? Song Seung-joon, Jeong Won-joon, Cho Jeong-hoon and Ryan Sadowski could be in for a lot of ND's this year instead of wins and losses.
5. KIA Tigers - I think they burned out their pitching staff last year and I don't think the career years that a lot of their hitters had are repeatable. I can't believe they brought back Aquilino Lopez for another year. He tired noticably down the stretch last year and wasn't the same pitcher in the playoffs. He logged a ton of innings and I think those innings will take their toll on his 2010 season. I'm also expecting a championship hangover for most of the pitchers on this staff. I think they made the right choice. If you have a chance at a league title, you have to take it, but I think the Tigers will pay for a lot of those decisions this year. I'm interested to see what's going to happen to Seo Jae-wong this year. The former Tampa Bay Ray struggled through an injury plagued 2009 campaign. They'll need him and Yoon Seok-min in the rotation for the entire season if they expect to contend. I don't think that 3rd baseman Kim Sang-hyeon and 1st baseman Choi Hee-seop both will hit over 30 homers again. I do think that left fielder Na Ji-won will. I think Na has a chance for a breakout season.
4. LG Twins - They spent a ton of cash in the off-season and I think they realized they need to make the playoffs if they want to maintain any kind of fanbase. Sharing a stadium with the Doosan Bears has done them no favors. The acquired center fielder Lee Taek-geun from the Heroes and signed free agent right fielder Lee Byeong-gyu back from Japan. Those two will join speedster Lee Dae-hyeong and Park Yong-taek in an outfield/DH rotation. It looks like Lee Byeong-gyu is going to make the switch to first with the three speedsters in the outfield and rightfielder Lee Jin-yeong DHing. This will be an interesting team to watch. All three of their outfielders should top 30 steals. The LG pitching is a bigger question mark, but they at least have a legit ace in Bong Jeung-geun. Edgar Gonzalez is probably the number two starter. After that, things get dicey. LG tried 14 different starting pitchers last year and most of them were completely forgettable. Most of them were younger guys. Dr. Bong and Gonzalez will carry the rotation. Japanese reliever Shinya Okamoto will close and Ryu Taek-hyeon will set him up. This staff is...fairly unsettled.
3. Samsung Lions - Yes, this is a homer pick and no, I don't care. I like my fightin' Lions this year. They've got a rotation that goes five deep and a solid bullpen headed by a (hopefully) healthy Oh Seung-hwan. They've phased out most of their creaky, old ballplayers and brought in younger, better models. The rotation is headed by non-Koreans Brandon Knight and Francisco Cruceta. Both were successful enough last year to make me think they'll be successful this year. Yoon Seong-hwan was the staff ace last year and racked up 14 wins with an ERA over 4.00. I like him much better as a number three starter. The Lions finally landed lefty Jeong Won-sam. The trade for Jeong took two years to get completed. Ahn Ji-man should bring his flat brim to the 5th starter's slot and keep it there this time. I like Ahn's fastball, but so does the rest of the KBO. Did I mention the Lions bullpen was fantastic last season? It was. Did I mention Oh "Iron Mask" Seung-hwan appears to be healthy? A real starting staff with our awesome bullpen? What a day to be alive. Bae Yong-su tried to kill my will to live as a pitcher with the Lions last year. He has nine scoreless innings in the exhibition season. I'm not looking up the numbers, but I'm guessing that's nine more than he threw all year last year. It's a trick. Please, do not subject me to any more Bae Yong-su. The fact that he's actually a year younger than me and completely washed up is really, really depressing.
Shin Myeong-cheol was the KBO answer to Ben Zobrist last year. He came out of nowhere to post 20 homers with a .800+ OPS. I have no idea where it came from. I don't think he had twenty homers in his career before last year. Third baseman Park Seok-min was awesome when he was healthy, but various injuries limited him to 97 games. 2nd year man Choi Hyeong-woo built on his 2008 Rookie of the Year performance with a solid 2009. I'm expected a bigger role for the left fielder.
2. Doosan Bears - Doosan is a really talented ball club stuck playing second fiddle to the obviously better SK Wyverns. The Wyverns are just more poised and professional. The Bears added lefty Lee Hyeon-seung and non Korean guys Les Walrond and Kelvin Jiminez in the offseason. The starting rotation was the Bears biggest weakness in 2009. This trio is expected to bolster it. I'm still not impressed by their starting staff. Former MLBer Kim Sun-woo is mediocre by KBO standards and 20-year old 2nd year man Hong Sang-sam isn't as good as his numbers indicate. The Bears bullpen was probably the best in the league by any measure in 2009. 21-year old closer Lee Yong-chan lead the team with 26 saves. Lim Tae-hoon, Goh Chang-seong and Lee Jae-woo recorded double digit holds. If the Bears had a lead after the 6th inning, you knew your team was in trouble. These guys were devastating. The problem was finding a starting pitcher capable of not giving up 6 runs in the first three innings. In the field, the Bears are lead by left fielder Kim Hyeon-su and third baseman Kim Dong-ju. Both were over 1.000 in OPS last year. Look out for center fielder Jeong Su-bin. He filled in when center fielder Lee Jong-wook was injured last year and was impressive for a 19-year old rookie.
1. SK Wyverns - The Wyverns boast a deep pitching staff and a lineup that was mercilessly efficient last year. If a player goes down, the next man fills in. They are a factory. A winning machine. Catcher/team leader Park Kyeong-won tore his achilles in the middle of a career year. Backup Jeong Sang-ho stepped in like Park never left. 2nd baseman Jeong Geun-woo struggled early, got straightened out and turned in a career year. Right fielder Park Jae-hong was the first KBO player to record 250 homers and 250 stolen bases. He's still chugging along at age 36. The only guy that really disappointed was third baseman Choi Jeong and he still put up an .854 OPS. He just looks like he should be a better player and he's only 23. Ace Kim Kwang-hyeon is going to miss the first few weeks of the season and hasn't thrown in any of the exhibition games. This team proved that they can lose Kim for months and come within one inning of winning a championship. On any other team, losing Kim would be devastating. Gary Glover and Ken Kadokura will return to lead the rotation. Lefty Song Eun-beom and righty Goh Hyo-joon will likely follow. Song lead the team in innings pitched(149) last year and posted a solid ERA(3.13) and WHIP(1.37). Kim Seon-gyu is back from his military service and looks intruiging. He's posted 10 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 K's during the exhibition season. He'll probably start in the bullpen, but could see time as a starter. SK lacks a true closer. Eight different players recorded saves for the Wyverns last year. Jeong Dae-hyeon posted double digit saves and holds with a 1.20 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
I like Samsung over LG in the first round in 4 games.
Doosan over Samsung in 5 in the second round.
Then, SK over Doosan in 7 in the championship
2010 KBO MVP: Doosan left fielder Kim Hyeon-su finally gets his first of many MVP awards.
2010 KBO Best Pitcher: Ryu Hyeon-jin wins it for a crappy, crappy Hanhwa team.