Friday, January 3, 2014

3 Factors Lotte Needs to Overcome their 22 Year Drought

From Osen – January 02, 2014

Translated by: Simon Kim

By 2014, the Lotte Giants had not won a championship in the Korean Baseball Organization in 22 years. After the joy of the 1992 Korean Series championship, Lotte has felt nothing like it since. What can be done in this offseason to fix this?

Lotte’s current off season has been a fruitful one. After re-signing their potentially biggest free agent loss Kang Min-ho to a record contract, they resigned reliever Kang Yong-sik. The addition of Choi Joon-suk, Lee Yeo-sang, and Sim Soo-chang also immediately helped the team.

With Lotte’s imports, pitchers Shane Youman and Chris Oxspring were naturally re-signed as these two won a combined 26 games in 2013. And big infielder Luis Jiminez was also announced as signed. What the team hopes for is the healthy return of Jang Won-jun and Jang Seong-woo, two Lotte players currently serving in the Korean military. The process of building the team is going well.

So what’s needed for Lotte to win this year? First, they will need to make sure their starting rotation is settled and their bullpen is strong. Then they will need to strengthen their batting power. 

Starting pitchers:

Lotte needs less starting pitchers. Song Soon-jun, Youman, and Oxspring each won over 10 games last season for a combined 38 wins between the 3. The #4 and #5 starters turned into the problem, and using closer Kim Sa-yul as a starter complicated things to the point that the pitchers who will fill these positions are unclear.

The greatest benefit Lotte’s rotation will have this year is the return of Jang Won-jun. Going 15-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 2011, Jang left the team to serve in the military with the Korean police force. In his 7 years before, Jang pitched 100 innings in each season and came in second for most wins on the team 4 years in a row. Jang pitched for the Korean police team in the Futures League and held the lowest ERA in his two seasons with the team.

If Jang Won-jun pitches 180 innings and wins 10 or more games, it can be said that Lotte’s rotation will be the best in the KBO. Jang, Song Soon-jun, Youman, and Oxpring are quality pitchers and better than any other team’s rotations. There will be an odd number of teams until next season and a 4 man rotation will be enough.


The second factor is “backdoor strength.” Lotte’s bullpen ERA was 3.95 last season, good for 4th in the league, but Lotte blew the most saves with 21. Kim Seong-bae became the closer in the middle of the season but the initial bullpen plan fell apart resulting in a worrying situation.

Manager Kim Shi-jin plans to see how the situation unfolds before appointing a closer. With the return of Choi Dae-sung and Jeong Sang-juk, Lotte begins to have more options at the closer role. Kim Seong-bae is weak against left handed batters, so he will be tasked against right handed batters and Choi Dae-sung will be left for left handed batters. Jeong Dae-hyun leads the bullpen and Kang Yong-sik, Kim Seung-hui, Lee Myong-woo, Kim Sa-yul, and Hong Seong-min round up the bullpen in skill level. Jeong Dae-hyun would become the natural closer.

Lotte’s batting strength:

The Giants had been known as a home run hitting team. But their 61 home runs as a team last season was good for only 7th in the league. Just 3 years ago, Lee Dae-ho hit 44 home runs himself. The return of a more powerful offense in Busan is truly needed.

Lotte has addressed this with the signings of Choi Joon-suk and Jiminez. Choi hit 7 home runs last season with Doosan but exploded for 6 home runs in the post season. Choi is expected to hit 20 home runs after being provided with a steady opportunity in Busan. And Jiminez is also expected to be a good addition if he adjusts well to life in Korean baseball. And with a return to form of Son Ah-seop, Lotte is expected to improve in their hitting power.

Samsung has won 3 Korean Series in a row, and there are other contenders in the league. But with Oh Seung-hwan leaving for Japan, Samsung becomes considerably weaker. With a strong off season, the championship that has long eluded Lotte is becoming closer to reality. What is left is turning the ‘if’ to ‘conviction.’  This will be Lotte’s task as the spring training schedule turns into the start of the new season.

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