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New faces change KBO landscape

March 24, 2014 - 20:37 By Korea Herald
The preseason in the top South Korean baseball league ended on Sunday with crosstown rivals at the top of the standings, while an unlikely offensive hero led major statistical categories.

The Doosan Bears finished the Korea Baseball Organization preseason with the best winning percentage of .667, with four wins, two losses and five draws. Their Seoul rivals, the LG Twins, ended in second place after winning five, losing four and tying one, for a winning percentage of .556.

The NC Dinos ended up with the identical winning percentage as the Twins, with the same number of wins and losses, and one more tie.

The Samsung Lions, the three-time defending champs, finished in a three-way tie for sixth with a 4-5-1 record. The Lotte Giants ranked last at 4-6-1.

The KBO was launched in 1982, and its first preseason was held in 1983. Since then, the club that finished first in the preseason has gone on to win the championship Korea Series on six occasions, most recently the 2007 SK Wyverns.

Also, the first-place team in the preseason has made the postseason in nine out of the past 13 years.

Individually, Twins’ outfielder Jeong Eui-yoon emerged as a surprise star.
KBO officials and team representatives take part in the league’s media day in Seoul on Monday. (Lee Sang-seob/The Korea Herald)

Jeong led the KBO with a .429 batting average, 10 RBIs and a .893 slugging percentage in nine games, and tied Felix Pie of the Hanwha Eagles for most home runs with four. Jeong, flaunting newfound power, also ranked inside the top five in hits, on-base percentage and total bases.

Though preseason stats should be taken with a grain of salt, Jeong, a career .261 hitter who’s never hit more than eight homers in a season, could be in for a breakout year. He connected on four long balls in just 28 at-bats in the preseason, after hitting just five homers in 367 at-bats last year. He has just 24 homers in his seven-year career.

Pie is among the new faces this year with Major League Baseball experience and lived up to expectations. He batted .419 and led the KBO with 13 hits, while driving in eight runs in 10 games.

Luke Scott of the SK Wyverns, who has 135 career MLB homers, also had a productive spring, driving in eight runs and scoring eight times. He posted the fifth-best slugging percentage with .567.

Lee Dae-hyung, an outfielder who left the Twins to sign with the Kia Tigers as a free agent last winter, led the KBO with 11 runs scored and a .514 on-base percentage. The Tigers are hoping Lee can be their new leadoff man and center fielder after losing former All-Star Lee Yong-kyu to the Eagles via free agency.

Among pitchers, Tigers’ left-hander Yang Hyun-jong was the sharpest.

He pitched 14 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out 11, giving up only three hits and two walks. Though Yang managed just one victory, it was still an encouraging performance for the 26-year-old, who was limited to just five appearances in the second half of 2013 because of injuries. Yang won nine games last year, but none after June 20.

Lions lefty Baek Jeong-hyun, an unheralded career reliever entering his seventh season, might have won the job as the team’s fifth starter, after putting up a 1.98 ERA and striking out 14 batters in 13 2/3 preseason innings.

Among foreign pitchers, Jo-Jo Reyes of the Wyverns allowed just two earned runs in 15 innings for a 1.20 ERA and recorded 12 strikeouts. The one-time big leaguer was an underwhelming 8-13 with a 4.84 ERA in 2013, his first KBO season.

D.J. Houlton, a new pitcher for the Tigers, went 1-0 in three appearances and had a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings. Two other new faces, Cory Riordan of the Twins and Chris Volstad of the Bears, also kept their ERAs under 3.00 in the preseason.

Most other pitchers, though, were knocked around this spring.

In 50 preseason games, KBO hitters launched 86 home runs, up from just 39 in 51 games last preseason. Teams scored 510 runs, compared to 380 in 2013, and the pitchers’ collective ERA ballooned to 4.83 this year from 3.48.

KBO teams drew 314,286 fans in 50 games, an average of just under 6,300 per game. Last year, 242,476 fans attended 51 preseason contests, about 4,800 fans per game. (Yonhap)