While negotiations between the MLB Player’s Union and the owners of the big-league clubs drag on, the Korean Baseball Organization has begun its season, with a game per day broadcasted on ESPN, helping to fill our need for baseball.
Last night, we were treated to pitcher’s duel between the SK Wyverns and the Kia Tigers, with the Tigers pulling out the win by a score of 2–1. Moon Seung-won of the Wyverns and Im Gi-yeong of the Tigers dueled with spectacular starts and a lot of swings and misses, a rarity in the KBO. It was a fascinating matchup between 2 of the better swing and miss pitchers in the KBO and lived up to the hype.
Moon Seung-won threw 100 pitches over 7.1 innings, allowing 1 HR in the third and an inherited runner to score after he exited the game. It was another great game from the 30-year-old RHP for the Wyverns, who entered the season with a 3.56 FIP (8th in the KBO) and a K% of 24.4% (5th in the KBO).
Moon displayed an advanced use of 4 different pitches and liberally switched between each, displaying each within his first few pitches. His fastball is his go-to pitch, averaging around 88 mph, which makes it one of the fast ones in the league. His changeup came in around 83 mph with some side to side movement to differentiate it from his fastball. Moon displayed two different breaking balls against the Tigers, throwing what a slider around 81 mph and a curveball in the low-mid 70s. He didn’t throw the curveball very much, but it was very similar to the slider, with the velocity being the biggest differentiator between the two. His slider didn’t display any horizontal movement and broke down a lot like his curveball, but just with less overall vertical movement. Moon did pair the two together effectively a couple of times but shied away from heavy curveball usage.
The 8 strikeouts are eye-popping, as are the 18 swinging strikes, but that’s all in a day’s work for Moon with his 24.4% K%. Along with missing a lot of bats, Moon limited hard contact, with the lone exception being the solo HR allowed in the 3rd. His GO/FO ratio of 0.86 (6/7) is a little misleading, with one of those “flyouts” being a popped-up bunt and another being a foul ball pop out to the catcher (it’s just what makes my scoring system not break). His location and command were phenomenal as well, with a 65% strike rate and just 2 walks allowed, helping maintain his K-BB% of 19.6%, the 3rd best in the KBO.
If he keeps pitching like this, his ERA of 4.28 (inflated thanks to a 0.336 BABIP) is going to plummet until it starts to look a lot more like his FIP does. It was an excellent start for Moon, but unfortunately not quite enough for the Wyverns to pull out the victory thanks to Im Gi-yeong’s phenomenal 6 scoreless innings.
This is the second time that I’ve seen Im Gi-yeong in action (read about the first here) and he’s only improved since that June 2nd outing. Im held the Wyverns scoreless, limiting them to 3 singles and a walk scattered over his 6 innings of work. He’s been a pitcher who works primarily around the edges of the zone but managed to throw a strike to 50% of opposing batters versus the 41% of the first start I saw.
Like Moon Swung-won, Im Gi-yeong has been one of the better pitchers in the KBO this season, posting a 2.82 ERA (9th in the KBO) and a 3.16 FIP (6th) while striking out 22.1% of opponents (10th) with a K-BB% of 18.8% that places him 4th, just behind Moon. He continued that success against the Wyverns, only throwing a ball 37% of the time and inducing 13 Whiffs on 30% of his swings.
It’s the way that Im does all this that fascinates me; his is a unique delivery, starting almost like a submarine motion, with Im straightening at the last moment to throw with a sidearm motion. It’s funky and different, but he’s figured out how to be effective with it. He throws 3 pitches, a 2-seam fastball around 85 mph, a slider around 81, and a changeup in the upper-70s, hovering around 78 mph. With his arm slot, Im gets a crazy amount of sink and arm side run on both his fastball and his changeup.
He primarily used his changeup against left-handed hitters; with it’s run to the right, it dives low and away to LHH, making it an effective counter to his slider which works down and in towards LHHs.
This was a great duel to watch between both Moon Seung-won and Im Gi-yeong, both of whom impressed me with the ways that they were able to induce swings and misses and limit baserunners of any kind. Pitching duels are rare in the KBO and this was one of the best.