Major League Baseball may be returning within the next month, but in South Korea, the KBO keeps on playing. ESPN continues to broadcast its games and is helping to fill the void that the MLB labor dispute has created.
On a rainy evening in Korea, the Hanwha Eagles pulled off a victory over the Samsung Lions, winning by a score of 8–2 thanks to a strong performance by Beom-su Kim and an uncharacteristic offensive breakout against the Lions’ starter, David Buchanan. It was just the 11th win of the season for Hanwha and it came as 24-year-old Beom-su Kim made his second start of the season.
Kim, an LHP and reliever to start the season, hasn’t been great this season, posting a 4.70 ERA with a FIP of 6.49 that would be the worst in the KBO if he qualified for the pitching leaderboards. Two things, in particular, have plagued Kim this season and throughout his career; he’s walking 7.04 batters per 9 this season and has a career-low BB/9 rate of 5.33. The other problem is his extreme HR/9 allowed, at 1.57 HR/9 allowed this season with a career-low of 1.30 HR/9 in seasons with 20+ IP. Fortunately for Kim and the Eagles, he only showed command issues against the Lions.
He only walked 3 batters, but only threw a strike 59% of the time and a first-pitch strike to less than half the batters he faced, only 48% of the time. Kim worked down in the zone a lot against Samsung, keeping his fastball and slider down, especially hammering his glove side. He rarely threw his changeup and managed to locate his curveball, really more of slurve, for a strike quite a bit. Overall, it worked; he induced 6 groundouts versus 5 flyouts and managed to strike out 7 batters in 6 IP, despite getting behind in the count too often. Thanks to his pounding the lower half of the zone, the Lions rarely hit the ball hard, with only 3 doubles and a 29.41% hard-hit rate.
While location and command aren’t necessarily strengths of Kim’s, a reliever to start this season, he didn’t get those 7 Ks on accident. Beom-su Kim is one of the harder throwing Korean pitchers that I watched, with his fastball averaging 90.9 mph. That pitch was his go-to, throwing it 57% of the time and, although he primarily worked it down in the zone, he elevated it to get swinging strikes, with 6 of his 7 Whiffs coming on fastballs up and away to right-handed hitters (RHH).
Kim worked his slider and curveball from side to side which was really effective with his lower arm slot that had the ball cutting back towards the plate. His slider averaged about 81.5 mph, frequently used diving away from LHH, and his curveball, which is a slurve, coming in around 72 mph. His changeup averaged about 80 mph and he only through 4, all diving away from RHH and usually up in the zone.
It’s an interesting mix of pitches that Kim used, working up and down with his fastball/changeup and using his slider/curveball combo to work side to side. Beom-su Kim was effective overall and even better through the first 5 IP, going scoreless until the 6th when Samsung got 2 runs off of him. Kim threw 112 pitches in this game, with his prior career-high of 77 pitches coming just a few days ago in his first start of the season. He looked tired as the 6th proceeded, but Hanwha needed the innings heading into the weekend and it never blew up too much. Kim has been prone to giving up lots of runs in a short span of time as a reliever but kept things under control against the Lions.
He’s only 24 and throws 90+ on his fastball, a rarity for KBO pitchers, but it gives him a longer leash than most might. We’ll see if the fastball/slider/slurve combo continues to work or if he should shift the slurve towards more of a true curveball.
David Buchanan on the other hand, a 31-year-old RHP with 192.1 IP of experience with the Philadelphia Phillies, got shelled against Hanwha, not a position you want to be in, giving up 8 runs to the worst offensive team in the KBO. He’s been effective this season, posting an ERA of 3.62, but his FIP of 5.07 indicated that some regression may be on the way and it hit against Hanwha. He’s not a swing and miss guy, entering the game with a 6.16 K/9 and 2.36 BB/9, but gives up maybe a tad too many HR/9, allowing 1.27 HR/9 this season for Samsung.
I think he just got hit hard by Hanwha. It happens sometimes, even against the Eagles. He allowed 12 hits on a 0.461 BABIP, 10 of which were singles, as well as the triple and HR that he gave up to Jung Eun-won. But most of the contact he allowed wasn’t very hard, allowing 9 groundouts versus 5 flyouts and a hard-hit rate of 27%, less than the 29% of Beom-su Kim.
Despite not being a strikeout guy, David Buchanan attacked the strike zone, throwing 66% of his pitches for strikes and a first-pitch strike rate of 74%. He clearly had command of the strike zone, only walking 1 batter and hitting another, staying in line with his season numbers. He even surprised me a little on the swing-and-miss front, inducing 11 Whiffs for a 20% Whiff rate.
He showed the ability to throw all of his pitches for strikes, even his curveball. He faced a Hanwha lineup that was extremely heavy with left-handed bats and worked away from them for the most part, staying on his arm side.
Like Kim, Buchanan displayed above-average velocity for the KBO, averaging about 91 mph on his fastball and throwing it almost half the time. He backed that up with a cutter, rather than a slider, that averaged around 89 mph, sometimes blending into the fastball but with just a little more vertical drop. Buchanan pounded the zone with both of those offerings, as well as his curveball. In an interesting move, Buchanan, whose curveball averaged around 75 mph, threw his curveball in the strike zone more than he threw it as a chase pitch in the dirt. It was effective thanks to his consistent location of it but was still an interesting note from his approach. His changeup was a weapon against LHH, averaging around 82 mph, except against Jung who launched a changeup up in the zone into the seats in the first inning. Following that HR, Buchanan drifted away from the changeup for a while before returning to it later on.
Giving up the 2 runs in the first inning really set the stage for Buchanan’s struggles. The first 3 innings were laborious and he was working his way through the lineup for the 4th time when he got pulled after 6 innings. He’s much more accustomed to the 109-pitch workload than Kim is, throwing 103–105 pitches in his last 6 starts, but he still looked gassed in the 6th. It was a difficult start with the rain, but giving up 8 runs to Hanwha is never a good thing. He managed to crank out 6 IP, which saved the bullpen arms a little but didn’t help Samsung get the win. He probably won’t return to 3.62 ERA status, but a low 4s ERA the rest of the way is definitely possible and in-line with his approach.
**Stats from myKBO.com, FanGraphs, and the KBO on ESPN broadcast**