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.
Six strong innings of 2-run ball from Chan-heon Jeong kept the LG Twins in position to make a comeback against the Samsung Lions, moving the Twins back into the top 5 of the KBO standings with a 7–3 win. This season, Jeong has been a productive starter for the Twins as a 30-year-old in his first extended stint as a starter since 2008. Over 38.2 IP this season, Jeong has a 2.56 ERA and a 3.47 FIP, with a K/9 of 8.15 and BB/9 of 2.09, giving him a K/BB ratio of 3.89 that would be 7th in the KBO if he qualified for the leaderboards (he’s about 5 IP short). His start against the Lions was a continuation of his success this season.
Jeong wasn’t particularly efficient, throwing 111 pitches over 6 IP, but he held the Lions to just 2 ER, along with 7 strikeouts. He did a phenomenal job of throwing strikes, throwing a strike 67% of the time, and getting ahead in the count with a first-pitch strike 72% of the time, which is one of the best marks that I’ve seen in the last month in a half in the KBO.
He did allow 7 hits and quite a few hard-hit balls in play, with his hard-contact % of 41% being one of the worst that I’ve seen in an individual game this season. In that sense, he was especially lucky to only allow 2 runs. Those 2 runs came on an HR in the 1st inning and he almost gave up another 2-run HR in 5th inning, with Park Hae-min’s shot lodging into the wall padding, just a few feet below the yellow line that demarcates an HR. He walked the next batter, loading the bases, but managed to escape with a softly-hit grounder to the first baseman. Homeruns haven’t been an issue for Jeong in his career, with just an HR/9 of 0.70 this season, with his career-high of 1.41 coming all the way back in 2009.
He has, however, made a habit of getting out of jams like that. His LOB% of 75.4% is one of the best in the KBO (again, if he qualified for the leaderboard) and he stranded 6 of the 8 Samsung Lions that reached base (75%!).
Chan-heon Jeong utilized 4 different pitches against the Lions, displaying a 2-seam fastball, slider, changeup, and a curveball. He threw his 2-seam fastball 34% of the time, averaging around 86 mph, with a good deal of arm-side run. His changeup is very similar to the 2-seam, coming in at 82 mph, just a little bit slower. In the same range as his changeup, Jeong also throws his slider around 83 mph, but with more vertical break that horizontal break. But it’s his curveball that is his best pitch; Jeong threw it around 32% of the time, spinning it in at an average of 72 mph, but anywhere from 68–75 mph depending on the situation.
Each one of his pitches serves a fairly distinct purpose. Jeong’s 2-seamer is his main strike pitch. He threw it up in the zone and away against LHH, maximizing the arm-side run on the pitch to induce 5 Whiffs. He utilized the 2-seamer heavily on his first trip through the order but drifted away from it as the game went on.
As the game continued, especially after allowing the 2-run HR on his fastball, Jeong started to use his curveball more. It’s an extremely effective pitch with its velocity range from 68–75 mph depending on what Jeong wanted it to do. He showed the ability to locate the curveball down in the zone closer to that 75-mph mark, while also consistently throwing it closer to 70 mph as a chase pitch, inducing 6 Whiffs on the curveball. His curveball was a weapon that he used against both LHH and RHH. I’d like to see Jeong throw the curveball even more as an out pitch.
His slider played off of the curveball and his fastball excellently. It’s not his big swing and miss pitch, but it helped complement his primary offerings. Coming in around 83 mph, Jeong located his slider down and away, similarly to his curveball but 10 mph faster. That’s a really good combination and helped mess with hitters timing as induced 3 groundouts on the slider.
Jeong never threw his changeup very much, only using it about 12% of the time. Again, it’s a very similar pitch to his 2-seam fastball with an average of 5 mph separating the two from each other. He got no Whiffs on the changeup and there was nothing particularly noteworthy about it. He did locate it in the zone fairly consistently, giving him another pitch that he can locate for a strike when needed which is a good thing.
Early in the game, hitters should be looking fastball. Jeong didn’t start to use his curveball heavily until the third inning and on. With 2 strikes, the curveball is Jeong’s go-to pitch and where he can get a lot of hitters to swing and miss. He rarely threw over to first to hold runners on and that’s something that Samsung didn’t take advantage of as much as I thought they might. With his lower velocity, the basepaths might be a chance to put some more pressure on Jeong who did airmail a pitch into CF trying to hold a runner on second. The time to go after Jeong is early on, focusing on that fastball.