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 the Kiwoom Heroes defeated the Hanwha Eagles 6–2 behind five solid innings from 21-year old Cho Young-gun. Opposing Cho was 30-year old Warwick Saupold of the Eagles, an Australian with 106.2 IP of MLB experience with the Detroit Tigers. Despite Saupold’s edge in professional experience, he was outpitched by the young Cho.
Warwick pitched deeper into the game, throwing 111 pitches over 7 innings versus Cho’s 5, but allowed 6 runs (4 earned) against Cho’s 2 runs allowed. While Cho had better results, he didn’t pitch particularly well either and has his own struggles to work on.
Cho only threw a strike 59% of the time and a first-pitch strike to only 9 of the 20 hitters he faced, good for a 45% first-pitch strike rate. Strangely, that didn’t hurt him too much, only allowing 4 hits and 2 walks, but it’s not sustainable, especially given his GO/FO ratio of 0.20, 2 groundouts versus 10 flyouts. A few of those flyouts went a long way, only to be caught at the warning track, and he did allow an HR in the first inning.
Part of the problem is Cho’s arsenal. His fastball averaged around 90 mph, touching 93 once, and he paired it with a slider that hovered at about 83 mph. But that was it; he threw a curveball no more than 5 times, averaging around 75 mph on it. Neither pitch was particularly notable I think the lack of a third threat hurt his chances of success. It helped that he only threw 76 pitches though and didn’t go through the entirety of the order a third time, with the Heroes’ manager making the smart decision to take him out after 5 innings.
Developing his curveball or a strong changeup offering is an important next step for Cho to be a successful pitcher; he’s got above-average velocity for the KBO which gives him some wiggle room, but the most important thing for Cho’s continued success is being able to locate his pitches more effectively, allowing him to take advantage of his plus velocity. He’s young, only 21 with just 6.1 innings of KBO experience, so he’s got room to grow and improve.
His Eagles counterpart though? Warwick Saupold is 30-years old with a pretty established record of who he is. He threw 106.2 career innings with the Detroit Tigers over three years before moving to the KBO. Since his move, Saupold looks pretty similar to the pitcher he was in the big league except for the fact that he didn’t throw his curveball at all against the Heroes, substituting with increased changeup usage.
His fastball velocity averaged around 89 mph, which is higher than the KBO average is, but is a little lower than most-foreign born players tend to average. His slider, on the other hand, came in at about 87 mph against the Heroes which is pretty quick, even relative to the majors, and was his second most used pitch. He threw his changeup around 82 mph, but it wasn’t very notable and runs similar to his fastball.
But what doomed Warwick to 6 runs allowed has more to do with his approach than his arsenal. Saupold threw a strike 61% of the time and a first-pitch strike 68% of the time, decent marks, but tended to live on the edge of the zone, trying to induce weaker contact. To an extent, it worked, drawing 12 ground outs, versus 7 fly outs, but also resulted in 8 singles. The Heroes’ hitters made contact on 92% of their swings, an almost astounding figure, after swinging on 46% of Warwick’s pitches.
Those numbers are in line with the stats that we’ve got on Warwick from his time with the Tigers. He had a career swing % of 45.2%, slightly below the MLB average, but also didn’t miss many bats, posting a career 7.4% swinging strike (swStr, aka Whiff %) in the States, nearly identical to his 7.8% whiff rate induced against the Heroes. The contact % is a little higher than his MLB totals, but some of that is the individual game variance.
As Warwick’s MLB track record and outing against the Heroes indicates, he walks a fine line, trying to induce soft contact around the edges of the zone. Sometimes it works, but the opponent tends to put a lot of balls in play and, with even an average BABIP, that’ll lead to runs eventually, as it did against the Heroes.
Warwick Saupold will continue to be a solid starter for the Eagles, but Cho has the higher ceiling at this point in their respective careers. Cho has a strong velocity foundation and needs to figure out his command while Warwick is fighting against time.