Heo Yoon-Dong’s Strong KBO Debut
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 (or very early this morning, depending on your point of view), the Lotte Giants and Samsung Lions faced off, with the Lions winning to the tune of 3–1. The notable pitching performance came from Heo Yoon-Dong, an 18-year-old lefty who was making his Lions and KBO debut after injuries struck the Lions rotation.
Here’s the report I put together on Heo’s start.
He was effective through five innings, allowing no runs with just one strikeout. However, Heo struggled, despite allowing no runs to cross the plate. In both the first and second innings, the Lotte Giants were able to load the bases against Heo and had runners on 2nd and 3rd in the 3rd inning thanks to his struggles with his curveball and off-speed pitches. With that many chances and runners in scoring position, the Giants’ expected run total had to be far higher than the 0 they ended up with.
They didn’t get anyone across the plate because Heo did an excellent job of inducing soft contact when he needed to get outs. Heo threw a variety of pitches throughout the game but most consistently used his fastball, which averaged around 84 MPH and touched 88 at the end of the first inning. Early on he struggled to locate his other offerings, notably with his curveball, but he managed to settle in as the game went along.
While he increased his pitch diversity in later innings, a constant was his attacks inside to right-handed hitters. As a lefty, his breaking balls broke in on righties multiple times, which allowed him to work out of some of the jams he found himself in. With his fastball, Heo primarily worked from the right side of the plate to the left rather than up and down in the strike zone.
Improving the early similarity and sequencing of his pitches would help with his swing and miss rate; of the 75 pitches I saw, not one hitter swung and missed. His curveball has sort of a sweeping quality to it, similar to a slurve, that travels from the left side of the plate to the right. Heo’s fastball has a similar sort of cut to it out of the hand when he throws it up and in. Yet, he rarely paired those two pitches together in that fashion. The few times that such a sequence could have benefitted him, Heo missed up and away on his fastball before coming inside with the curve.
While they didn’t hurt him in this game, if his walk rate and fly out rates continue where they were, Heo’s going to start allowing a lot of runs. With the four walks in five innings plus the four hits allowed, there were a lot of base runners in this game, with runners in scoring position in three of five innings. From third base, it only takes a single sac fly to score that runner; Heo ended up with 9 fly outs.
However, if his batted ball profile on those remains steady, it can work. None of those flyouts were hit particularly hard, with 2 of them being pop-outs on inside pitches from Heo that did their job. He also managed to order the ground outs and fly outs in a productive order, using ground outs to get to 2 outs where fly outs couldn’t turn into sac flies. It’s not a sustainable approach for success, but it worked for this time.
Heo flashed a variety of pitches in his KBO debut, with a fastball that touched 88 MPH and a curveball as slow as 69 MPH with a lot of horizontal movement. As an 18-year-old, there’s definitely room for growth and increased, as well as improved pitch sequencing to get more swings and misses. Heo had a strong career debut that had both positive and negative aspects, but it’s a step forward in the right direction.