KBO: Eric Jokisch vs Min Kim
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.
The most recent game broadcasted was a game between the Kiwoon Heroes and the kt wiz where the Heroes came out on top 5–1. The pitching in this game was the best I’ve seen far, with 30-year-old lefty, and former major leaguer, Eric Jokisch of the Heroes facing off against Min Kim, a 21-year-old righty.
Here are the advanced box scores I put together for Jokisch and Kim.
Jokisch was easily the better pitcher, throwing 7 innings with 1 R allowed (unearned), and 9 strikeouts. Kim limited the Heroes to just 2 runs (1 earned), but only lasted 5 IP with 3 Ks. So, what separated the two? In a word: consistency. In four words: the ability to throw strikes.
Jokisch was efficient throughout his outing, with his pitch counts only varying by a few pitches either way. Kim on the other hand had one inning with just 7 pitches that was immediately followed by a 37-pitch inning.
Kim’s highest two-inning pitch totals, 22 and 37 pitches were the 1st and 3rd innings respectively, where he had to face the top of the Heroes order. That’s when his inconsistent delivery came back to bite him. Only 58% of Kim’s pitches were strikes and of the 26 batters he faced, he threw a first-pitch-strike only 15 times or 57% of the time. Compare that to Jokisch’s 71% strike rate and 67% first-pitch strike rate and it’s easy to see that it had an impact on their strikeout totals and productivity.
Kim, working with a 4-seam fastball, a sinking 2-seam fastball, and a slider, primarily threw his 2-seam fastball, as you can see below. Yet, he frequently missed his spot with the 2-seamer, usually missing arm side and up. That was most evident with his 3 HBP, 2 of which came against right-handed-hitters.
While Jokisch pitched better the other night, striking out 9 batters versus Kim’s 3, Kim’s “stuff” looked better than Jokisch’s at times, when he was locating where he wanted to. Kim induced a whiff on 25% of his opponent's swings and Jokisch induced whiffs 24% of the time.
The positive takeaway from Kim’s outing was that he did a really good job of only allowing weak contact, with only 2 hits allowed (in his last inning of work though, he did allow two long and threatening fly outs). That’s thanks to his 2-seam fastball, his primary pitch, that he liked to try and work down in the zone. With an average velocity of about 90 MPH and 1:45 tilt, the sinking quality of the 2-seamer in keeping the ball on the ground. He didn’t throw his four-seam fastball very much, but he maxed out a 93 MPH twice, indicating there some more room for improvement on both his fastballs.
His slider was the pitch that Kim used to back up his sinking 2-seamer. At it’s best, the spin was tight on the slider, diving out of the zone and towards the dirt at the last second to induce swings and misses. And it worked fairly well, playing off of the similarity between his 2-seam and the slider. By my count, Kim threw 30 sliders, getting 8 swings and misses, good for a 26.67% Whiff rate, which is really good (the whiff rates mentioned earlier are swings and misses divided by total swings, not total pitches). The slider was thrown for a ball about 40% of the time, but that’s how the pitch works.
If Kim can clean up his control on his fastball, his slider can start to flourish as a wipeout pitch. Unfortunately, control struggles have been consistent with Kim throughout his career. In 150.2 IP in 2019, Kim posted a K/9 of 5.44 and BB/9 of 3.88, good for a K:BB of 1.40, which is pretty poor. This season, he’s regressed, posting a K/9 of 5.23 and a BB/9 of 6.53 in 20.2 IP, good for a K:BB of 0.80, the worst mark in the KBO among pitchers with 20+ IP.
While Kim was primarily a 2-pitch pitcher, Eric Jokisch threw about 4 different pitch types against the wiz. Jokisch started the game by using his 2-seam fastball, which hovered around 89–90 MPH with a 10:00 tilt, and his slider. As the game progressed, he began to incorporate more of a changeup and a curveball. His curve was used about 15 times, but he got 5 swinging strikes on it. It’s a pretty upright pitch, with about a 5:30 spin axis, which makes it rather unique from the rest of what Jokisch threw, most of which, with his 2-seam and slider, move from side to side. That would explain why he saved it for later in the game, which worked for him. These pitches and their velocities are pretty similar to what Jokisch was throwing back in 2014 when he made the Cubs major league roster for about 14 innings according to the velocity figures on Jokisch’s FanGraphs page.
Jokisch’s variety augmented his ability to locate down in the zone, leading to his 10 ground outs vs just 2 fly outs, a 5.00 GO/FO ratio. That’s in line with the pitcher he was back in the States, who posted a GB/FB ration of 2.00 over his 8 years split between the minors and majors. This game showcased another one of his strengths: getting strikeouts without having to sacrifice walks. He posted a K:BB ratio of 9:1, but his season ratio of 5.40 is the 5th best in the KBO among pitchers with 20+ IP. He also has the 7th highest K% of 23.9%, which he exceeded against the wiz.
The pitching matchup between Min Kim and Eric Jokisch magnified the type of season they’ve been having. Kim struggled with his control despite a seemingly impressive pitch arsenal and Jokisch pounded the lower half of the strike zone to induced weak ground balls and a good number of strikeouts.