KBO: Odrisamer Despaigne vs Park Jong-hoon

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 kt wiz outdueled the SK Wyverns by a score of 5–3 to sweep the three-game series between the two. Thirty-three-year-old, Odrisamer Despaigne led the way for the wiz, throwing 7 innings of 2-run ball while his counterpart for the Wyverns, Park Jong-hoon, in his second start against the wiz already in this young season, gave up 5 runs in 5 IP.

Despaigne, a former MLBer with 363 IP with 5 teams, is in his first season with the wiz but has been hit with some bad luck, leading to his ERA of 4.60 despite his FIP of 3.49, making him the second unluckiest pitcher in the KBO. A lot of that is due to his BABIP of 0.338 that is quite a bit above normal, but this start against the Wyverns represented another step in the right direction for Despaigne.

He didn’t strike out many batters but succeeded by inducing a lot of groundballs and weak contact, which has been a theme this season for Despaigne. Against the Wyverns, he forced 10 groundouts versus just 4 flyouts, a phenomenal rate. And of the 19 balls in play that were hit against Despaigne, 53% of them were hit softly and another 26% were hit at a medium exit velocity. That’s been a constant for Despaigne this season; according to Sports Info Solutions advanced KBO stats, he’s been allowing a hard-hit rate of 12% this season, the 3rd lowest rate in the league amongst pitchers with 100+ at-bats against. He did allow an HR in the 2nd that went 375 feet, but that hasn’t been a problem this year, given Despaigne’s HR/9 of 0.57 so I don’t think it represents the start of a trend.

A slightly worrying sign for Despaigne though was his control was a little bit spotty, only throwing strikes 60% of the time. However, as we can see with his pitch location plot, he was working around the edges of the zone a lot, particularly in against left-handed hitters and didn’t get very many of those calls. He rarely missed high although he did plunk Choi Jeong on a high fastball and went up in against Jamie Romak once that didn’t endear him to Romak. When he missed low, a lot of it looked intentional, locating a lot of his curveballs and sliders down in the zone to try and induce chase swings. It didn’t always work out, but Despaigne did induce 10 Whiffs, for 21% of his swings.

That curveball is just one part of Odrisamer Despaigne’s multi-faceted and varied pitch arsenal. Against the Wyverns, he threw 6 pitches. Three of those pitches were a type of fastball and made up about 65% of his pitches against SK; his 4-seam fastball averaged 93 mph, his sinker around 92 mph, and his cutter came in a tad slower, at 88 mph. In terms of breaking balls and offspeed stuff, he threw a slider around 81 mph, a changeup at 78 mph, and the aforementioned curveball that came in around 73 mph. Interestingly, that’s nearly identical to his usage numbers in the majors.

With those velocity numbers, most of which are around MLB average, Despaigne stands out as a pitcher in the KBO with his velocity numbers at least 2–3 mph faster than most other pitchers, despite his 33 years of age. That’s not the only way that his pitches stand out; his curveball’s spin rate of 2773 was in the 86th percentile of MLB pitchers in 2019 and his slider’s spin rate of 2770 was 39th out of 472 qualified pitchers.

Despite some pretty good spin numbers, he was never a strong K/9 pitcher, with his career-high of 8.08 K/9 (18.86% K%) coming back in 2018. He’s improved somewhat in the KBO, striking out 19.3% of his opponents, good for 18th in the KBO. The biggest improvement that Despaigne has made is walking just 1.72 hitters per 9, the 5th best mark in the KBO, giving him the 7th best K/BB ratio of 4.33. Of course, he did allow a total of 5 free passes against the Wyverns, but I’m chalking that up to missing on the edge more than normal. He made the most of it and it never really came back to bite him.

His opponent for the Wyverns, Park Jung-hoon, is a fascinating pitcher, throwing for the right with an extreme submarine motion that makes everything rise. He’s been reasonably successful this year, posting a 4.03 FIP and 9.45 K/9. However, this was his second start against the wiz in this young season and his deception did not play well.

The first 3 innings from Park were clean, at least until the lineup flipped over and things went off the rails in the 4th and 5th inning, ultimately culminating in a 3-run, 35 pitch 5th inning where Park was really struggling to locate consistently by the end of it.

Park threw just a couple of pitches, with a fastball around 84 mph and some sort of changeup/offspeed pitch that came in around 75 mph most of the time. He’s a big location and deception guy, which doesn’t always hold up with familiarity, which is what seemed to happen against the wiz.

He managed to strike out 6 batters while throwing a first-pitch strike just 52% of the time. Park was able to avoid getting too far behind in the count though by peppering the strike zone all night.

One thing that was strange, given that Park consistently worked low in the zone, was the 5 flyouts allowed versus just 3 groundouts. In that vein, he allowed a hard-contact rate of 31%, far above his 14% rate allowed this season. I wouldn’t be too worried about Park though; he’s been relatively successful this season already with his deception and location and I’m inclined to believe that the beating he took against the wiz was the result of some natural regression and his second time facing the wiz in a short span of time.

Stats from FanGraphs, Sports Info Solutions, Baseball Savant, and myKBO.com

Sophomore studying Sport Management and Economics at the University of Texas. Writing about Baseball from an analytical and scouting perspective

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