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 Kiwoon Heroes defeated the LG Twins 5–4, walking off on a 2-run 9th inning. However, the Twins starter, Tyler Wilson, pitched better than Lee Seung-Ho, his counterpart for the Heroes.
Lee Seung-ho, a 21-year-old left-hander, has struggled this season, with an ERA of 7.39 and WHIP of 1.68 through 28 innings pitched this season. His poor outing against the Twins wasn’t his worst of the season, but it did represent a continuation of the problem that has been hurting Lee this season: throwing strikes consistently.
Lee only threw a strike 60% of the time against the Twins, with a first-pitch strike to just 11 of the 24 batters he faced. That consistently dug Lee into a hole that was tough to pitch his way out of, walking 5 batters. Those walks came back to hurt him, with the first 2 runs against him coming in the first inning when he had the bases loaded by virtue of a single and 3 walks.
Despite the 3 ER, I think that Lee got lucky against the Twins and things could have been a lot worse for him. The only hits that Lee allowed were 3 singles and a double, which could indicate that he limited the Twins to hitting the ball on the ground, but his GO/FO rate and season stats refute that. Lee gave up 3 groundouts vs 11 flyouts, for a GO/FO ratio of 0.27, which is not great, but it seems to be how Lee pitches; in his last start, Lee gave up 3 HRs and is allowing 1.61 HR/9 this season, some of which is due to his one poor outing, but he’s given up an HR in 3 of his 6 starts to date this season. And he was lucky to avoid another one or two this game, with a few of those flyouts being hit quite hard, particularly the very first pitch which was a rocket to right field.
Against the Twins, Lee primarily tried to work low in the zone, utilizing his pitch from side to side, rather than up and down. He threw a fastball, changeup, and what looked like a slider with its horizontal movement. Nothing, in particular, stood out, with his fastball hovering around 88 mph with his slider around 80 and changeup in the high 70s. He’s clearly not a strikeout guy, given the 1 Twins’ hitter that he punched out and his 5.46 K/9 rate this season. Lee looked to be fishing for weakly hit grounders, but wasn’t very successful with that approach, even if it were the walks that primarily doomed him.
At just 21-years old, Lee already has 195 IP in the KBO and has shown some potential to get more swings and misses. If he refines his command and manages to induce more whiffs, then he’ll have a shot to make the leap to MLB if he so chooses. Otherwise, he’ll likely be a good innings eater for the Heroes with smatterings of success.
Tyler Wilson on the other hand is pitching in his 3rd season for the LG Twins after being drafted in the 10th round by the Baltimore Orioles. Wilson amassed nearly 150 innings for the Orioles with a K/9 of 4.8 and BB/9 of 2.4. But since jumping to the LG Twins, Wilson has been successful, posting a FIP of 3.60 and 3.25 in 2018 and 2019 respectively. He continued that success against the Heroes last night.
He made it through six scoreless innings before exiting the game with 1 out and the bases loaded in the 7th, with 2 runners scoring. The first thing that stood out to me what the number of strikes he was throwing, tossing a strike 67% of the time, resulting in just 1 walk issued to the Heroes. However, I did find it interesting that he threw a first-pitch strike only about half the time; on review though, many of those first-pitch balls were in the 1st and 7th innings. Wilson managed to induce quite a few swings and misses, getting a whiff on 25% of opponent swings on the way to 6 strikeouts.
That 25% whiff rate is quite a bit higher than the 6.7% rate that he sported in his time with the Orioles and their MiLB system. A lot of that is how Wilson’s velocity plays better in the KBO than MLB. With an average fastball (sinker and 4-seam) sitting 87–88, in the 22nd percentile in 2017, Wilson’s velocity numbers were far below the threshold for being a successful big leaguer. But in the KBO, 87–88 mph is one of the faster throwers that these hitters will face, giving Wilson more of a leg up. He pairs those 2 pitches with his curveball and changeup, both of which average around 79 mph and have similar shapes. His changeup drifts back arm side, but remains pretty straight otherwise, with a seemingly average amount of drop. Wilson’s curveball though is not a typical 12–6 looping curveball. Instead, it looks a lot like the changeup with just a few more inches of drop. The similarity between the two was key for Wilson inducing swinging strikes off of curveballs that dropped of just a few more inches right before crossing the plate.
Nothing else, in particular, stood out; Wilson allowed just a few more flyouts than groundouts and ran into trouble once he got to the 7th inning when his velocity dropped a couple of miles per hour. But it was a pretty routine start for Wilson who has been a good pitcher for the LG Twins these past few seasons.