Major League Baseball may be returning within the next month, but in South Korea, the KBO keeps on playing. ESPN continues to broadcast its games and is helping to fill the void that the MLB labor dispute has created.
The Kiwoom Heroes tightened their hold on the #2 ranking in the KBO with a win over the Doosan Bears by a score of 11–2 thanks to 6 IP of 1-run ball from Lee Seung-ho. This is the second time that I’ve seen Seung-ho this season and he was much better last night than he was against the LG Twins in early June.
On the season as a whole, Lee, a 21-year-old LHP, still hasn’t been great, posting a 4.89 ERA and 4.98 FIP (at least the similarity of those numbers indicate that his results haven’t been too influenced by luck either way), both of which are lower than the 4.48 ERA and 4.36 FIP he posted in 122.2 IP for Kiwoom in 2019 as a 20-year-old. But his season-long numbers don’t tell the whole story.
In the month of May, Lee posted an ERA of 7.39 alongside a WHIP of 1.68. That’s really bad. In June though, even including his 5 IP, 3-run outing against the Twins, Lee posted a 1.96 ERA in 23 IP heading into this start, a total that dips even further with this 6 IP 1-run start.
Against LG, Lee struggled to throw strikes consistently, which led to 5 walks. He’s fixed that problem since then, walking a total of 2 batters with 2 HBPs in his last 4 starts, including this one. Lee pounded the strike zone against Doosan with his fastball and slider, throwing a strike 71% of the time.
Lee is a three-pitch pitcher. He throws a fastball around 86 mph, using it about 45% of the time against the Bears lineup. Of his two secondary pitches, he relies on his slider much more, throwing it 37% of the time at about 79 mph, against both left-handed hitters (LHH) and right-handed hitters (RHH). His curveball was much more situational, used primarily as a pitch against LHH. Lee throws it around 73 mph and used it 17% of the time. The curveball bears a lot of similarities to the slider, both of which sweep from side to side. The difference is the velocity. Lee’s slider doesn’t break vertically very much, instead focusing on that tight sweeping action while the curveball is softer and drops more as it travels to the plate. With the 6-mph difference between the two, the similar shapes make them an interesting tandem.
Lee Seung-ho utilized his fastball in the zone and showed the ability to work up and down in the zone, depending on what he was looking for. He was able to elevate the fastball, throwing it around 87–88 up in the zone for swinging strikes, inducing 6 Whiffs from the Doosan offense. He also showed the ability to stick his spot on the corners, which was a big help in terms of inducing more groundouts than flyouts. With the way he attacked the zone though, hard contact was a little bit of a problem, with a 35% hard-contact rate, which led to the extra-base hits that he allowed. That’s been a consistent problem this season for Lee who entered the week with the 5th highest hard-hit rate in the KBO according to Sports Info Solutions. I do think that some of that is leftover from his bad start to the season, but attacking the center of the strike zone will have that effect.
However, the development of his slider is something that can only benefit him as the season continues. In his last start, Lee’s slider was not noteworthy, but against Doosan, it was working well and was Lee’s out-pitch. He threw it 32 times and induced 9 Whiffs on it, which is a phenomenal Whiff rate. The slider displayed much more sweeping action than it did a few weeks ago and Lee was much sharper with its location. Against LHH, Lee located the slider down and away, inducing swings at the pitch that was moving away from hitters. When he threw it against RHH, he tended to keep it on the outside part of the plate, catching the edges at the last second with the sweeping action.
If his slider continues to be effective, Lee Seung-ho can become one of the better pitchers in the KBO. While he hasn’t been a big K% guy throughout his career, his slider gives him that put-away pitch and he seems to have figured out his fastball command. Hitters should be sitting fastball in the zone early. The fastball is Lee’s most common first pitch and it’s frequently a strike. Of course, the approach of KBO hitters to wait and see allows Lee to be a bit “reckless” with that initial offering. It’s important for hitters to jump on Lee early before he starts sweeping that slider from side-to-side with 2 strikes.