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.
In the series finale between the NC Dinos and the Doosan Bears, the Dinos maintained their hold on the top spot in the KBO, taking game 3 by a score of 7–5. The Dinos were led by a strong pitching performance from their 30-year-old RHP starter, Mike Wright, who has 258 innings of MLB experience, primarily with the Baltimore Orioles. The Doosan Bears countered with 23-year-old Young-Ha Lee and he did not fare well against the Dinos’ top-ranked offense.
Lee pitched deeper into the game than Wright, throwing 5.2 IP versus Wright’s 5+ IP, but Lee gave up 7 runs, digging the Bears into a hole that they could not climb out of, even as NC turned to their bullpen. It was an interesting game for Lee, who allowed 14 hits thanks to little help from his defense, allowing a BABIP of 0.560. But interestingly, although Lee entered the game with a 4.24 (which is definitely higher now), what happened against the Dinos wasn’t the way that he’d been getting hurt so far this season.
Lee’s downfall has been walking 14.5% of his opponents, while only striking out 15.1%. His K % against NC was pretty close, but he never walked anyone, actually throwing a strike 67% of the time, a higher mark than his NC counterpart. He induced 14 Whiffs (former Philadelphia Philly Aaron Altherr with 3 and potential MLBer Sung-bum Na with 4), which is again atypical for Lee. But considering his pitch arsenal on the surface, maybe it’s not so far fetched for Lee to become more of swing and miss guy than he is right now; I didn’t get velocity numbers for 60% of Lee’s pitches, but his fastball touched 93 mph, hovering closer to 91–92 throughout the game. He also sported a breaking ball that hovered around 85 mph that was semi-effective from what I observed. I think Lee would benefit from another pitch to back up his fastball, but I’d want some more concrete information on what he’s throwing before making that decision.
However, there is an adjustment that I think could benefit Lee. Against the Dinos, he primarily worked down in the zone, but with a fastball that averaged around 92mph, I think it makes more sense to elevate that pitch, especially against KBO hitters who are more used to 85–88 mph on a fastball. Pairing that with a breaking ball that broke vertically would be a pretty strong combination and really mess with a lot of hitters.
But the bigger problem facing Lee was the hard contact that he allowed in droves. The Dinos hit 0.500 against him and slugged 0.750 off of 9 singles, 4 doubles, and HR. Even the outs that Lee was getting were hit hard, with 10 fly outs versus just 3 ground outs. Sure, the defense could have done a little more, but when the pitcher is allowing hard contact, there’s only so much you can do; plus, if a fielder is out of position because there are runners on base, that’s still the pitcher’s fault. To help Lee, I’d recommend focusing on his swing and miss stuff and working out of the zone a little more, just trying to limit hard contact.
Mike Wright, on the other hand, could try and work through hitters with fewer pitches but had an overall successful game against the Bears. He exited the game in the 6th after walking the bases loaded and only 1 inherited runner scored, preserving the Dinos’ lead.
Mike Wright threw predominantly fastballs against the Bears, working his 4-seam fastball around 92 mph, with a cut 2-seam fastball coming in a little slower, around 86–87 mph. It’s pretty similar to the repertoire he used in the majors when he threw his fastball 58% of the time and his cutter 36% of the time. I’d say that the combination worked well enough against the Bears, even with that bases-loaded jam that Wright had to exit.
That seems to have been a recurring theme this season for Wright who sported a 2.65 ERA heading into this game, but also a 4.89 FIP, the biggest margin in the KBO. It’s worth noting that Drew Rucinski and Chang-mo Koo, two of Wright’s Dino teammates, also grace the top 6 in the biggest differences between ERA and FIP. To me, that indicates that the Dinos’ defense has been very good and helping all of them out. However, Wright sported a 4.24 BB/9 prior to walking what comes out to 5.4 BB/9 against the Bears while Koo and Rucinski walk 1.98 and 2.23 batters per 9 respectively.
The walk rate is the only notable red flag, but Wright’s HR/9 of 1.06 could indicate that he has a higher hard-hit rate than normal. However, neither of those issues seemed to bother Wright against the Bears; instead, the culprit that knocked him out of the game was being unable to throw strikes in the 6th inning. Overall, a 63% strike %is bad, but of the 14 pitches that Wright threw in the 6th, 8 were balls, including 5 straight to walk the bases loaded and end his outing.
As you can see from his location chart, Wright lived down and in against the left-handed heavy Doosan lineup and up and in against the few righties in the lineup. He was the beneficiary of a wider than normal strike zone, but threw a lot of pitches around the edges and out of the zone, but didn’t get many chases with just 6 Whiffs, 14% of his swings. He did work his fastball at the top of the zone a lot, but without a strong secondary breaking or offspeed pitch, the Bears were pretty disciplined about laying off the high fastball.
Wright’s BB/9 and FIP indicate that he has not been as good as it appears and I’d agree; improvement would just come from having another potential offering to mix things up, rather than the fastball/cutter combination 90% of the time. However, given his age (30), a drastic change doesn’t seem likely and I‘d expect Wright to slip a little with his ERA and overall effectiveness. Young-ha Lee demonstrated good control against the Dinos, but just got hit hard by the best lineup in the league; there’s definitely a path to improvements at 23, but we’ll see what, if any, changes he makes.