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.
Yesterday, the Lotte Giants (19–17) defeated the Kiwoom Heroes (20–17) by a score of 7–5 that saw both starting pitchers, Noh Kyung-eun for the Giants and former Chicago Cub, Eric Jokisch of the Heroes, throw 6 solid innings apiece. Jokisch didn’t throw nearly as well as he did the last time I saw him when he threw 7 innings with 1 unearned run and 9 Ks. Noh, on the other hand, pitched much better than the first outing of his that I saw.
Jokisch, a 30-year-old LHP, was hurt by his defense against the Giants; 2 runs scored against him on a wild play in the 2nd inning that involved the ball careening into the outfield off of second base on a stolen base attempt and the throw-in ending up against the backstop. Another run, this one earned, came on a wild pitch that really should have been knocked down in the dirt, but the catcher missed it and a runner scored from second base. The first run that Jokisch allowed was a rocket of an HR hit by the magnificent Dae-ho Lee that was entirely Jokisch’s fault by leaving a fastball up in the zone and the middle of the plate.
Disregarding the defensive lapses, Jokisch pitched pretty well, as he has all season for the Heroes, posting a 1.49 ERA and 2.81 FIP. However, Jokisch struggled on the swing and miss front, only inducing 6 Whiffs and 1 K versus his 24% Whiff rate a few weeks ago and 7.02 K/9 to-date in 2020. A lot of that issue stems from 2 things: 1) he struggled early against hitters, only throwing a first-pitch strike to 12 of the 25 batters he faced or 48%. 2) His curveball was ineffective; when he pitched against the wiz at the end of May, his curve, coming around 80 mph had a lot of vertical drop to it, a true 12–6 curve, inducing 5 Whiffs on 15 pitches. Yesterday though, Jokisch couldn’t get the up and down movement with his curveball blending with his slider to create a slurve that was ineffective.
The inability to get his curveball working was emblematic for the entirety of Jokisch’s start. He never looked fully settled on the mound and was visibly upset at the umpire’s calls as the game went on. Jokisch threw a strike on 65% of his pitches but wasn’t getting the calls at the edge of the zone that he wanted, particularly down in the zone. As a guy without overpowering stuff, his fastball sits around 89 mph, Jokisch relies on location and just didn’t get the help he expected from the umpire. Part of the frustration seemed to stem from never really being able to throw inside to right-handed hitters. His fastball, a 2-seamer with arm-side run, continuously leaked back over the plate whenever Jokisch tried to go inside to RHH. Again, not an impossible thing to overcome, but it was just another thing that made it difficult for Jokisch to be consistent and effective.
The few mistakes that Jokisch made were punished, with Lee’s HR and a hard-hit double, but he did a pretty good job of limiting hard contact and keeping the ball on the ground. The HR was a rarity for Jokisch who entered the game allowing just 0.21 HR/9, but he has always been a ground ball guy with a 2.00 GB/FB ratio during his cup of coffee with the Cubs and consistently posting a GB/FB rate above 1.50 as a minor leaguer.
It was definitely not a perfect start from Jokisch, but he got through it with his team in a position to win, even though the bullpen ultimately allowed too many runs. Without his effective curveball, his 2-seam/slider combo struggled, but the defensive struggles truly doomed him. There’s definitely room for improvement off of this start, but it wasn’t as garish as the 4 runs allowed would indicate.
For his counterpart Noh Kyung-eun though, this start was better than usual. Noh entered the matchup against the Heroes with a 5.45 ERA and 4.66 FIP, partly thanks to his 1.09 HR/9 allowed and poor 60.9% LOB rate.
What jumped out about Noh’s start was 2 related things: 1) A 27.27% Whiff rate for a 37-year-old RHP who averages about 86–87 mph on his fastball is phenomenal. 2) His strike rate of just 59% is bad as is his first-pitch strike rate of 35%. Throughout his long career, Noh has never been a huge strikeout guy, entering the game with a K/9 of 5.45 and his career-high of 8.20 K/9 coming all the way back in 2012.
He relies primarily on deception and trickery to induce as much weak contact as he can. It worked fairly well against the Heroes as he pounded the bottom and edges of the zone, inducing 8 groundouts versus just 4 flyouts and a BABIP of 0.200. However, he did allow 2 HRs and a 2B, all of which were hit hard and off of pitches left at the top of or just above the strike zone. That’s the struggle for Noh, with his primary pitches being a fastball, slider, and curveball. Missing spots up in the zone without overpowering velocity can come back to bite you, as it did against Noh here.
Noh worked consistently through the game throwing 14–16 pitches every inning except the first, yet he still got pulled before facing a majority of the order a third time. Given his approach of deception, Noh mixed things up a lot with his delivery and pace of pitching, but the Heroes started to catch on the second time around and the third time for those who faced him. The 2-run HR and 2B came in the 5th and 6th innings as the respective batters faced Noh for the 2nd and 3rd time. While he managed to work his way out of the jam, he had in the 6th inning, taking him out at 87 pitches was the right decision.
Noh Kyung-eun threw 6 effective innings and it allowed his team to get a much-needed win against a team ahead of them in the standings. Eric Jokisch struggled overall, but there’s reason to believe that it won’t become a trend going forward and he’ll remain an extremely effective starter for the Heroes.