01 March 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Korea

This is the sixth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

The body of the Korea article was written by Jon Shepherd.

IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 4th
2013 Pool Netherlands


Chinese Taipei
2013 Players of Note Jae Weong Seo, P

Seung Song, P

Tae-Hyon Chong, P

Dae-Ho Lee, INF

2009 Record 6 - 3, Lost Final

2006 Record 6 - 1, Semifinals
Similar to China, Korean baseball began with a missionary.  Phillip Gillet traveled to Korea to spread the word of God in 1905 and did so by focusing on the idea that combining athletics and community was a great approach to spreading religion.  Gillet was part of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) movement that had begun earnestly in the mid 1800s.  Although not originally part of the model (but quickly adopted) physical exercise and the practice of sportsmanship became major tenants of the YMCA movement.  This organization of ideas and incorporation of religion made it a useful model for missionaries when taking the message abroad.  Gillet took the YMCA model to Korea and used it to introduce baseball (as well as basketball) to the country.  He spent the next eight years helping organize various club teams to compete against each other before political issues involving the Japanese takeover of the Korean empire led to his departure where he then helped promote the existing pioneering of baseball in China.

However, baseball did not die with the absence of the Phillip Gillet.  The Japanese, having already embraced America's pasttime, used baseball as a medium in a multifacted to improve relations between Japan and Korea by trying to Japanize Korea.  During colonial rule, the government encouraged the creation of high school baseball tournaments as well as organized games between elite players from Japan and Korea.  This stewardship protected the Korean game from the changes happening in the American game during this era.  As such, Korea's game today focuses on making contact, using speed, pitching deception, and emphasizing managerial strategy as opposed to the sheer power and velocity found in the USA.

However, the tide may be changing.  Researchers in Korea have been asking similar questions that have been posed in the States for over a decade.  There has been a great deal of discussion over Japan's success in the World Baseball Classic, leading to whether or not the Japanese game is superior to the American version.  Of course, anyone who pays attention to the quality of players coming over to the USA notices that the play in the NPB is not equivalent to MLB.  These question lead to attempts to measure the differences.  For instance, this article focused on how "small ball" affected run production in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).  What they found was not all that surprising.  As the great Earl Weaver said, "When you play for one run, that is usually all you get."  That article took data from the KBO and found, somewhat, that managers who tend to insert their strategy into the game via events like sacrifice bunts wind up reducing the number of runs they score.  

On the other hand, there is not a great deal of information suggesting that there has in fact been a change in perspective in Korea.  In the Korean Baseball Organization, each of the eight professional teams can sign two foreign players.  Almost without exception, these foreign players are starting pitchers.  The idea is that the way offense is played in the KBO that players in tune with the MLB version poorly adapt to a different style.  Also strange, many of these pitchers are former Orioles (31%): Denny Bautista, Dana Eveland, Radhames Liz, Jo-Jo Reyes, and Rick VandenHurk. 

Korean Players in MLB

Only two position players have ever made it to the Majors:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To G HR BA OBP SLG
1 Shin-Soo Choo 19.9 2005 2012 699 83 .289 .381 .465
2 Hee-Seop Choi 2.2 2002 2005 363 40 .240 .349 .437
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/28/2013.

Shin-Soo Choo has been a solid, above average corner outfielder for the Cleveland Indians for the past several years, showing power, speed, and good plate discipline.  A rising price tag, impending free agency, and some concern over platoon splits led Choo to being dealt to the Cincinnati Reds this past off season.  He will be one of the biggest names on the market after the 2013 season given that the Reds do not sign him long term.

Hee-Seop Choi was signed by the Cubs and became a highly touted prospect, making top 100 prospect lists year in and year out.  Trouble arose for him at the MLB level as he had difficulty with contact and was challenged by pitchers with plus fastballs.  The batting eye remained as well as the power, but was barely sufficient without the contact.  That combined with a less than stellar ability to play the field led him to being bounced from the Cubs to the Marlins to the Dodgers and then released.  He spent the next season in AAA with the Red Sox.  In 2007, he tried to make the Rays out of Spring Training, but failed.  He decided to return to the KBO rather than spending the summer in Durham.

Eleven Koreans, ten if you wish not to count Tommy Phelps, have pitched in the Majors.

Rk Player WAR From To W L SV IP ERA ERA+
1 Chan Ho Park 15.8 1994 2010 124 98 2 1993.0 4.36 97
2 Byung-Hyun Kim 10.0 1999 2007 54 60 86 841.0 4.42 107
3 Jae Weong Seo 5.6 2002 2007 28 40 0 606.1 4.60 94
4 Cha-Seung Baek 0.5 2004 2008 16 18 0 279.2 4.83 86
5 Sang-Hoon Lee 0.3 2000 2000 0 0 0 11.2 3.09 169
6 Tommy Phelps 0.3 2003 2005 4 5 1 120.1 4.34 97
7 Dae-Sung Koo 0.1 2005 2005 0 0 0 23.0 3.91 107
8 Sun-Woo Kim -0.1 2001 2006 13 13 0 337.0 5.31 86
9 Jin Ho Cho -0.4 1998 1999 2 6 0 58.0 6.52 76
10 Jae Kuk Ryu -0.6 2006 2008 1 3 0 39.2 7.49 62
11 Jung Bong -0.8 2002 2004 7 4 1 78.1 5.17 84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/28/2013.

Jin Ho Cho (who spent time in prison trying to avoid mandatory army service), Sun-Woo Kim, and Sang-Hoon Lee were Dan Duquette's big Korean push signings or at least the ones that made the Majors.  Chul Oh, Seung Song, Tai-In Che, and Byeong-Hak An never made it.

When you look at the numbers, it makes one wonder whether investing in this market is a prudent thing to do.  The Dodgers signed Hyun-Jin Ryu to a six year deal this offseason in committing 62 MM to him.  It is a rather impressive deal to give someone who profiles as a number three pitcher based on industry reported scouting.  The Orioles last year signed Wei-Yin Chen to a deal half as long and less than half of the annual money allotment Ryu will earn for what will seem to be similar performance levels.

2013 World Baseball Classic

The Korean team is expected to move through the first round with ease even though two of their best players, Shin-Soo Choo and Hyun-Jin Ryu will remain in Spring Training with their respective professional clubs.  They will tie their lineup around Dae-ho Lee who was a masher in the KBO and now plays for the Orix Buffaloes in the NPB.  The aforementioned Jae Weong Seo and Seung Song will be notable features of the team's pitching staff.  Baltimore fans may remember side armer Tae-Hyon Chong who almost signed last year with the Orioles on a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract before his medical exam picked up some issues.

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