The KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) Opening Day is scheduled for tomorrow. Due to the time difference, first pitch is set for 1 a.m. EST. You may have never heard of this league before because we typically focus on Major League Baseball here in America but without MLB games, the KBO League can fulfill the void of baseball. KBO Baseball was founded in 1982 with six original teams and they have expanded to ten teams. The regular season is 144 games and that is followed by the playoffs in which 5 of the 10 teams advance.
The highest team batting average in the KBO last season belonged to the Kiwoom Heroes at .282 which is 8 points higher than the Houston Astros who finished last season with a .274 batting average and a bunch of dented trash cans. There were 1,016 home runs hit in the 2019 season but it’s tough to compare those numbers with MLB teams because the MLB plays more games and has three times the amount of teams. Another contributing factor to the high scoring games is the fact that the DH rule is universal in this league. Each team averaged between 4 and 5 runs per game in 2019 which is in line with Major League Baseball.
Everybody loves a good bat flip. Well, here in the U.S. we are lucky to see a few good ones per season but that is always followed up with a bean ball in retaliation. That’s not how it works in the KBO league, bat flips are an art form and you will see A LOT of them. Here’s a quick teaser video of Korean Baseball bat flips:
Doosan Bears – The defending champions have won 6 titles and have been part of the league since it was founded in 1982. They have been the best team in the league over the last five seasons with 3 championships and 2 runner up finishes. MLB Comparison – Houston Astros
Hanwha Eagles – The Eagles joined the KBO in 1986 and have won 1 championship in 1999. They have only made the playoffs one time over the last 12 seasons. MLB Comparison – Seattle Mariners – they were good in the late 90’s and early 2000’s but haven’t been competitive since. They still show up and play the games though!
Kia Tigers – The Tigers have won more championships than any other team in the league winning 11 times since the league started in 1982. Their most recent championship came in 2017. Kind of like their MLB comparison, they have won more championships than any other team in the league but they have both only won 2 championships since the year 2000. MLB Comparison – New York Yankees
Kiwoom Heroes – The Heroes joined the league in 2008 and they have yet to win their first KBO Championship. They have finished in the top 5 in 6 out of the last 7 seasons so they are competitive. Their style of play is similar to the American game and that might have to do with the fact that former Yankee Shane Spencer runs their farm system. Competitive in recent years but no championships to show for it, yet. MLB Comparison – Oakland A’s
KT Wiz – They joined the KBO in 2015 and finished in last place in their first three seasons. They have followed that up with a 9th place finish in 2018 and 6th place finish last season. 2019 was the first season that they had a team earned run average below 5 since they came into the league in 2015. There is some hope for them and many people expect their first baseman Kang Baek-Ho (who won the Rookie of the Year award in 2018) to be the next poster boy for the league. MLB Comparison – Baltimore Orioles
LG Twins – The Twins share a stadium with the Doosan Bears in the city of Seoul. They have won two KBO titles in 1990 and 1994. They had a rough stretch of missing the playoffs in 10 straight seasons from 2003-2012 but they have qualified for the playoffs in 4 of the last 7 seasons. The Twins fans are some of the most passionate in the sport even though the Twins seem to find a way to mess things up on the big stage. MLB Comparison – Boston Red Sox (prior to 04’)
Lotte Giants – The Giants had the highest payroll in 2019 and they finished in last place. Not sure how that is possible and I don’t believe that has ever been done by any professional sports team in America. They have missed the playoffs in 6 of their last 7 seasons and have missed the playoffs 13 times since 2001. Former MLB slugger Julio Franco is part of the coaching staff. MLB Comparison – Philadelphia Phillies
NC Dinos – The Dinos joined the KBO league in 2013. They have qualified for the playoffs in 5 of their 7 seasons and current Washington National Eric Thames had an MVP award winning season for them in 2015. Being competitive but not being able to win the championship reminds me of a team from L.A. that wears blue. MLB Comparison – Los Angeles Dodgers
Samsung Lions – The Lions were one of the original teams in the KBO and they have won 8 championships since 1982. They were dominant from 2011 to 2014 where they won back to back to back to back championships. Things have taken a 180 for them since then and they have missed the playoffs in the last four seasons while finished 8 out of 10 or worse in 3 of the last 4 seasons. MLB Comparison San Francisco Giants
SK Wyverns – The Wyverns joined the KBO in 2000. They won the championship in 2018 and that was their fourth time winning it. The Wyverns won 3 out of 4 from 2007 to 2010. They have made the playoffs in 4 out of the last 5 seasons. A fun fact about the Wyverns is that they won 23 straight games in 2010 which sets the record for the longest winning streak in Korean Baseball. The New York Giants had a 26 game winning streak in 1916 which is the longest streak in Major League Baseball. MLB Comparison – St. Louis Cardinals
Here are the 2019 regular season standings and playoff results per Baseball-Reference.com
KBO Baseball Playoff Structure:
#5 vs #4 – 4th place team starts series with a 1-0 lead and advances with a win or a tie. 5th place team must win 2 games to advance.
#4 or #5 vs. #3 – Best of 5 series.
#3, 4, or 5 vs. #2 – Best of 5 series.
#2, 3, 4, or 5 vs #1 – Best of 7 series.
Top players to watch:
Baek-Ho Kang – KT Wiz – The man who is expected to be the face of the league for a long time will turn 21 this season. He is coming off of a season where he hit .336 with 13 homeruns and 65 RBIs. He should continue his development this season and that should be fun to watch.
Eui-Ji Yang – NC Dinos – Yang is a catcher that finished second in the MVP voting for the 2019 season. Yang led the league in batting average at .354 and also hit 20 homeruns. He had 48 walks and 43 strikeouts. He has hit over .350 in each of the last two seasons. Pretty good for a catcher!
Hyeon-Jong Yang – Kia Tigers – Yang is a starting pitcher for the Tigers and he won the league MVP in 2017. He also finished 3rd in the MVP voting for the 2019 season. He led the league with a 2.29 earned run average and had 163 strikeouts.
Five Former KBO Baseball stars now in the MLB:
Eric Thames – Washington Nationals
Mickey Callaway – Los Angeles Angels (Pitching Coach)
Merrill Kelly – Arizona Diamondbacks
Josh Lindblom – Milwaukee Brewers
Hyun-Jin Ryu – Toronto Blue Jays
Where to watch?
Other than that, set your alarms and enjoy some KBO Baseball. PLAY BALL or 공놀이