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When it comes to pitching, nobody’s perfect

Mar 15,2016
Jung Woo-ram, Yang Hyeon-jong, Yoo Hee-kwan
Is there such a thing as the perfect pitcher, someone capable of throwing every type of ball equally well?

According to a new analysis by the JoongAng Ilbo, the only “perfect” pitcher is an amalgamation of a few players.

The Joongang Ilbo used sabermetrics, which refers to the statistical and mathematical analysis of baseball records, to imagine the “perfect pitcher” based on pitch value.

Pitch value is an indicator to how many runs-scored a pitcher saved using certain type of pitching.

According to the analysis, the “perfect” left-handed pitcher would have a combination of the fastball by Hanwha Eagles’ Jung Woo-ram, a sinker from Yoo Hee-kwan of the Doosan Bears and a slider and a changeup by Yang Hyeon-jong of the Kia Tigers.

Jung, a left-handed reliever who moved from the SK Wyverns to the Eagles over the winter, throws fastballs at an average speed of 138 kilometers per hour (85 miles per hour). For a relief pitcher, his fastball is rather slow. However, Jung’s pitch value is 29.0, which means he gave out 29 fewer runs with his fastball compared to other pitchers in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). Even compared to other left-handed pitchers such as Yang of the Tigers or Kim Kwang-hyun of the Wyverns, whose fastballs regularly exceed 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour), Jung’s fastballs are much more effective.

The secret behind the efficacy of Jung’s fastball is his “release point.” During his windup, Jung leans forward as much as possible before releasing the ball. From the batter’s perspective, it feels like Jung is throwing much closer than other pitchers, even though he’s actually only a few centimeters closer. Batters say this ups the pressure substantially.

Yoo of the Bears throws fastballs even slower than Jung. But Yoo’s ball control placed him third in pitch value for fastballs after Jung and Yang of the Tigers. Yoo’s real weapon, however, is his sinker. A sinker is a type of fastball that travels similarly to a regular fastball but drops downward at a certain point, creating weak contact with the bat. Yoo’s sinker drops outwards from right-handed batter’s perspective, which means if he threw his sinker against left-handed batter, it could possibly hit them. Yoo used to throw sinkers against hitters who only bat right-handed but began to throw them against left-handed batters last year.

“I was reluctant to throw sinkers against left-handed batters because I could hit the batter and cause dead balls,” said Yoo. “But I am more confident about my ball control now.”

In sliders, Yang of the Tigers placed first with a pitch value at 20.6. But sliders are not his only forte. Yang relied on two types of pitching until two or three years ago: the fastball and the slider. However, he began to bolster his changeups and is now considered one of the best changeup pitchers in the league.

The “perfect” right-handed pitcher has a combination of the fastballs by Josh Lindblom of the Lotte Giants, sliders by Cho Mu-keun of the KT Wiz and sinkers by Zach Stewart of the NC Dinos.

The pitch value of Lindblom’s fastballs, which averaged 146.6 kilometers per hour (91 miles per hour) last season, stood at 23.0. The strength of Lindblom’s fastballs comes from the fact that he throws fastball variants including two seam fastballs and cut fastballs.

Sun Dong-yeol, a retired pitcher and former manager of the Tigers, dominated the Korean league and the Japanese league only with two types of pitching: straight fastballs and sliders. The best pitcher according to Sun is Cho of the Wiz. The pitch value of his slider stood at 13.0, the highest among right-handed as well as left-handed pitchers. “Cho’s slider snaps as hard as a forkball,” said Sun. “It is more menacing because Cho really takes advantage of his height at 1.98 meters (6 foot 5).”

Stewart of Dinos holds the highest pitch value of 5.5 in sinkers among right-handed pitchers. “None of the balls from Stewart come straight,” complained Min Byeong-heon of the Bears. “They are just too unpredictable.”

Song Jin-woo, a left-handed pitcher formerly with the Hanwha Eagles and current commentator for KBS N Sports explained, “There is no such thing as ‘perfect pitcher’ in reality. Even Shohei Otani of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters who’s been receiving much attention lately throws straight fastballs, sliders and split-finger fastballs but does not throw two seam fastballs.

“It is perfectly normal that pitchers throw the balls that they feel most confident with, rendering other types of pitching comparatively ineffective and weak.”

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]


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