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Lotte Giant’s investment in pitchers hasn’t paid off

Sept 28,2016
Granted, no investments are risk-free and any one could dissolve without generating much return, but when putting down as much as 10 billion won ($9.1 million), investors are bound to expect some profit with at least some modicum of certainty. How disappointing, then, the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) must be.

The total amount of money that the Giants invested to reel in three free agent (FA) pitchers was 13.8 billion won. But with the curtains going down on this year’s regular season, this investment is turning out to have been a grand failure.

It all started when the Giants added Yun Kil-hyoun to their roster late last year with a 3.8 billion won contract for four years. Yun had just become a FA in November and the club argued that although the 33-year-old righty is under-valued, he would be useful as a setup man.

As soon as the contract with Yun was finalized, the Giants brought in another FA, Son Seung-lak, signing him with a four-year contract worth 6 billion won. Son had been an all-time leader in the KBO with 177 saves. The 34-year-old reliever was going to supplement the Giants where they were at their weakest with bullpen pitching. Last season, the Giants recorded a 5.43 earned run average (ERA) and 18 blown saves, the worst of all KBO teams in both categories. Spending nearly 10 billion won in a single transfer window was a bold move but expectations that the two veterans would carry the relief assignment were high.

But with the end of the season fast approaching, the Giants are stunned, as was seen during the game on Sept. 21 against the Samsung Lions.

In the lead by 8-2, Yun, who relieved starter Park Se-woong in the bottom of the sixth, gave out a solo homer to the Lions in the next inning.

Subsequently, he gave out two straight hits and another run, giving the Lions the momentum to narrow the deficit. Yun was relieved by Park Si-young in the middle of the seventh but the Lions tallied another run when the Lions player who reached the base at Yun’s expense drove home. Yun’s earned run stood at three by the end of the day.

Son came to the mound in the bottom of the eighth while the Giants were still in the lead. But the veteran flame thrower could not hold onto the lead and allowed the Lions to tie the game. Had it not been the offensive effort in the top of the ninth that added a run, the Giants would have lost the game that looked like a sure thing before Yun and Son went to the mound. At the end of the day, starting pitcher Park failed to add a win to his belt and Son came out with a win instead of a save - quite the embarrassment for a closing pitcher who was handed a winning game.

What’s more disconcerting than the game against the Lions was that this is not the first time where the relievers of the Giants had thrown off the game, more so in the second half. In the second half of the season, Yun recorded a 6.29-ERA, three wins, four losses and five holds. His Inherited Runner Scored Percentage stands at .429, almost .100 higher than the league average of .340.

“I think he has lost this confidence due to the extended slump,” said Jo Won-woo, manager of the Giants. The skipper put Yun in as the middle reliever rather than as a setup man but things didn’t change much. Yun recorded eight blown saves, the most in the league.

Yun isn’t the worst of the story. In the 44 games he’s played, Son has carded 17 saves while recording 4.18 ERA. While these numbers themselves do not pose a problem, it is the wins that Son has accumulated. Out of seven wins, three wins came with the help of the batting lineup after allowing the opponents to tie the game. In the past four games in which he has tossed, he would have recorded blown saves twice were it not for the Giants’ offense. Instead, thanks to his teammate, Son settled with wins.

As harsh as it may sound, pitchers’ shoulders wear out over time. Yun and Son are well into their 30’s and this was a clear risk when the Giants invested 10 billion won into them. They hoped the ample experience the two veterans have would more than offset their age. Another pitcher, Song Seung-jun, a Giants man throughout his career who signed a four-year deal worth 4 billion won, is also a seasoned player.

But just like his old pals, Song could not escape limbo throughout the season, playing in a mere 10 games while clinching only one win and recording an ERA of 8.71.

Through the season, the Giants’ relief pitching lineup blew 17 saves, similar to last year, while securing only 22 saves, only three more compared to last year when the Giants had no closing pitchers to speak of.

Based on the numbers alone, it is safe to say that in its first year, the 10 billion won investment has come up empty.

BY AN HEE-SOO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]


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