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The Lotte Giants literally can’t fall any further

The once-great Busan team is struggling to throw or catch the ball

May 24,2019
The Lotte Giants walk off the field after losing their game against the KT Wiz at Suwon Baseball Stadium in Gyeonggi on May 8. [YONHAP]
Something has gone very wrong down at Sajik Baseball Stadium.

After the first 48 games on Tuesday, the one-third mark for the season, the Lotte Giants picked up just 17 wins with 31 losses and a .354 winning percentage. This is the worst start of the season for the Giants in the past 10 years.

Throughout the club’s history, their worst start was in 2006 when they picked up 13 wins and 29 losses with a .309 winning percentage in the first third. It was a rough period for the Busan club - they failed to advance to the postseason for seven straight seasons from 2001 to 2007.

Things haven’t exactly picked up for the Giants as the second third of the season gets underway - on Wednesday, they lost 5-6 to the Kia Tigers, putting their winning percentage at .347, and moved down to the bottom of the KBO standing.

With a loss on Wednesday, the Giants are 15.5 games behind the leader, the SK Wyverns, and 8.5 games behind the fifth-ranked LG Twins, who currently occupy the last postseason spot.

The biggest reason for the Giants’ downfall is their pitchers and catchers. The pitchers, considered the biggest weakness last year, are still the biggest weakness this year. Ahead of the 2019 season, the Giants re-signed foreign pitcher Brooks Raley and brought in Jake Thompson.

Raley, playing his fifth season with the Giants, is off to a slow start as he has only picked up a win and six losses with a 4.25 ERA.

Thompson has also been inconsistent, failing to toss more than four innings in three of the 10 games he has started in. As of Thursday, Thompson has picked up two wins and three losses with a 5.04 ERA. However, there have been some positives - he tossed a complete game against the LG Twins on May 14.

Aside from the two foreign pitchers, the Giants are also struggling with their Korean pitchers. Kim Won-jung got off to a strong start with a 1.59 ERA in his first two games of the season, but after a game against the Doosan Bears on April 28, he’s been going downhill. For this month alone, Kim has a 7.29 ERA and has picked up one win and two losses in four games.

The Giants’ continuous struggle on the mound became a bigger problem at the beginning of this year when they failed to sign free agent Noh Kyung-eun. Throughout 2018, Noh had the best statistics among the domestic pitchers on the Giants’ roster with nine wins and six losses with a 4.08 ERA.

Although both the Giants and Noh showed interest in re-signing, no deal was reached.

Due to this, the Giants’ manager Yang Sang-moon has continuously tried to find a fourth and fifth starter, but has so far failed to come up with a solution.

Ahead of the season, the Giants’ new manager announced that the club’s fifth starter role will be split between two pitchers, a system known as “one plus one.” This means two pitchers will split six innings between them, jointly acting as the starter before bullpen pitchers take over.

The system hasn’t proven very successful, picking up a win and two losses in three games, so Yang has changed tactic and tried starting rookies as starters.

That, too, was a failure. Against the Kiwoom Heroes, rookie Choi Ha-neul quickly left the mound after giving up five runs in the first inning and Lee Seung-heon also faced an early exit after giving up seven runs in two innings against the Tigers on Tuesday.

As of Wednesday’s game, the Giants’ pitchers have the highest ERA, at 6.14.

The Giants’ catchers are as big a problem as the pitchers. From 2005 to 2017, the Giants had Kang Min-ho as starting catcher. But once Kang became a free agent and signed with the Lions after the 2017 season, the Giants found themselves in a tough spot. Last season, the Giants catchers’ WAR - a measure of their overall contributions to the team - was at negative 1.92, last in the KBO.

Things haven’t gotten any better this season as all three Giants’ catchers - An Joong-yeol, Na Jong-deok and Kim Jun-tae - are ranked at the bottom in the KBO’s WAR standing, all with negative figures.

The NC Dinos also struggled with catchers last year but successfully strengthened its roster by signing Yang Eui-ji and Christian Bethancourt.

Rather than signing experienced catchers, the Giants continued to try and develop the three catchers, but that clearly hasn’t paid off. Due to the poor performance behind the plate, the team is ranked first in wild pitches, at 45 as of Wednesday.

To make things worse, the Giants are also getting older. Looking at the roster in recent years, the Giants haven’t really added any young players to the lineup. Due to the injuries of veterans, the Giants are seeing more new faces - Kang Ro-han, Oh Yoon-suk and Hor Il - taking to the field. But, as all three players were born in 1992, they’re not exactly rookies.

Looking at other clubs, the majority of the younger players are in their early 20s.

BY KIM HYO-KYUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]


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