Korean pitchers have contributed to run-scoring surge in majors
Though the numbers dropped a bit this month to 9.3 runs per game with 2.0 homeruns through last week, the early power surge has been remarkable, especially in the age of more stringent testing for performance-enhancing substances thought to be responsible for the high home run totals of recent years.
And Korean pitchers have done their part to contribute.
Only Park Chan-ho of the San Diego Padres has had an earned run average below four, at 3.27, and that was only after not allowing an earned run in his last three starts. Park entered May with 5.34 ERA. Two other Korean starters, Los Angeles Dodger Seo Jae-weong and Colorado Rockie Kim Byung-hyun, both spotted ERAs of more than 5.00 through last weekend.
Other than a drop in their velocity and a worrisome lack of control, what has been the problem so far?
All three pitched in March’s World Baseball Classic tournament, where Korea reached the semifinals in an improbable run. These major leaguers carried heavy responsibilities and pitched in crucial situations, with Park notching three saves in as many opportunities and Seo starting three games, with a 0.69 ERA.
Though it's been nearly two months since the tournament ended, it was no doubt a mentally draining event for Korean players.
For pitchers, skipping spring training for the intense, playoff-like grudge matches can prove costly for the rest of the season. They report to camp earlier than hitters because they tend to need more time to get into playing shape in time for season.
In spring, pitchers throw in simulated games or at least in much less intense settings. And playing in real games early in the spring can take them out of the routine.
“Because there were days off between games, I tried to see the tournament like it was spring training,” Seo said earlier this month. “But there was no question that my approach to games was different because I was playing for my country.”
Seo and Park have shown signs of returning to form. And not everyone sees the World Baseball Classic as something that caused participating players’ early woes.
“Without question, the success that [Park] had there, and how his country got behind him and supported him and the team, I think that did a world of good for him [confidence-wise],” the Padres manager Bruce Bochy told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
by Yoo Jee-ho