Rookie’s unique triumph poses a questionHis playoffs may not have ended the way he hoped, but his offseason surely began the way he wanted.
Ryu Hyun-jin of the Korean Series runners-up Hanwha Eagles last week became the first Korean baseball player to win the Rookie of the Year and most valuable player awards in the same season. The honors came just days after the Eagles bowed out to the Samsung Lions in the championship series in six games.
The 19-year-old who only recently left high school is just the second Korean pitcher, and the first rookie, to win the pitching triple crown, leading the league in wins (18), strikeouts (204), and earned run average (2.23). His strikeout totals were the most ever by a rookie in a single season, while his wins tied the rookie record set by Kim Kun-woo in 1986.
In the MVP voting, Ryu beat out Lotte Giants’ slugger Lee Dae-ho, who won the batting triple crown as the league leader for home runs (26), runs batted in (88), and batting average (.336). Lee’s feat has been accomplished only one other time in Korean baseball. Ryu garnered 47 out of 92 votes from baseball writers across the nation, while Lee received 35 votes. Oh Seung-hwan, the Lions’ closer who set a Korean single season saves record with 47, got 10 votes.
Ryu breathed easier in the top rookie award ballot. He had 82 of the 92 votes, easily beating No. 1 draft pick Han Ki-joo of the Kia Tigers, who received just eight.
“I am grateful for these honors,” said Ryu, who, unlike his presence on the mound, appeared sheepish on stage under spotlights. “My goal is to be consistent, not a one-hit wonder.”
He said he will focus on strengthening this winter, and strength will indeed be a key concern for Ryu next season. He pitched more than 200 innings in the regular season alone to lead the league, and pitched about 15 more innings in the postseason.
His fastball lost velocity as the postseason wore on, and after pitching 5 1/3 innings in the first game of the Korean Series, in which he was the losing pitcher, Ryu suffered from pain in his elbow. Ryu had elbow surgery in his second year in high school and there are now inevitable doubts about his endurance.
The Eagles would do well to be careful with Ryu next year, and should remember Giants’ pitcher Yeom Jong-seok’s winning Korean Series playoff run in 1992.
Also a 19-year-old rookie, Yeom pitched 204 2/3 innings in the regular season, winning 17 games. He pitched 30 2/3 innings more in the playoffs, including two complete game shutouts.
Yeom had two elbow surgeries afterward, and has not won more than 10 games in any season since his rookie year.
by Yoo Jee-ho