At halfway point, KBO coaches mull MVP picks

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At halfway point, KBO coaches mull MVP picks

With the annual All-Star game taking place in Daegu tomorrow, the first half of the 2010 KBO season is now in the record books. KBO managers typically use the break as a chance to evaluate their teams and players in the hopes of improving in the second half of the season.

With that in mind, the JoongAng Ilbo’s sports team surveyed KBO managers to get their thoughts on each team’s Most Valuable Player candidates from the first half of the season.

Reliable bullpen

Prior to the start of the season, most managers predicted that the strength of their bullpens would determine their teams’ success. Several managers had to anoint new closers to anchor their bullpens, raising questions about the reliability of their relievers. But coaches are singling out relievers who have succeeded in their new roles.

SK Wyverns manager Kim Sung-geun chose southpaw Lee Seung-ho to replace injured Jeong Dae-hyun in spring training.

Lee has responded well, posting five wins and 20 saves through Thursday.

Southpaw setup man Jung Woo-ram has also been steady out of the bullpen, posting six wins, four losses and two saves.

“Jung and Lee are my obvious choices for team MVPs in the first half,” Kim said. “If the two did not pitch well out of the bullpen, we would have lost at least 10 more games.”

The LG Twins are hoping for their postseason appearance since the 2002 season. Rookie manager Park Jong-hoon touted Japanese veteran closer Shinya Okamoto, who has posted 16 saves, as his top player.

“To be honest, Okamoto did not impress me much at the start of the season,” Park said. “However, Okamoto provided stability in the bullpen, allowing for a balanced overall pitching staff.”

Nexen Heroes manager Kim Si-jin also chose his closer, Sohn Seung-rak, who has racked up two wins, one loss and 15 saves.

“There isn’t another player on our team who has perfected his role as much as Sohn,” Kim said.

Veteran help

Several areas of the game cannot be controlled or corrected by managers, and that’s where veteran players come in especially handy. Their presence can be a big help to team chemistry and, in turn, have a noticeable effect on team production.

This is precisely the reason Samsung manager Seon Dong-ryeol is glad to have a reliable veteran catcher in Jin Gap-yong to lead a young group of players. With Jin’s steady presence behind the plate, Samsung has been a pleasant surprise in the first half of the season. It currently sits second in the league’s standings despite boasting a roster full of young players.

“Jin has exceeded expectations this season,” Seon said. “I had concerns about the team at the start of the season, but as a veteran player, Jin has worked hard and taken on a leadership role.”

Doosan Bears manager Kim Kyung-moon counts his veteran infielder Kim Dong-joo as his top player.

“Early on in the season, I bumped Kim down to fifth in the batting order and gave the cleanup spot to the younger Kim Hyun-soo,” the Doosan manager said.

“He put his ego aside and did not protest. He put his team ahead of himself and made numerous sacrifices for the team.”

Ace in the hole

Where would Kia and Hanhwa be without their ace pitchers? The mere thought of such a possibility is enough to induce nightmares for Kia Tigers manager Cho Beom-hyun and Hanhwa Eagles manager Han Dae-hwa.

Kia struggled through a dismal first half marked by the longest losing streak in team history. One of the lone bright spots on that team though was starting pitcher Yang Hyun-jong, who posted 12 wins, three losses and 98 strikeouts.

“When the entire team struggled to find its form, Yang calmly put up wins for us,” said Cho.

For Hanhwa Eagles manager Han Dae-hwa, the choice is fairly obvious: Ryu Hyun-jin.

“Ryu has worked hard since spring training and is by far our best player,” Han said.

The southpaw pitcher is having another dominating season with the Eagles, posting 13 wins, four losses and a 1.57 ERA with 147 strikeouts.

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