One-run games thrill fans, stress managersGames decided by the smallest of margins in Korea’s top baseball league have been on the rise in the early going of the season, a trend that experts say has been exciting for fans but distressing to managers.
In the first 52 games in the Korea Baseball Organization through Sunday, 18 games, or 35 percent, have been decided by a single run, according to the league office. If the current pace holds up, it would easily surpass the 127 one-run games among 532 contests from a year ago.
Among the eight clubs, the SK Wyverns have already played six one-run games, winning four. They led the KBO with 33 one-run matches a year ago.
The Samsung Lions have played the most one-run contests so far with seven, but they’ve lost four of them. The Lotte Giants have lost all three games that were decided by one run.
Analysts said these matches have contributed to the early increase in attendance. The KBO has reported an upswing of about 26 percent in league-wide attendance over the same period a year ago. The league hopes to attract more than 6 million fans for the season for the first time in the country’s 30-year pro-baseball history.
But close games have been tough on managers, said Lee Soon-cheol, an analyst with the local cable station MBC Sports Plus and a former KBO manager.
“We have some managers whose contracts run out this year and they’re under pressure to perform,” Lee said. “And because they want to put up good records early, teams go all out from the first month of the season.”
Kim Sung-keun of the Wyverns and Kim Kyung-moon of the Doosan Bears are in the final years of their managerial deals. Kim Sung-keun is expected to re-sign after winning three of the past four championships. Kim Kyung-moon, though, isn’t a sure bet, since his Bears have not won a title during his seven-year tenure so far, despite reaching the postseason in six of those seven seasons.
Lee also said two first-year managers, Yang Seung-ho of the Giants and Ryu Joong-il of the Lions, have also contributed to the increase in close contests because they’ve been trying to follow the successes of their predecessors.
Jerry Royster guided the Giants to three straight playoffs until last year, while Sun Dong-yol won two championships and had a runner-up finish in his six seasons with the Lions until 2010.
“Yang and Ryu must be trying to live up to expectations and not fall behind other managers early,” Lee said.
Koo Gyeong-baek, an analyst for a cable station OBS, said the league-wide parity has been a major reason for tight games.
“SK is the best team [with 10-3 record so far] and that team plays a lot of one-run games,” Koo said. “That’s the evidence of parity. Other than the Hanwha Eagles [with the league-worst 3-10 record], teams will take the pennant race down to the wire.”
Lee and Koo agreed the strength of bullpens will be the key to success. Lee said while statistics don’t show it, relief pitchers across the league have “looked out of sync.”
“With that, managers have been giving quick hooks to their pitchers, [leading to tight games],” Lee said.