The MVP debate: Starter vs. closer

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The MVP debate: Starter vs. closer

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The Korea Baseball Organization announced four candidates for this season’s MVP on Tuesday. From left, Choi Hyung-woo, Yoon Suk-min, Oh Seung-hwan and Lee Dae-ho. [YONHAP]


With the 2011 Korean Series title in the hands of the Daegu Samsung Lions, all eyes are now shifting to who will be the named the most valuable player and the best rookie of the season.

On Tuesday, the Korea Baseball Organization announced four MVP candidates and two players eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award. The voting for these awards will be done by KBO-registered baseball reporters at the Intercontinental Hotel in southeastern Seoul on Monday.

For this season’s MVP, Busan Lotte Giants’ Lee Dae-ho, last year’s winner, is joined by Gwangju Kia Tigers’ Yoon Suk-min and two Lions stars - Oh Seung-hwan and Choi Hyung-woo.

But baseball pundits say the two pitchers, Yoon and Oh, are considered to be strong candidates to win the award, followed by sluggers Choi and Lee.

Yoon, 25, had the best season of his career since making his professional debut in 2005. The right-handed starting pitcher for the Tigers has topped four pitching categories this season, leading in wins (17), ERA (2.45), strikeouts (178) and winning percentage (.773). He is the first pitcher to claim four pitching categories since Sun Dong-yeol, currently the Tigers manager and arguably regarded as the best pitcher in KBO history, did so in 1991.

“If I could vote, I would cast my vote for Yoon since he has achieved almost everything that a starting pitcher can do,” said Seoul LG Twins chief assistant coach Cho Kye-hyun to Ilgan Sports, the JoongAng Ilbo’s daily sports newspaper, yesterday. “It’s rare to see solid starters like him in the recent baseball era, in which bullpen pitching is taking a dominant role.”

But others argue that even though Yoon topped four pitching categories, his stats were not dominant compared to pitchers in past seasons and his lack of the Korean Series title puts him at a disadvantage.

The same criticism also burdens the two sluggers on the MVP ballot.

Choi, 28, did help his club win the Korean Series, but his stats in the regular season - the top finisher in home runs (30), RBI (118) and slugging percentage (.617) - aren’t significant numbers compared to past winners.

Lee, who topped seven offensive categories to win the MVP last year, did managed to defend his batting average (.357), hits (176) and on-base percentage (.433) titles. The Giants, however, failed to reach the finals.

Lions closer Oh, the Korean Series MVP, is a strong candidate to win the title.

Oh finished the regular season with a win, 47 saves and a 0.63 ERA. The 29-year-old pitcher was flawless in the Korean Series - three saves with no runs allowed, claiming the series MVP for the second time since 2005.

However, only one closer has won the regular-season MVP in KBO history, and he also frequently started on the mound. Daejeon Hanhwa Eagles’ former pitcher Koo Dae-sung won it in 1996, but he threw 139 innings that year and finished the season not only the leader in saves (24), but also the top finisher in wins (18) and ERA (1.88). Oh only threw 57 innings.

Experts acknowledge it is difficult for a closer to win the MVP, but Oh’s clutch performances were a critical component of the Lions’ title run.

“If the player’s value is rated by giving his club a trophy, Oh must win the title,” Lee Hyo-bong, the baseball commentator for MBC SPORTS+, said to Ilgan Sports yesterday. “If Oh doesn’t win the title this season, no closer will ever be voted MVP in the KBO again.”

Meanwhile, for Rookie of the Year, the Lions’ outfielder Bae Young-seob and Seoul LG Twins pitcher Im Chan-gyu are battling to win the title.Bae, 25, finished with a .294 batting average and 33 stolen bases, while Im, 19, went 9-6 with a 4.46 ERA, collecting seven saves as well.


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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