In KBO, foreign pitchers getting mixed results

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In KBO, foreign pitchers getting mixed results

There is a saying in the Korea Baseball Organization: “foreign players are a half of a year-round harvest,” an indication of how significant a role foreign players hold in the country’s professional baseball league. All of the KBO clubs, including the newly introduced NC Dinos, exerted efforts in selecting talented foreign players before the opening of the 2013 season. Some of them decided to play it safe and renewed contracts with their players. This year, however, their choice is turning out to be a bad one.

Nineteen foreigners, all pitchers, are playing in the KBO this season. Each club took two foreigners, the maximum number of foreign players allowed under KBO rules, apart from the Dinos, who were allowed to pick one more foreigner for the first two years through next year.

Almost half of the players, nine, re-signed with their teams. But, most of them have yet to live up to expectations. Denny Bautista of the Hanwha Eagles and Ben Jukich of the LG Twins were even sent to the minor league before returning to the first-division league. A majority of the foreign players are the first or second starters on their teams, but they are not as good as they used to be.

The records show it well. Brandon Knight of the Nexen Heroes, who led the league last year in ERA, at 2.20, now has a 3.97 ERA, which doesn’t even qualify for the top 10.

Other second-year pitchers include Shane Youman of the Lotte Giants, whose ERA inflated from 2.55 last year to 4.03 this year; Dustin Nippert of the Doosan Bears, whose ERA rose from 3.20 to 3.51; and Andy Van Hekken of the Heroes, whose ERA increased from 3.28 to 4.14.

Among the second-year foreigners, only Radhames Liz of the LG Twins and Anthony Lerew of the Tigers are having a lower ERA than last year. Liz improved his ERA from 3.69 last year to 2.93 this year. He has recorded quality starts 10 times this year, trailing only the SK Wyverns’ Chris Seddon, who has 11. Lerew’s ERA improved slightly from 3.83 last year to 3.74. Moving to the bullpen this season, Lerew is leading the league with 20 saves.

Some local experts said their dwindling velocity, partly as a result of age and partly due to a lack of training, is the biggest reason for the pitchers’ struggles. They also were exposed to opponents more than the newcomers.

“It is likely that the teams have completed analyzing their ball,” said Yang Sang-moon, an MBC baseball commentator.

It has been 16 years since foreign players were first allowed to play in the KBO, and only a handful of them, like Matt Randel, Danny Rios and Aquilino Lopez, stay in Korea beyond two or three years. Randel pitched for four years in Korea with the Bears through 2009, Rios for six seasons through 2007, playing for the Tigers and the Bears, and Lopez for four years through to last year, for the Tigers and the Wyverns.

A lack of communication, possibly stemming from the language barrier, may be another cause.

“Coaching staffs are less eager to teach foreign players than they do to domestic players,” Yang said. “Foreign players also tend to be less eager to take advice.”

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