Will big hitters add more power?

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Will big hitters add more power?

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Park Byung-ho and Choi Jung

In the history of the Korean Baseball Organization, Lee Seung-yeop of the Samsung Lions and Lee Dae-ho of the Lotte Giants, who now plays for Japan’s SoftBank Hawks, are the only players who have hit more than 40 home runs in a season since 2003.

Lee Seung-yeop became the home run king in 2003, when he hit 56 home runs, smashing Lee Dae-ho’s record of 44, which was set in 2010.

Even Park Byung-ho of the Nexen Heroes, who won the home run title for two straight seasons, hit 31 home runs in 2012 and had 37 last season. In fact, Park was the only player who hit more than 30 last season.

But analysts and fans expect to see more home runs in the 2014 season as each KBO team has signed foreign hitters. The teams say that having powerful foreign hitters will help Korean players hit more home runs. Since the KBO changed its regulations in October, allowing teams an additional foreign player in order to give the clubs more flexibility, each team is predicted to have two pitchers and a hitter. The KBO’s 2013 season rookie team, the NC Dinos, was allowed to have four foreign players - three pitchers and a hitter.

The revised regulations say that each team can have three foreign players, and two of them can play together at the same time in a game. This means that each team is now able to start one pitcher and one hitter. The clubs could also have two batters in a game, but because most of them are lacking decent pitchers, it’s likely they will have two pitchers and a hitter.

“I think I can learn something from them because many of them have experiences in Major League Baseball,” said SK Wyverns third baseman Choi Jung. “I want to see how they practice and want to exchange hitting techniques with them.” Choi hit 28 home runs last season, the third-most in the league.

When the KBO first started importing foreign players in 1998, it had an immediate impact on the number of home runs made.

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Until 1997, Jang Jong-hoon of the Hanwha Eagles held the KBO record for the most home runs in a season, with 41 in 1992.

In 1998, Tyrone Woods of the OB Bears (now the Doosan Bears) hit 42.

Then, in 1999, Lee Seung-yeop became the first KBO hitter with more than 50 home runs when he hit 54. That year, Lee had powerful imported rivals, such as Dan Rohrmeier of the Eagles, who hit 45 homers and Tracy Sanders of the Haitai Tigers, who hit 40.

In 2003, Lee of the Lions (56 home runs) and Shim Jeong-soo of the Hyundai Unicorns (53 homers) led the league.

“I know fans get heated up by home runs,” said Park of the Heroes. “I think having powerful imported bats in the league would positively impact the league if they adapt to the KBO well.”

Lee Man-soo, manager of the SK Wyverns, who was once a KBO home run king in the 1980s and has coaching experience with the Chicago White Sox, said, “The best way to learn something from a person is to look at how the person does it. I think players can get some tips in making better swings.”

In December, the Doosan Bears signed a contract with former major leaguer Jorge Cantu, who hit 28 home runs in 2005 and 29 home runs in 2009.

Also that month, the SK Wyverns signed outfielder Luke Scott, who played with the Tampa Bay Rays this past season. In 889 games with the Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles and the Rays, he averaged .258 with 725 hits, 135 home runs and 436 RBI.


BY BAE JOONG-HYUN AND KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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