Lee’s batting rises from whimper to Lions’ roar

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Lee’s batting rises from whimper to Lions’ roar


Lee Ji-young

As the Samsung Lions are cruising to their fifth consecutive title in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League, catcher Lee Ji-young is considered one of the top contributors to the club’s success - in defense and offense.

Lee, 29, was an average batter until May, going only .263 in 40 games. But after revising his batting form, his offensive instinct exploded, getting a .441 batting average in June. As of Tuesday, he is hitting .317 with 52 RBIs in 111 games.

Lee, who made his pro debut in 2009 with the Lions, hasn’t yet fulfilled his minimum plate-appearance requirement to compete for the batting title as he is sharing playing time with Lee Heung-ryun in the catcher position. But it looks certain the Incheon native will have his career high season in batting.

Lee had a .304 batting average in 54 games in 2012, followed by .239 in 2013 and .278 in 2014. This season is the first time in his career he produced more than 100 hits in a single season.

Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of Korea JoongAng Daily, met Lee on Sunday to ask him about his goals for the season and his improved batting.

Q. You have played more than 100 games but still maintained a batting average above .300. How?

A. I didn’t expect I would maintain that figure for such a long time. I think getting focused every time at bat produced this good result. Now that the pennant race has less than 20 games remaining, I want to keep the .300 average until the end. Now, I’m greedy to achieve that.

Manager Ryu Joong-il said you finally found the right batting form. What do you think?

That’s true. Previously, I used only my upper torso when I was batting, but now I’m using my lower torso. Now, even if I hit a grounder, I can see the ball gaining more power.

What made you change form? It looks like your batting form is similar to the LG Twins’ Jeong Seong-hoon.

You’re right. My batting form is similar to Jeong’s. Since I was struggling in May, I just imitated his form for fun, but coach Kim Han-soo saw this and proposed I change it. As I practiced, it became familiar and my batting sense got better. I think I found the right form.

You seem to have improved your batting eye, as there are not many strikeouts compared to last season. What is the reason?

Since I watch the ball at the same height as the trace of the ball, I don’t make swings on all pitches. I’m not the kind of player who gets struck out a lot, but I know my strikeouts this season are fewer than the last two seasons.

After Jin Kab-yong retired, you are now the main catcher for the Lions. What has changed?

This year, I think I gained a lot of experience by playing games. I think I am more relaxed when I play, but still, there is a long way to go.

Is a .300 batting average your goal for this season?

No. I’ve never thought about it. I didn’t set a specific figure for my goal. Besides the team getting its fifth championship in a row, I didn’t have a personal goal. If I start the season with a specific number, I get rushed too much and pressured. If I have to say, I just want to have a .001 batting average improvement over last season. I put in my best effort to improve by .001. I think I’m definitely a better player than last season.

Do you think your performance added more power to batters in the low ranks?

Honestly, for opponent pitchers, I’ve been a batter with whom they can easily take a rest (laughs). I have been focusing on carrying out tactics, but as I kept hitting better, opponents now seem to pay more attention to me. It feels good that I can make a little contribution to the team’s offense.

How did you feel when you saw your name listed on the Premier 12 preliminary squad?

I’m just satisfied to see my name in the preliminary squad. I have never thought I can represent the country. I know I lack a lot of things. But for now, my focus is to help the Lions win the regular season.

Do you think you can be a candidate for the Golden Glove award?

That’s still a difficult question. It is enough of an honor for me to be a candidate for the Golden Glove. I think the Golden Glove in the KBO League emphasizes performance in offense rather than defense. This year, catchers like Kang Min-ho and Yang Eui-ji all
have good batting stats. I think I’m better than those players at stealing percentage. I’m still behind in slugging power.

Are you looking to catch both team and personal performance at the same time?

I will be proud if I can do that. I know I’m doing well in batting, but I’m a catcher. Winning the championship is important and so is my batting performance, but my main role is to safely secure the back. When we give up the run, I’m always sad. I know our team ERA is second in the league, but I hope we can finish first.

BY YU BYEONG-MIN, JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]

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