Thames power lifts MVP award

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Thames power lifts MVP award

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The 2015 KBO MVP Eric Thames of NC Dinos, right, and the Rookie of the Year winner Koo Ja-wook, of Samsung Lions, with their trophies at the KBO Award ceremony held in Yangjae-dong, southern Seoul on Tuesday. [ILGAN SPORTS]

NC Dinos’ power hitter Eric Thames was named the 2015 KBO League regular season MVP on Tuesday after edging his batting rival Nexen Heroes’ Park Byung-ho.

The Rookie of the Year award went to Samsung Lions’ multi player Koo Ja-wook.

At the KBO Award ceremony held at the K-Hotel in Yangjae-dong in southern Seoul, Thames collected 50 out of 99 votes, beating Park by six votes.

The votes were cast by local baseball reporters on Oct. 11 during the first round playoff game at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul, but the results were kept secret until Tuesday.

“I haven’t slept in the last few days … I’ve been nervous,” said Thames who received a Kia Motors’ New Sorento SUV as part of the top honor. “Now I know why Byung-ho is so strong. This [trophy] is heavy and I know he has a few of these [trophies],” he joked.

Thames is the third foreign player in the KBO history to be awarded the MVP award. Former Doosan Bears players Tyrone Woods won in 1998 and Daniel Rios in 2007. He is also the first MVP winner for the Dinos baseball franchise.

In his sophomore season, Thames topped in batting average (.381), slugging percentage (.790), on-base percentage (.497) and runs scored (130) in 142 games. His slugging percentage was an all-time high, surpassing the previous record of .740 set by Baek In-cheon in 1982.

Thames was also second in RBIs (140), third in home runs (47), fourth in hits (180) and fifth in stolen bases (40).

In particular, the 29-year-old American is the first player ever in the KBO to achieve “40-40” in a single season with 47 home runs and 40 stolen bases. He also became the first batter in KBO history to hit for cycle twice in a single season.

The Dinos fans are feeling lucky to have Thames again next season because the former Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners player has already renewed his contract with a one-year deal worth $1.5 million last week.

“I’m very proud of the Dinos,” he said. “We’re going to come back strong next year. To the other fans, start cheering for the Dinos.”

Throughout the season, Thames and Park have been involved in a fierce competition in almost all batting categories. Park, who came from the Korea national team’s Premier 12 victory in Japan last week, was hoping for his third MVP award after 2012 and 2013.

The 29-year-old finished the season No. 1 in home runs (53) and RBIs (146), becoming the first player in KBO history to win both categories for four consecutive seasons. He is also the first player ever to hit 50 or more home runs for two straight seasons, while setting a new single season RBI record, which was previously held by Samsung Lions’ Lee Seung-yuop at 144 in 2003.

Park was the league’s second in slugging percentage (.714) and runs-scored (129), third in hits (181) and fifth in batting average (.343) and on-base percentage (.436) after playing 140 games.

However, unlike Thames, Park is unlikely to be in the KBO next year as he negotiated with the Minnesota Twins to play in the MLB after getting posted.

The battle between the two players will continue for the 2015 Golden Glove Award on Dec. 11. Both Thames and Park are first baseman.

The other two MVP candidates, both pitchers, did not have record-breaking performances like the two batters.

Dinos right-hander Eric Hacker went 19-5 with 3.13 ERA in 31 games, marking No.1 in wins and winning percentage. Kia Tigers lefty ace Yang Hyeong-jong went 15-6 with league best 2.44 ERA in 32 games.

Meanwhile, the Rookie of the Year title went to Samsung Lions’ Koo Ja-wook who earned 60 of 100 votes to beat Heroes’ shortstop Kim Ha-sung, who had 34 votes, and KT Wiz pitcher Cho Moo-keun.

Koo had a .349 batting average - which is third best in the league - along with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs in 116 games. His batting average was second best for a rookie player in KBO history after late Jang Hyo-jo marked .369 in 1983.

During the season, Koo, 22, also had a 23-game hitting streak, the longest for a rookie player. He is the sixth top rookie award winner in Lions franchise history.

“I don’t think the Rookie of the Year award is my final destination,” said Koo, who received a trophy and 3 million won ($2,602) cash. “Since I have a bigger dream and goal, I will keep putting my best effort to achieve that dream.”

Heroes’ Kim has been evaluated high for successfully filling the void of Kang Jung-ho who left the Seoul-based club for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 20-year-old had a .290 batting average, 19 home runs, 73 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 140 games.

Cho, 24, played for the league worst and rookie club Wiz, but he went 8-5 with 1.88 ERA in 43 games, along with his two holds and four saves. The 1.98-meter right-hander was the only rookie to represent Korea in the Premier 12.

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [joo.kyungdon@joongang.co.kr]


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