KT Wiz rises on foreign pitchers

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KT Wiz rises on foreign pitchers

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The once-underdog KT Wiz is taking over the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), and its foreign pitchers are leading the way.

In just its second year in the first division league, the Wiz has won five of its nine first games. Considering it took 31 games last season for the Wiz to grab five wins, the team’s current record is simply remarkable.

While there are many factors behind the Wiz’s incredible performance, much of it has to do with the team’s foreign pitchers.

Three foreigners were behind the five wins thus far, with Sugar Ray Marimon and Yohan Pino each getting two while Travis Banwart added one more.

The outstanding performances by this year’s foreign pitchers are in stark contrast to last year, when the Wiz’s foreigners struggled.

Right-handed pitcher Phil Irwin, who started in the season opener last year and left-handed pitcher Andrew Frank Sisco were kicked off the team in the middle of last season due to the poor numbers. Irwin had one win and seven losses with a 8.68 earned run average (ERA), while Sisco recorded six losses and two holds with a 6.23 ERA.

Although Chris Oxspring did his share for the team, Justin Germano had a poor season as well with three wins and six losses with a 4.93 ERA.

The total for the four foreign pitchers last year was a disappointing 16 wins and 29 losses.

The Wiz finished its first year in the KBO last year with 52 wins, one draw and 91 losses with team batting average of .273 and 5.56 team ERA as well as .364 winning percentage.

But the Wiz wasn’t going to repeat the same result.

After the bitter failure last year, the Wiz moved fast. Its recruiting team quickly mounted a trip to the United States, and spent all of August 2015 finding possible players. The team’s focus was on prospective pitchers’ ball control.

“The team lost its chance for the postseason early on so we were able to make our move quickly,” said a staffer from the team. “Ball control was the key for us.”

Marimon was the first to catch the recruiting team’s attention with his changeups.

“Marimon had that ball control we were looking for. He threw the fastball at a velocity of over 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour) consistently and he could grab a ball or strike anytime he wanted with his changeups,” said one of the members of the recruiting team.

The team knew it had to stay realistic in terms of salary, and players that requested outrageous amounts of money were simply taken out of consideration. This meant that the Wiz lost one of its top prospects coming out of the Major League, which the team’s recruiter wouldn’t name said now plays for another KBO team.

Instead, the Wiz brought in Pino for $700,000 for one year, while Banwart and Marimon each signed one-year contract for $600,000, totaling $1.9 million spent on foreign pitchers.

This is the same as the salary of the Hanwha Eagles’ Esmil Rogers, who is currently sitting out of games due to elbow pain.

The Wiz worked hard to bring in the talent, but timing was also a major issue.

Pino was initially offered a spot in 2015, but he declined so that he could take a shot at the Major League. But after failing to make the big league roster of the Kansas City Royals, he decided to give the KBO a go.

For Marimon, it was the Wiz’s persistence that finally brought him to the team’s roster this year. The team had been contacting Marimon’s agent since 2014 and finally signed a deal with him prior to this season.

The Wiz contacted Banwart, who has been on the team’s radar since 2014, immediately after the renewal of his contract with SK Wyverns went haywire.

As the tenth franchise in the KBO, the Wiz is given the benefit of having up to four foreign players. It can also sign up to three foreign pitchers.

This perk is anything but negligible.

For the NC Dinos, which were allowed to have three foreign pitchers in 2014 in their second season in the KBO, the three foreigners for the team combined 29 wins total, one of the core factors behind the Dinos making their way to the postseason that year.

The Wiz obviously pondered about who to bring in, but aside from baseball skills, the team emphasized adaptability and character of the players.

By BAE JUNG-HYUNE [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]

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