Tigers’ star pitcher could make Korean baseball history

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Tigers’ star pitcher could make Korean baseball history


Yang Hyeon-jong of the Kia Tigers, left, and Lee Jung-hoo of the Nexen Heroes. [YONHAP]

A star pitcher will chase history at Korean baseball’s annual awards ceremony this week.

The Korea Baseball Organization will announce the 2017 MVP and Rookie of the Year in Seoul today, and Kia Tigers left-hander Yang Hyeon-jong will look to add an MVP trophy to his growing mantelpiece.

After tying for the league lead in wins with 20 and helping the Tigers to their best regular season record, Yang is considered among the leading candidates for the KBO’s top individual award.

The 29-year-old pitcher was voted MVP of the Korean Series, the KBO’s championship final, last Monday after earning a win and a save for the Tigers in their five-game defeat of the Doosan Bears.

And if Yang does win the regular season MVP, he’ll become the first KBO player to capture both MVP awards in the same season in the league’s 35-year history.

Four former players - Lee Jong-beom, Koo Dae-sung, Lee Seung-yuop and Tyrone Woods - have won both the regular season and Korean Series MVP awards in their careers, but never in the same year.

According to the KBO, 107 members of the media cast their votes on the regular season MVP and Rookie of the Year from Oct. 6-9, after the end of the regular season.

First-place votes for the MVP are worth eight points, second-place votes are good for four points and so forth. For the top rookie honors, first-place votes count for five points, while second-place votes are worth three points and third-place votes are worth one point. The players with the most points are the winners.

Yang and Hector Noesi, his Kia teammate and another MVP candidate, finished tied for first with 20 victories each. They were the first pair of teammates to win at least 20 games in a season since 1985.

But Yang had slightly better numbers in other categories. Yang was fifth overall in ERA with 3.44, and Noesi was sixth at 3.48. Yang finished third in strikeouts with 158, compared with Noesi’s 149, which put him in seventh place.

Noesi led the KBO with 201 2/3 innings, 8 1/3 more than Yang, and topped his Korean teammate in winning percentage, .800 to .769.

The past two MVP awards have gone to American players: NC Dinos first baseman Eric Thames in 2015 and Doosan Bears starting pitcher Dustin Nippert in 2016.

Yang and Noesi will likely battle SK Wyverns’ slugging third baseman Choi Jeong, who won the home run crown with 46.

Choi also led the KBO with a .684 slugging percentage and finished fifth with 113 RBIs.

There should be much less drama for the Rookie of the Year award, as Nexen Heroes outfielder Lee Jung-hoo outperformed all freshmen this year.

The 19-year-old played in all 144 games and led all rookies with a .324 batting average, 179 hits, 29 doubles and 111 runs scored. He set records for most hits and most runs scored by a rookie, and was third overall in the league in these two categories.

Lee is the son of Lee Jong-beom, one of four players to have won both the regular season and Korean Series MVP awards.

One of the KBO’s greatest players, the senior Lee never won Rookie of the Year - he finished second in 1993, despite setting a rookie record with 73 steals.

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