KBO clubs struggle to find reliable closers

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KBO clubs struggle to find reliable closers

Relief pitchers often save the day, but not necessarily the ones you would expect. In fact, the KBO’s saves ranking is looking decidedly unfamiliar, as only a couple of veteran closers have managed to hold their own this season.

Aside from the Hanwha Eagles with Jung Woo-ram and the Lotte Giants with Son Seung-lak - both seasoned pitchers that have closed for their teams for the past nine seasons - the other eight teams in the KBO have struggled to settle on a closer.

That doesn’t mean they’re struggling. Jung may lead the league in saves at 13, as of Thursday 6 p.m., but the next three names are more of a surprise. The LG Twins’ Jeong Chan-heon comes in second with 10 saves, followed by Ham Deok-ju of the Doosan Bears with and Park Jung-bae of the SK Wyverns with nine each. Son comes in fifth with seven.

Kim Se-hyun of the Kia Tigers led the league in saves in 2016, but has struggled this season. After picking up one win and four losses with four saves, Kim’s ERA is at 9.24.

In fact, Kim is doing so badly that he now leads the league in blown saves, at four, and has been excluded from the Tigers’ entry since the start of May.

The NC Dinos’ Lim Chang-min, who finished in the top three for saves for the last three seasons, had to conclude his season to undergo elbow surgery. He wasn’t looking good anyway - Lim had one loss, three saves and an ERA of 6.43.

“As the league’s bullpen has gotten weaker, the pressure has transferred to the closers,” said Cha Myeong-seok, a commentator for MBC Sports Plus.

Pressure does undoubtedly get to the closers, and the numbers support that. The Eagles lead the league in terms of bullpen ERA, at 3.45, and it’s no coincidence that their closer is the best in the KBO. The Twins, with the second most saves, have the third best bullpen with an ERA of 4.60.

“Aside from Jung and Son, where the coaching staff have been limiting the number of innings, there are no other closers that are trustworthy in the league yet,” explained Cha.

This season, Jung has picked up a win and 13 saves with an ERA of 1.15. Though his fastball isn’t that fast, averaging 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour), his accuracy and timing have more than made up for the slower pace.

Son didn’t get much time on the mound at the start of the season as the Giants were wallowing in last place. But in the 14 games he has played in, he has picked up a loss and seven saves with an ERA of 3.86.

It is likely that Son will get more opportunities to pick up saves as the Giants are slowly creeping up the standings.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
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