Has SK's Youm Kyoung-youb lost his golden touch?
Entering his second year as the Wyverns’ manager, Youm isn’t having a great year with his club ranked ninth out of the 10 clubs in the KBO, as of Wednesday morning.
“I have a lot of thoughts,” Youm said before the team's game against the Kiwoom Heroes on June 21. “It’s really hard to interview.”
Normally, pre-game interviews are held for about 10 to 15 minutes, but on Sunday, Youm left after just three minutes. Although he’s been managing the Wyverns for two years, he's now playing his sixth year as a manager throughout his entire career. He first debuted as the Nexen Heroes’ manager back in 2013.
Youm is a relatively young and inexperienced manager in the KBO and there will be points in his career when things don't go the right way. That said, even back in Youm's early days with the Heroes, he's never faced a season as dismal as this.
Things have gone badly for the Wyverns since the very start of the season, dropping right to the bottom of the table until an all-time record-tying losing streak from the Hanwha Eagles gave the Wyverns a little bit of a breather, pushing them up to ninth place.
Things started to look better at the start of this month, when the Wyverns managed to claw their way up to eighth on June 9, but that minor success didn't last. Over the past 11 games the Wyverns have picked up just one win with 10 losses, pushing them right back down to ninth place. Looking at the entire month, as of Tuesday the Incheon club has five wins and 14 losses.
As a result, the Wyverns are now only 2.5 games ahead of the Eagles. If their current seven-game losing streak is anything to go by, the Wyverns are likely to soon replace the Eagles at the very bottom of the table.
Like many clubs this season, the Wyverns have had their fair share of injuries, including the loss of starting catcher Lee Jae-won on May 7 with a thumb fracture. Lee's return on June 20 was supposed to pick the team back up, but a decisive 2-7 loss to the Heroes quickly dashed those dreams.
During Sunday’s game, starting pitcher Ricardo Pinto and Lee allowed the Heroes to steal five bases. Of the five, four ended up being errors. The situation got so bad that Pinto was caught visibly upset with Lee on camera, an unusual site among teammates.
Throughout Youm’s six seasons as a KBO manager, this is by far his worst. Although he wasn’t an outstanding player back when he was a pro, as manager, his career has been reliably consistent. Every season, his team has recorded a winning percentage over 0.500 and advanced to the postseason.
Back in 2013, when he first managed the Heroes, his name was unknown to many baseball fans. By leading the Heroes to a fourth-place finish and allowing the club to advance to the postseason for the first time ever, he quickly earned some recognition. The following season, he led the Heroes to the postseason again, this time taking them all the way to the Korean Series, where they finished second.
After spending four seasons with the Heroes, in 2017 Youm joined the Wyverns as a coach. Starting last season, he was appointed as manager once again. He signed with the club with an annual salary of 700 million won ($580,000), which is considered high among KBO managers.
Last year, Youm led the Wyverns to the top of the KBO regular season standing for the majority of the season, with things only starting to go wrong at the very end.
Despite their dominant lead in the KBO, the Wyverns started to fall apart in the last month of the season and ended up finishing second in the regular season, after the Doosan Bears stole the crown in the very last game of the season. They picked up 88 wins, actually tying with the Bears, but as the Bears were ahead on the two clubs’ head-to-head record, they had to settle for second.
In the postseason, their struggles continued as they lost the playoff to the Heroes and failed to advance to the Korean Series. The team still doesn't seem to have recovered.
Despite playing at home at Munhak Baseball Stadium on Tuesday, the Wyverns suffered another 2-9 loss to the Bears. This season, the Wyverns have hit only 34 home runs, eighth in the league.
Their batting average isn’t high either, as they are ranked ninth in team batting average at 0.235. Even pitching, which has been strong in recent years, is ranked seventh with a team ERA of 4.79.
The Wyverns are also looking for a new foreign pitcher to replace Nick Kingham, as he’s been out for two games due to elbow pain. However, that too doesn’t seem easy due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Since I feel like everything I say will sound like excuses, I have nothing to say,” Yeom said.
BY PARK SO-YOUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]