KBO's top fireballers gear up for fast-paced season

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KBO's top fireballers gear up for fast-paced season

The KBO’s top fastball pitchers are off to a quick start during the spring training exhibition games, comfortably breaking 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour) and edging closer to the elusive 160 kilometer-per-hour mark.
While the best KBO pitchers often favor off-speed pitches, prioritizing control over power, this season the league looks set to host a proper fireball face-off, with a number of new and existing pitchers throwing up impressive numbers already this year.
New Doosan Bears pitcher Robert Stock is perhaps the most prominent fireballer in the KBO this year. Stock, who has played most of his career in the minors, was drafted by the Bears specifically because of his fastball.
That reasoning was immediately clear in his first exhibition game with the Bears against the KT Wiz, when he threw fastballs as fast as 156 kilometers per hour.
While 156 kilometers per hour is still exceptionally fast for the KBO, he likely isn’t finished yet. Last season, Stock was throwing pitches at speeds up to 162.5 kilometers per hour while appearing as a bullpen pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.
Speaking ahead of this season, the Bears pitcher has been confident he’ll break 160 kilometers per hour again.
At almost a decade younger than Stock, 23-year-old An Woo-jin of the Kiwoom Heroes is another fastball pitcher to watch.
Like Stock, An has also got off to a quick start in spring training, throwing his own 156-kilometer-per-hour fastball as the Heroes took on the LG Twins on March 15. An has also broken the 160-kilometer-per-hour mark in his career, throwing the fireball to Kim Jae-hwan of the Bears on Oct. 17, 2020.
According to statistics accumulator Sports 2i, An was one of only two Korean pitchers that pitched more than 50 innings last season with an average fastball speed over 150 kilometers per hour. Ko, a closer, averaged 152 kilometers per hour, making An, at 151 kilometers per hour, the only Korean starter consistently breaking 150.
An also topped the league for the most balls over 150 kilometers per hour, at 16.1 percent, far ahead of runner-up Wilmer Font of the SSG Landers at 12.9 percent.
Albert Suarez of the Samsung Lions and Ivan Nova of the Landers, both new to the KBO this year, area also expected to do some damage.
Suarez was throwing up to 160 kilometers per hour last season with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, and he’s promised to do the same for Samsung this year.
As of press time, Suarez was yet to appear in an exhibition game, but he had tapped out around 150 kilometers per hour in live pitching sessions.
At 35 years old, Nova is a prolific veteran with 90 major league wins under his belt. While his career top speed was up around 159 kilometers per hour, Nova’s numbers have slowed down a bit over recent years. Last season he threw 153 kilometers per hour, and he’s already reached 150 kilometers per hour with both four-seam and two-seam fastballs in an exhibition game this year.
Not to be outdone, rookie Hanwha Eagles pitcher Moon Dong-ju is already throwing fire before his debut KBO season even begins.
Moon, who was drafted by the Eagles last year, threw fastball at speeds up to 155 kilometers per hour during training earlier this month, catching the eye of Eagles alumnus and Toronto Blue Jays ace Ryu Hyun-jin.
Although Moon clearly has a potent fastball ready to enter the KBO, that first time on the mound could be slightly delayed as the Eagles sidelined the rookie on March 11 due to abdominal muscle pain.
Moon is not expected to be out for long, however, with the Eagles planning to reassess the situation before the 2022 season begins on April 2.

BY BAE YOUNG-EUN AND JIM BULLEY [jim.bulley@joongang.co.kr]
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