KBO DFS: The Argument for Byung-ho Park

Byung-ho Park is facing a lefty, so I’m just gonna play him, I thought. The verification process didn’t check out.

We don’t have platoon splits for the KBO, as far as I know. But we have them for Park’s 2016-17 stints in American pro ball—most of that time in Triple-A:

Small sample, sure, but if a split is there, we should see it somewhere, but we don’t see a hint of it anywhere.

Park is a ~235-pound beast at “only” 6-foot-1, putting on about 15 pounds since his American stint began. We’re led to believe that this is good because he picked up where he left off.

Park hit 173 HRs in the four seasons before 2016. He had his rough two-year shot in The States, went back to Korea for the 2018 season, and smashed 43 homers. He, then, followed that up by leading the league again with 33 in 2019.

Why did he perform so poorly in The States, then? The common saying is that the KBO is a Quad-A league, somewhere between MLB and Triple-A. Is this a case where it isn’t?

The answer is neither yes nor no. The answer is complex, but still simple: the KBO is just different.

The biggest differences in the styles of MLB and the KBO are that: (1) the ball stays in the park far more often in the KBO; and (2) the KBO has far less striking out. In 2019, there were 0.7 HRs per game in the KBO, compared to 1.4 in MLB. And there were 6.75 K/9 in the KBO, compared to 8.82 in MLB. Despite more contact being made, there are still fewer HR. (1) and (2) lead us to believe that Korean pitching is far more finesse than power.

On the upcoming slate, Park faces Chae-heung Choi, a power pitcher by Korean standards. His career 7.34 K/9 would’ve ranked in the top-ten among qualified KBO starters in 2019. It would’ve ranked just behind Martin Perez (7.35) at 49th out of 61 in the 2019 MLB season. This matters, as we look at playing Park or not and how much exposure we have to him.

We don’t have a sample of Park facing power and finesse pitchers outside of his brief MLB tenure, but it may be telling enough because it’s so drastic:

And it fits the reality as to why Park has been so dominant in the KBO before and after struggling with American ball: Park is probably a far better hitter versus finesse pitching.

The counterpoint to all of this could be velocity. That Park struggles with velocity. And that Choi may be getting faster, as he grows into his experience. Not terrible reasoning, but the logic is not sound, as we barely have the beta levels of KBO metrics at our disposal. We don’t have the records to see if Choi pitches like a power pitcher. But I’m gonna rest my laurels on the notion that he would strike fewer people out in MLB than he does in KBO (or around the same) and is, therefore, a finesse pitcher. The sound logic just flat out says that we don’t know.

The better argument for not playing Park in tournaments is that he is the biggest power force in the Organization, that he is right-handed, and that he is facing a left-hander, which is the perfect recipe for chalk, but we’ve buried the lede.

Choi isn’t very good.

Of the 45 pitchers who’ve thrown 90-plus IP since 2019, Choi ranked 32nd in ERA (4.59), 30th in BB/9 (3.30), 27th in HR/9 (0.81, ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!), and tied for 34th in WHIP (1.51) in 111.2 IP.

In cash, we throw the small sample of platoon splits out the window from American ball because it’s just harder to get a sample on righty-lefty splits. That the elite right-handed power hitter who crushes finesse pitching is facing a bad pitcher who is a finesse pitcher by MLB standards. And we don’t disregard the small sample there because the power-finesse shows up pretty fast and fits the bill with Park being such a megastar in Korea. In tournaments, we just find a contrarian team to stack with Kiwoom.

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