Vlad Sedler gives an overview and his best tips for successfully cashing in KBO DFS!
Imagine what we would be talking about now in an alternate universe where the pandemic never hit and MLB started on time. Perhaps we would be talking about how the Blue Jays’ recent hot streak could make them a playoff contender if they added a starter. Maybe we would be discussing how Giancarlo Stanton just can’t seem to stay healthy, how dominant Jacob deGrom is or why this recent 10-game hitting streak by Christin Stewart of the Tigers is a mirage and how he isn’t worth overpaying for in this week’s free-agent bidding. Unfortunately, turmoil and uncertainty persist as we wait for the players, players union and owners to settle their differences and come to terms on a 2020 season. Even if we do get MLB, we are still a month away. And many of you are fantasy baseball purists and don’t care for other fantasy sports.
What if I told you that you’ve been missing out on some amazing professional baseball? I’m talking about the 10-team Korean Baseball Organization league (KBO). I do understand your hesitation. It’s not MLB, it’s in the middle of the night for us in the United States, and you are not familiar with the players. Who wants to ramp up on an entirely new league and by the time we get used to it, it’ll be MLB time.
This is exactly how I felt when KBO first started up. All my hard work and prep for the MLB season being put on hold was incredibly frustrating and I was hesitant to learn a whole new league. My mindset quickly changed. Baseball is baseball, after all! And I’m very happy I did. Granted, learning about an entirely new league required a bit of a learning curve. Especially being a westerner like most of you all, where names of Korean players were difficult to wrap my head around.
I’d love to convince you to give KBO DFS a try. If you’ve never been a full part of the community, now is the time to do so. We are offering one hell of a deal where you get an All-Access VIP pass from now until August 31 for $75 flat. You’d get access to all of our articles, cheat sheets, livestreams and projections from every sport, including MMA, Golf, Soccer, NASCAR, LOL (League of Leagues), preseason NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB (when they return) and of course, KBO. Sure, you won’t have time to fully commit to each sport, but our experts will make it easy for you, whichever sport you choose to dabble.
A KBO PRIMER
The Korean Baseball Organization started in 1982 with six teams and currently has 10. So, we get five games every day with the exception of Sunday nights/Monday mornings. The games during the weekdays start at 5:30am ET, which works out if you’re an early riser (2:30am PT for the night owls). The slate is much easier to play on the weekends. Friday and Saturday night games start at 4am ET (1am PT), which is a bit more palpable for me on the west coast. Sometimes Friday night games start at 1am ET / 10pm PT.
With no MLB in play right now, I must tell you how enjoyable my late-night weekends are. That thrill of building DFS lineups once the actual team lineups are released and then turning on the games and watching baseball while following live scoring. With my entire household asleep at this hour, it is incredibly cathartic when it’s just me and some baseball on the screen.
The KBO has had its fair share of successful major leaguers, some of whom include retired Dodgers’ pitcher Chan-ho Park, current Jays and former Dodgers lefty ace Hyun-jin Ryu and Rangers’ outfielder Shin-soo Choo. As you’re likely well aware, a few players have crushed it in the KBO and utilized it as a return back to the big leagues.
Eric Thames is a notable one. After playing two partial seasons in the majors in 2011 and 2012, Thames went and crushed it for three seasons for the NC Dinos, averaging 43 homers and 128 RBI, including a 47/49 MVP season in 2015 before smashing 31 homers for the Brewers in 2017. Former Diamondbacks’ closer Byun-hyun Kim, who saved 36 games for the Diamondbacks in 2002 while posting a 2.04 ERA, finished his career in the KBO (2012-2015). And newly-signed Brewers starter Josh Lindblom was the KBO’s most valuable player last season, as he led the league in strikeouts (189) and posted a 20-3 record. Lindblom will attempt to transfer his success from the KBO over to the big leagues whenever they resume.
KBO TEAMS and KEY PLAYERS
You’ll note some familiar names as we run through the teams. As is the case with the NPB (Nippon Pro Baseball league in Japan), the KBO has a cap of three foreign players allowed on their roster, with no more than two of them being pitchers. This number has increased from two since 2014.
Also, the league differs greatly from MLB where hitters rely more on contact and bringing runs in the old-school way, as opposed to with power. In fact, the average HR/9 for pitchers in the KBO was just about half (0.71) than what it was in MLB (1.40) last season and the average K/9 in the KBO (6.76) was substantially lower than in MLB (8.88) (*per Dylan Burris of PitcherList’s article). Granted, it is well known the ball was quite juiced prior to the KBO’s 2019 season. Last season, former MLB player ByungHo Park (Kiwoom Heroes) was the only KBO player with more than 30 homers (33). While in the juiced ball season of 2018, 11 guys hit 30 or more homers and five hit 40 or more (including Park who tied for second with 43).
On the flipside, Burris points out stolen bases are much more commonplace than in major league baseball. The average SB/9 in the KBO last season was nearly double than in MLB (0.70 KBO, 0.47 MLB). Last year’s stolen base leader was Kia Tigers third baseman Chan-ho Park, who swiped 39 of 45 attempts. The Samsung Lions Hae-min Park is the only baserunner with 100 or more stolen bases over the last three seasons, though, he did steal 112 in 2015 and 2016 combined.
The Dinos are the best team in the KBO this season, both on the hitting and pitching side. Here’s a quick look at some basic team stats through Wednesday, June 10.
Note how they are the only offense with more than 33 homers (a whopping 51) and have the only team ERA under 4.00. They have the league’s best starting pitcher (Chang-mo Koo), a 23-year-old southpaw in his fifth season who is 5-0 through six starts with a league-best 0.66 ERA and 29.7 percent strikeout rate (9.66 K/9).
Two of their foreign players are key members of this rotation as well. Former Marlin/Angel/Cub/Twin Drew Rucinski is in his second year in the KBO and with the Dinos, posting a 3.05 ERA last season (eighth-best mark in the KBO) and handling himself well so far this season (4-1, 41 K in 44 IP, 2.23 ERA. Former Oriole Mike Wright has been solid in his first year in the KBO (8.21 K/9, 2.65 ERA) though has a couple of concerning rates (4.24 BB/9, 4.89 FIP).
The hitters are led by their number-three hitter, Eui-ji Yang; not only the best-hitting catcher in the league but the actual best all-around hitter in the league. The 32-year-old was the 2019 batting champ, posting a .354 average along with 20 homers, and came up just short in 2018, as his .358 average was second behind only LG Twins’ Hyun-soo Kim’s .362. Yang was a member of the Doosan Bears that season.
Sung-bum Na (LH/OF) is another one of my personal favorites and one of the league’s best players. Most likely someone who would find success in the majors despite already being 30 years of age. Check out his numbers since he entered the league:
Notice how he’s hit below .320 only three times in his career and never below .300 (besides his rookie season). Doesn’t run as much as he used to but still a great hitter and second in homers behind LG Twins’ Roberto Ramos who has 12.
Other Key Players:
Aaron Altherr (RH/OF) – Former Phillies guy in his first season in the KBO
Jin-sung Kang (RH/1B) – On fire, leading the KBO with a .437 average
Min-woo Park (LH/2B) – Leadoff man with no power but 18 and 17 SB last two seasons
The Bears are one of the original six teams from 1982 and won the KBO championship last season after tying the SK Wyverns for the best regular-season record (88-55). Through a little over a month of the season, the Bears rank second in the league (20-11) and are one of only two teams (along with the NC Dinos) who have a team batting average greater than .300. Their best hitters all happen to be left-handed bats.
Jose Miguel Fernandez (LH/1B) – The Bears’ best offensive weapon may actually be the KBO’s best all-around hitter. He is one of their three designated foreign players after playing just 36 games for the Angels in 2018. Last season, he finished second in the KBO in batting average (.344) and so far this year, is second once again with an impressive .411 mark. He doesn’t overwhelm in the power department but is incredibly patient at the plate with a sub-nine percent walk rate since last season.
Jae-hwan Kim (LH/OF) – Thirty-one-year-old slugger who put up some serious stat lines the last few seasons:
2018: .334 – 44 HR – 133 RBI – 104 R
2017: .340 – 35 – 115- 110
2015: .325 – 37 – 124 – 107
Kim typically hits fourth in the lineup with fellow lefty slugger Jae-il Oh hitting third. Oh missed some time with an IL stint earlier this season but is hitting .347 and has hit between 21 and 27 homers over the past four seasons.
Chris Flexen (RHP) – First year in KBO, has a 7.3 K/9 and 2.92 ERA through six starts
Raul Alcantara (RHP) – Played with the KT Wiz last year but posted a low K/9 (5.21) and 4.01 ERA and has a 4.07 ERA so far this season. So really not sure how ‘key’ he is.
Typically one of the stronger teams in the league, they have the third-best record (18-12) and finished with the fourth-best record last season. They are not a particularly powerful team, outside of Ramos, but are one of the most consistent stacks to use for DFS cash games because of their high-average hitters who provide a great floor.
Roberto Ramos (LH/1B) – As previously mentioned, Ramos leads the league with 12 homers and had some true highlight-film moonshots this season. He’s a former Rockies prospect with a good chance at 40 dingers this season.
Hyun-soo Kim (LH/OF) – Kim played parts of two seasons in the majors (notably 2016 with the Orioles) but has otherwise had great success in the KBO since 2007. He went 28 – 121 – .326 with the Doosan Bears in 2015, 20 – 101 – .362 in his first year with the Twins in 2018 and so far is slashing .377/.433/.566 with a miniscule six percent walk rate as the team’s #2 hitter.
Casey Kelly (RHP) and Tyler Wilson (RHP) – Kelly was a stud last season, posting the league’s fourth-best ERA (2.55), while Wilson is in his third season with the Twins after pitching in the Orioles’ organization since 2011. Wilson’s ERA hovered a tick under 3.00 over the previous two seasons, and he has maintained a BB/9 around 2.00.
Preston Tucker (LH/OF) – Kyle’s older brother played three partial seasons in the majors, including two years with the Astros (2015, 2016). Tucker joined the KBO last year, playing just 95 games and falling short of expectations. He is considered one of the better power hitters in the league and has eight homers (.323/.391/.597 slash) through 32 games.
Hyoung-woo Choi (LH/OF) – Choi is 36 and has had quite the storied career in the KBO:
Choi hit cleanup most of the season but has moved up to the three-slot lately with Tucker moving to #2. He has hit at least .300 in each of his past seven seasons and has the second-best walk rate over the past three seasons (13.8%) behind only ByungHo Park (14.3%).
Aaron Brooks (RHP) – The former Oakland A’s prospect is off to a decent start in his debut KBO season, posting a 2.76 ERA and 7.23 K/9 through his first seven starts.
Drew Gagnon (RHP) – Gagnon spent most of the last 10 years between the Brewers and Mets minor league systems and has been fantastic so far, ranking fourth in league strikeouts (41) as one of the only starters with a K/9 over 10.00. He’s had a bit of bad luck in his six starts, posting a 3.48 ERA despite a 2.49 FIP and 61 percent LOB%.
Next week, I’ll go over the key players of the remaining teams, post a key players cheat sheet and give you some tips for constructing KBO DFS lineups. In the meanwhile, if you’re thinking about giving DFS a shot, feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@RotoGut) and I’ll help you build your first lineup.
Come peruse our entire library of MLB & KBO DFS content!