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Stat of the Week: Welcome To The KBO Season

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We're happy to see that baseball is back in South Korea as we wait for it to return to North America.

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) began play this week, though with South Korea being 10 to 13 hours ahead of most of the United States (depending on where you live), the games take place at odd hours.

If you're planning to follow along, we'll be keeping an eye on it, as we're charting games with a similar level of detail to how we track MLB.

With that in mind, there are a handful of notable former MLB players who should look familiar.

The most recognizable name among pitchers is Dan Straily of the Lotte Giants, who is attempting to reclaim the level of success he had in 2016 when he had a 3.76 ERA in 34 games (31 starts) with the Reds.

The thing to watch with Straily is his slider. In 2016, he ranked in the top 25 in Fangraphs' Pitch Value for his slider (which measures how many runs a pitch saves relative to league average). But in 2019 he rated worst in MLB for that stat despite pitching only 47 2/3 innings. That helps explain his 9.82 ERA last season.

Like Straily, Odrisamer Despaigne's best days are a bit in the past. He's pitching for the KT Wiz. DeSpaigne had a 3.36 ERA with the Padres in 2014 and has a 5.74 ERA since then.

When he's at his best, he limits home runs and keeps the ball on the infield. His 52% ground ball rate in 2014 ranked in the top 15% among pitchers with at least 90 innings pitched.

Infielder Tyler Saladino is looking for a fresh start in South Korea with the Samsung Lions after hitting .123 in 65 at-bats with the Brewers last season. His best MLB season was in 2016 when he hit .282 with eight home runs and 11 stolen bases in 298 at-bats with the White Sox.

Saladino's calling card is his defense. He's played every position but pitcher and catcher. He's saved 10 runs with his defense in just under 600 innings at second base, another 9 runs in a little below 800 innings at third base, and 5 runs in a little over 700 innings at shortstop.

Outfielder Aaron Altherr (NC Dinos) peaked with a .272 batting average, 19 home runs, and an .856 OPS with the Phillies in 2017. Since then, he's hit .161 in just over 300 major league at-bats and been highly susceptible to a good slider. Altherr has fared respectably as a defender in his MLB career, amassing 7 Runs Saved combined in his career at the three outfield spots.

The KBO also features a few native South Koreans who played briefly in the majors before returning to their homeland.

Hyun-Soo Kim was at his best as a rookie for the 2016 Orioles, when he hit .302 with a .382 on-base percentage and 6 home runs in just over 300 at-bats. Kim's numbers dropped off in 2017, but he’s starred since returning to South Korea where he now plays for the LG Twins. He’s hit .362 and .304 the last two seasons.

Ex-Mariners first baseman Dae-ho Lee hit .253 with 14 home runs in 292 at-bats for Seattle in 2016. Lee showed a tendency to chase pitches out of the strike zone at an above-average rate. But with Lotte, he has been one of the best players in the game, hitting .320 with 34 home runs in 2017 and .333 with 37 home runs in 2018, before slipping to .285 with 16 home runs last season. Lee doesn’t just hit. He can field too. He’s won a KBO Gold Glove at both first base and third base.

Other players you might be familiar with include former Astros outfielder Preston Tucker (Kia Tigers), former utility man Taylor Motter (Kiwoom Heroes), and former Tigers infielder Dixon Machado (Lotte Giants), along with former Tigers pitcher Warwick Saupold (who pitched a two-hit shutout on Opening Day to start his second season with the Hanwha Eagles) and ex-Pirates pitcher Nick Kingham (SK Wyverns).

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