National ace Kwak Bin (24, Doosan Bears) wins the award. His velocity dropped off in the second half.
안전놀이터 Kwak-Bin struggled against the Jamsil NC Dinos on April 20, giving up four runs on seven hits (two homers) in 3⅔ innings with one walk and four strikeouts, dropping his sixth loss of the season (nine wins). His biggest problem was his inability to utilize his fastball, which topped out at 153 mph and averaged 149 mph. He threw his changeup when he had to, and his fastball when the count was high and he had nothing else to throw. Of his 71 pitches, 42 were changeups, including sliders, changeups, and curves.
The problem is that the slump is not temporary. Through the first half of the season, Kwak was 8-2 with a 2.08 ERA in 12 games, 65 innings pitched. His batting average was just .176. Until the arrival of second starter Brandon Waddell in late June, Kwak-Bin was pitching in a one-two punch with Raul Alcantara.
But in the second half, he became a completely different pitcher. In five games in the second half, he went 1-4 with a 4.97 ERA in 29 innings pitched. His batting average rose to .248 and he only had two quality starts. What stands out is the increase in home runs. After allowing just one home run in the first half of the season, he already has four in the second half.
The homers were a big part of Kwak’s downfall today. In the top of the third inning with a 3-1 lead, Ahn Jung-yeol hit a home run to left field. On a 2-2 pitch, he hit a slider high in the middle of the plate for a big hit. The ball traveled 120 meters.
In the top of the fourth, he gave up the tying run to leadoff hitter Jason Martin. A changeup with a 1-0 count was right on Martin’s bat. The pitch was big enough to hit the top of the outfield behind the right fielder at Jamsil Baseball Stadium, traveling a distance of 130 meters. Unable to protect the two-run lead, Kwak gave up another hit to Kwon Hee-dong and was forced to relinquish the mound to Lee Young-ha with two outs.
Kwak Bin ⓒ Doosan Bears
Doosan Bears Kwak-Bin ⓒ Doosan Bears
On the 19th, Doosan suffered a big loss in the Jamsil NC game as starting pitcher Choi Seung-yong was pulled after just 2⅔ innings due to a finger injury. On the 19th, the Bears won 4-1 with Kim Myung-shin (1⅔ innings), Park Chi-kook (2⅓ innings), Hong Gun-hee (1 run in ⅔ innings), and Jeong Chul-won (1⅔ innings), who combined for 6⅓ innings of relief, but it was too much to ask for a second straight day of early starts. Kwak Bin was coming off seven days of rest since his last start against the Hanwha Eagles in Daejeon on April 12, so he should have been able to extend his innings, but he couldn’t, leading to a bullpen meltdown that cost Doosan a 5-12 loss.
Choi Il-en, the pitching coach of the Hangzhou Asian Games baseball team, was in attendance at Jamsil Baseball Stadium to watch the game from the stands. He was there to watch the pitching of Kwak Bin and other players selected for the national team, as well as to look at alternate pitchers in case NC left-hander Koo Chang-mo, who has been battling injuries, is unable to pitch. Watching Kwak Bin pitch that day may have given Choi even more reason to think about how he wants to operate the Hangzhou mound.
Currently, the only right-handed pitchers aboard the Ryu Jung-il are Kwak Bin, Won Tae-in (Samsung), Park Se-woong (Lotte), Na Kyun-an (Lotte), and Jang Hyun-seok (LA Dodgers). In the first half of the season, Kwak-Bin was the ace of the bunch, dominating in both pitching and performance, but now we don’t know. It is likely that the headache of Ryu Joong-il, the head coach of the national team, who has to plan the mound, will become more complicated every day.
Manager Ryu Jung-il ⓒReporter Kwak Hye-mi