After being eliminated in the first round by losing to Australia and Japan at the 2023 WBC (World Baseball Classic), Korean baseball was hit hard by public opinion. Harsh criticism was poured out, such as ‘Korean baseball’s miserable bare face was revealed’, ‘Korean baseball collapsed’, ‘loss of international competitiveness’, and even ‘Korean baseball ended’.
In particular, the pitcher’s ‘speed gap’, which was prominent in the game against Japan, was used as a major material to disparage Korean baseball. Compared to Japan, where each pitcher throws a fastball of over 150 km/h, the restraints of Korean pitchers who stay in the 140 km/h range have become evidence of how far Korean baseball has degenerated.
In the first round, the average speed of the Korean pitching staff was 91.6 miles (147.5 km/h), ranking only 14th out of 20 teams participating in the WBC. On the other hand, Japan ranked third with an average of 94.9 miles (152.7 km/h), following Venezuela (95 miles, 153 km/h) and Dominican Republic (94 miles, 152.7 km/h). The difference in average velocity between the pitching staff of the Japanese and Korean national teams was 5.2 km/h. Based on this, it was pointed out that only Korean baseball is being weeded out in the ‘redemptive revolution’, the trend of world baseball.
3rd year high school, more than 100 people over 140km
But it is too early to despair so easily. This is because noteworthy fastball pitchers are emerging among rookie pitchers and amateur prospects who have debuted in recent years. The representative runner is Hanwha Eagles pitcher Moon Dong-ju. Moon Dong-ju, who is in his second year of debut this year, threw a 160.1 km / h fastball in the first inning against the KIA Tigers on April 12th. This is the highest record for a Korean pitcher since 2011, when Sports 2I, the KBO’s official record company, began officially counting ball speed with the Pitch Tracking System (PTS). The previous record was 158.7 km/h set by Lotte Choi in 2012. It was the moment when a pitcher broke through the 160km barrier for the first time in the KBO League, surpassing SK Eom Jeong-wook’s unofficial record of 160km/h.
The next runner is Hanwha rookie pitcher Kim Seo-hyun. Kim Seo-hyun, who had already thrown 164.2km/h at the U-18 Baseball World Cup held last year, surprised everyone once again in her first-team debut against the Doosan Bears on April 19th. On this day, Seohyun Kim’s highest speed was 158km/h based on the KBO official PTS and 160.1km/h based on the Trackman system installed by the Hanwha team. Another member of the ‘160km Club’ was born just one week after Moon Dong-joo set a new record.
Kiwoom Heroes’ Ahn Woo-jin, the league’s representative fastball pitcher, also began to step on the accelerator as if he couldn’t lose. An Woo-jin threw 159.8 km/h (based on Trackman), close to 160, against Doosan in Jamsil on April 13, the day after Moon Dong-ju’s new record. On April 25, he recorded the highest speed of 159 km/h in the Gocheok KT match, delaying joining the 160 km club to the next opportunity. As it has already recorded an unofficial 160km/h once last year, it seems that ‘official 160km/h’ is possible this season. From the beginning of the season, the KBO league’s highest speed record has been released every day, centered on young guns, to the extent that the question ‘why can’t Korean baseball develop fast pitchers’ is colorless.
A scout from a club in the Seoul area said, “The point that there is no fastball pitcher in Korean baseball is half correct and half wrong.” He points out that he throws a ball that is fast at km/h.” Among the actual young pitchers of the national team, Jung Woo-young (up to 157 km/h), Ko Woo-seok (158 km/h), So-Jun Sohn (153 km/h), Lee Eui-ri (155 km/h), Kwak Bin (153 km/h), Jeong Cheol-won ( 154 km/h), there are not a few pitchers who can throw more than 150 km/h if they put their mind to it. Scout Lee said, “If you look at just a few games of the WBC national team, you may feel that the number of fastball pitchers is insufficient, but if you look at the Korean baseball as a whole, there are many hopeful factors. The overall ball speed of amateur pitchers has recently improved significantly.”
140 km/h, which was once a measure of fastball pitchers, has now become an average velocity. A scout from a club in the metropolitan area said, “It was a hot topic last year because there were close to 100 pitchers who threw balls faster than 140 km/h among third-year high school baseball pitchers. I lost. There are pitchers who consistently maintain a velocity of 150 km/h, not just throwing 150 km/h once in a while.”
“All clubs may take 150km pitchers”
In fact, as a result of the tally of ‘Baseball Korea’, there are a total of 12 pitchers who have thrown more than 150km/h at least once among the 3rd graders of high school baseball this year. (As of April 25, Speedgun measurement) Jang Hyeon-seok (Masan Yongma High School), who is considered the biggest player in the rookie draft, took the lead with a maximum speed of 158 km/h, while Lee Chan-sol (Seoul High School), Yuk Seon-yeop (Jangchung High School), Kim Tae-yoon (Gaesung High School, over 153 km/h), and Kim Taek-yeon ( Incheon High School, 152 km/h), Cho Dae-hyeon (Gangneung High School), Kim Hwi-gun (Whimung High School, over 151 km/h), Hwang Jun-seo (Jangchung High School), Jeon Mir (Gyeongbuk High School), Won Sang-hyun (Busan High School), Lee Chan-sol (Seoul High School), Jeon Jun-pyo (Seoul High School, 150 km/h) exceeded the 150 km/h range.
A scout from the metropolitan area said, “Jang Hyun-seok is likely to break the 160 km/h wall within this year. Also, among the pitchers with the highest record of 148-149 km/h, I believe there will be pitchers who record 150 km/h during the season.” He predicted, “If this trend continues, maybe in the first round of the rookie draft, every club can take a fastball pitcher in the 150km/h range one by one.”
The causes of the redemption revolution in progress in Amayagu can be largely summarized into three categories. Lee Ji-poong, training coach of the Hanwha Eagles, pointed out, “Recently, the physique conditions of amateur and rookie players have improved remarkably.” In fact, the average height of 3,613 high school baseball registered players surveyed by ‘Baseball Korea’ this year was 180 cm, and there was no significant difference compared to the average registered player in the KBO League (182.5 cm).
In addition, there were 128 ‘tall’ players taller than 190cm, which accounted for 3.5% of the total players, and nine players taller than 195cm, which were ‘foreign players’. Six of them are freshman freshmen in high school who have just graduated from middle school. Good hardware is an advantage for consistently throwing faster and stronger balls.
A scout from the Seoul club said, “The secret is systematic training such as weights from a young age.” Scout Lee said, “In the past, the training center was considered a place to go when injured. On the other hand, young players these days regularly receive scientific body care at the training center. Knowing the importance of training, approach training as a way to improve baseball. A lot of players do it,” he said.
The popularization of new training programs is also contributing to this. A sports agent said, “Now is the era where you can find the latest information and training methods at any time through the Internet.” Most of the private academies have introduced the ‘Driveline’ program in the US, which has recently become popular, and is applying it to amateur players. Some players learn only the basics of driveline training and then supplement it in a way that suits them. Jang Hyeon-seok, the “Maximum Fish”, also improved his speed early on through a driveline program and weight training. Here is the secret to raising the speed from the middle of 140 km/h in the first grade to 158 km/h.
If you look at this far, it seems that a rosy future will unfold in front of Korean baseball. But the real problem starts now. The agent in front pointed out, “We have to look back on why so many promising players who made a name for themselves as amateurs quietly disappear without seeing the light after joining the pros, or become ordinary players.”
Where are the players who beat Ohtani?
A representative example is the 2012 World Youth Baseball Championship held in Seoul. At that time, Korea defeated Japan in the 5th and 6th place match and ended the tournament in 5th place. At that time, Japanese starter Shohei Otani allowed 2 runs in 7 innings and became the losing pitcher, while Korean starter Lee Kun-wook became the winning pitcher with 8 scoreless innings. At least at the high school level, it means that Korean baseball competed with Japan on an equal footing and even won. Korea ranked 2nd in the 2017 event as well, ahead of Japan, which ranked 3rd, and also ranked 3rd in 2019, better than Japan (5th).
However, among the members of the 2012 Korean national team that beat Ohtani at the time, it is difficult to find a player who has grown into a ‘star’ in the professional baseball world after 11 years. Doosan Kim In-tae, Kang Seung-ho, and KIA Jang Hyun-sik are examples of success by enduring in the first team stage. However, although they are also registered in the first team, it is difficult to see them as players representing a team outside the league. 크크크벳
Song Joon-seok (Samsung), who had a hit against Ohtani at the time, and Lee Kun-wook (SSG), who pitched against Ohtani, who conceded a run, are now spending most of their time in the second team. Yun Ho-sol (formerly Hyung-bae Yun), who was called the “Otani rival,” joined the NC Dinos as the first overall pick and started off splendidly, but now he has become a Journeyman (a player who changes teams).
On the other hand, Ohtani went to the major leagues after conquering Japanese professional baseball and grew into the best player in the world, winning the 11th unanimous decision as the American League MVP. When he comes to the free agent (FA) market after this season, the highest ever contract of at least $500 million is certain. What has happened over the past 10 years to Korean players and Ohtani, who were once equal, so that now the gap between the sky and the earth has widened. This is a homework that Korean baseball, which belatedly participated in the ‘restraint revolution’, must solve.