Jung Hoo Lee won the KBO batting title last year. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) will begin its 41st season on April 1, and will operate during the same time frame as the Major League Baseball regular season in the United States.
Before the 2023 KBO season kicks off, let’s take a glance at each team’s history, and players to look for this year, starting with the five teams below:
SSG Landers (2000-Present)
The SSG Landers are the KBO defending champions winning their fifth title in the history of their franchise beating the Kiwoom Heroes in six games during last year’s Korean Series.
Starting pitcher Kim Kwang-Hyun will have a big part in the SSG Landers starting rotation. Last season, he started 28 games and went 13-3 through 173.1 innings, posting a 2.13 ERA and allowing 141 hits, 45 walks and striking out 153.
Shortstop Seong Han Park will be a big offensive threat for the Landers. Last season, he played in 140 games and batted .298 with 564 plate appearances, 147 hits, 24 doubles, 60 walks, 12 stolen bases, two home runs and 56 RBI.
Outfielder Shin Soo Choo will play another professional season in the KBO. Last season, Choo played in 112 with 499 plate appearances he hit .259 recording 106 hits, 16 home runs, 20 doubles, drew 31 walks, swiped 15 stolen bases, and 58 RBI’s. If the Landers offense can stay healthy for the whole season, they can make a deep run in order to win back-back championships.
Samsung Lions (1982-Present)
The Samsung Lions were 66-76 last season and were seventh place in the KBO resulting in not making the playoffs. Manager Park Jin-man will begin his second year with the Lions. The Lions have eight Korean Series championships in their franchise’s history, but haven’t won since 2014.
Starting pitcher David Buchanan is the key to the pitching staff of the Lions. Last season, Buchanan started in 26 games and threw 160 innings with a 3.04 ERA, going 11-8 and walking 39 batters, allowing 176 hits and striking out 117. Starting pitcher Albert Suarez is in his second season with the Lions. Last year, Suarez pitched 173.2 innings in 29 games, posting a 6-8 record with a 2.49 ERA, allowing 151 hits, 50 walks, and 159 strikeouts.
Outfielder Jose Pirela should have a major impact for the Lions offensively this season. Last season, Pirela played in 141 games, hitting .342 with 630 plate appearances, 192 hits, 33 doubles, 28 home runs, 55 walks, 15 stolen bases, and 109 RBI. First basemen Jae-il Oh should help the offense of the Lions this season. Last season, Oh played in 135 games and batted .268 with 126 hits, 57 walks, 21 home runs, 42 doubles, and 94 RBI.
Lotte Giants (1982-Present)
The Lotte Giants went 64-76 last season, finishing eighth in the KBO. he Lotte Giants have only won two Korean Series Championships in the history of their franchise. Manager Larry Sutton is entering his third season with the Giants.
Starting pitching will have to excel tremendously this year for the Lotte Giants. Starting pitcher Dan Straily will be a major factor this season. Straily joined the club last year after being released by the Arizona Diamondbacks in August, and pitched in 11 games, going 4-2, and in 62.1 innings, he recorded a 2.32 ERA and allowed 54 hits, 22 walks, and striking out 55.
Offensively, Giants third basemen Dong Hui Han played in 129 games and batted .307 with 14 home runs, 27 doubles, 140 hits, 33 walks and 65 RBI. Outfielder Jun Woo Jeon should be a huge contributor for Giants offense after playing a big role last season. In 120 games with 517 plate appearances last season, he hit .304 with 143 hits, 31 doubles, six stolen bases, 11 home runs, 35 walks, and 68 RBI’s.
Kiwoom Heroes (2008-Present)
The Kiwoom Heroes appeared in the Korean Series last year and fell short of winning their first championship. Third-year manager Hong Won-ki hopes to capture the KBO crown with strong pitching during the 2023 season.
Starting pitcher Woo Jin-An pitched a spectacular 2022 campaign and looks to build upon his success this year. An started in 30 games, going 15-8 with a 2.11 ERA in 196 innings, allowing 131 hits, 55 walks, and striking out 224.
Major League posting target Jung Hoo-Lee had an amazing World Baseball Classic that saw him hit .429 in four games with 14 at-bats, six hits, two doubles, two walks, and 5 RBI. He figures to be a key bat for the Heroes this season after appearing in 142 games last year and winning the batting title with a .349 average. In 627 plate appearances, he rapped 193 hits, 36 doubles, 10 triples, 23 home runs, swiped five bases, drew 66 walks, and had 113 RBI. Second basemen Hye Seong Kim played in 129 games last season with 566 plate appearances, batting .318 with four home runs, 164 hits, 18 doubles, seven triples, 34 stolen bases, 47 walks and 48 RBI.
KIA Tigers (1982-Present)
The KIA Tigers went 70-73 last season and finished in fifth place, losing to the KT Wiz in the playoff Wild Card game. The Tigers have 11 Korean Series championship titles in their franchise’s history. Second-year manager Kim Jong-kook will again lead the Tigers clubhouse this season.
Starting pitcher Eui Lee Lee will need to be consistent again for the Tigers. Last year, Lee started in 28 games, going 10-10 with a 3.86 ERA in 154 innings of work. He allowed 128 hits, 74 walks and struck out 161.
The offense for the Tigers will be led by right fielder Sung Bum Na, who was great at the plate last year, playing in 144 games and batting .320 with 649 plate appearances, notching 180 hits, 39 doubles, 21 home runs, 64 walks, and 97 RBI. Last season, outfielder Socrates Brito played in 137 games, hitting .311 with 554 plate appearances and smacking 160 hits, 29 doubles, seven triples, 17 home runs, 12 stolen bases, 34 walks, and 77 RBI.