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The KBO Postseason and The Growth of the League

We are officially in the home stretch of the 2020 KBO season. Despite all of the obstacles the KBO encountered, this season featured both team and player breakthroughs, along with an intense playoff race that will lead to the KBO's advancement.

Statistical Shifts from 2019 to 2020

LG Twins and Doosan Bears
Socially distanced baseball fans watch on from the stands during the KBO League game between LG Twins and Doosan Bears – Credit: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/27/sport/baseball-fans-south-korea-spt-intl/index.html

In the 2019 KBO season, the average game lasted 3 hours and 11 minutes, with the shortest game completed in 1 hour and 59 minutes and the longest contest enduring 5 hours and 17 minutes. The 2019 season showcased 10,122 fans per game for a total of 7,277,911 spectators. The median batting percentage in 2019 was .267 for the season, with pitchers overall ERA sitting at 4.18. There were also 1,014 home runs throughout the season, which presented 1.41 home runs per game.

Throughout the 2020 season, we saw a slightly more prolonged average contest where a game’s duration was 3 hours and 13 minutes. The fastest game was 1 hour and 28 minutes, and the longest game lasted 5 hours and 24 minutes. Due to the coronavirus, the attendance for the course of the season was reported at 203,197, with an average fan base of 2,162 fans per game. The 2020 season showcased an uptick in median batting average this season, where it jumped from .267 in 2019 to .273 this year. Pitchers also experienced an elevated ERA compared to last year, as the median ERA jumped from 4.18 to 4.78 in 2020. As a result, the overall home run totals skyrocketed this year, as we saw 1,362 home runs this season or 1.89 home runs per game. 

Comparing the 2020 KBO season to MLB’s shortened 60 game season, MLB’s median batting average was just .245 this season. In terms of home runs, the 2019 MLB season featured the most home runs in the league’s history, where each game averaged 1.39 home runs, though, the average home run total dropped in 2020 to just 1.28 home runs. 

Attendance and Health Protocols

KBO Cheerleaders
Cheerleaders for visiting teams will be allowed in for the postseason (Cheerleaders wearing protective masks perform on the sidelines of a Korea Baseball Organisation match between SK Wyverns and Hanwha Eagles) – Credit: https://sportstar.thehindu.com/other-sports/korea-baseball-organisation-coronavirus-closed-doors-stadium/article31507845.ece

After the season started on May 5th without fans, fans were admitted to the ballpark at the end of July. That reality only lasted until mid-August when stadiums closed their doors to fans due to a spike in cases. The KBO once again opened up to fans back in mid-October with a 30% capacity limit, though the playoffs has allowed 50% capacity.

The playoffs have featured tighter health protocols for players and fans. The league also enforced masks for all players, coaches and staff, unless on the field. While half of the stadiums are filled for the postseason, the league has increased security to enforce social distancing and limiting crowds when entering and exiting the ballpark. Fans are also required to wear masks throughout the entirety of the game. The league has also said that fans are not allowed to wear the standard mesh mask or cover your face with a scarf or other piece of clothing, as all masks must be approved by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

During the regular season, the visiting club wasn’t allowed to have cheerleaders in attendance, but that has changed for the postseason. Like Major League Baseball limiting champagne celebrations, the KBO has done the same to reduce celebrations on the field, as masks must be worn during celebrations and paraded on a smaller scale.

Individual and Team Milestones

Yang Eui-ji, Na Sung-bum and Aaron Altherr
Yang Eui-ji, Na Sung-bum and Aaron Altherr

Since the KBO formed in 1982, this is the first season that featured three players from the same team who posted 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in a season. Yang Eui-ji belted 33 home runs and 124 RBI’s, Na Sung-bum slugged 33 home runs and 110 RBIs, and Aaron Altherr smacked 30 home runs and 107 RBIs, all for the NC Dinos.

Mel Rojas Jr. was featured in both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves systems from 2010 to 2016. The following year, Rojas Jr. signed with the KT Whiz and never looked back. Mel Rojas Jr. was a threat to win the Triple Crown this season, though came up short on the batting title. He batted .349, just shy of Choi Hyung-woo, who batted .354, though, Rojas hit 47 home runs and 135 RBIs while posting a phenomenal OPS of 1.097. To put that into perspective, that would be the 3rd highest OPS in MLB history, behind Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

Roberto Ramos of the LG Twins was right behind Mel Rojas Jr. in home runs, also a foreign player. Roberto Ramos was in the Colorado Rockies system in 2014 until signing with the LG Twins this offseason. They are the first foreign 1-2 combination to lead the regular-season in home runs in league history.

As for pitchers, the top six hurlers this season in terms of innings pitched are all foreign players, including Dan Straily. Regarding strikeout totals, the top four pitchers are also foreign players, where Dan Straily led the way with 205 strikeouts to become the second foreign player and 10th overall player to surpass 200 strikeouts in a season.

What to Watch for in the KBO Playoffs

The Doosan Bears - Winners of the 2019 Korean Series
The Doosan Bears – Winners of the 2019 Korean Series – Credit: http://m.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20191027000030

The Doosan Bears have defeated the KT Wiz, and will now face the NC Dinos in the Korean Series that starts on November 17th.

The Doosan Bears are looking to repeat and are seeking their 6th straight appearance in the Korean Series. Over the past five seasons, the Bears obtained the Korean Series three times. The Doosan Bears were the first team that emerged in the KBO in 1982, where they won the league’s first championship. The Bears have won six Korean Series in their 38-year history.

While the Doosan Bears were knocking off the KT Wiz, the NC Dinos already earned a bye and cemented themselves in the Korean Series. The NC Dinos are seeking their first championship, where they have history on their side, as 24 of the past 29 top seeds have captured the Korean Series. The NC Dinos also captured their first regular-season title, where they took over the league’s best record nine games into the season and held the league’s best record the rest of the way.

The Future of the KBO

KBO and ESPN

When sports fans across the world were seeking live games, ESPN reached a deal with Eclat, the international rights dealer for the KBO. In early May, ESPN began broadcasting one KBO game per day at 5:30 am. ESPN then broadcasted that same game at 2:00 pm. This contract gave a vast platform for the KBO to increase the league’s prevalence. Part of the agreement gave ESPN an exclusive contract with the KBO to broadcast all of the playoffs, including the Korean Series, that will air on ESPN2. When the 2020 season is completed, the KBO will continue its popularity, regardless of any continued contracts with ESPN or other networks due to the style of play in the KBO that is enjoyable and appealing to all baseball fans.

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