Monday, September 20, 2021
HomeKBOKorea Baseball Organization: The Forecast of the 2021 Season

Korea Baseball Organization: The Forecast of the 2021 Season

With the 2021 Korea Baseball Organization season days away, we reflect on the 2020 season while previewing the highly anticipated upcoming season. From the Tokyo Games to Shin-soo Choo’s emergence and the recently unveiled rules, the 2021 KBO season will be spectacular.

2020 Season in Review

NC Dinos hoist the Execution Sword
Catcher Yang Eui-Ji of the KBO champion NC Dinos hoists the “Execution Sword,” a real-life replica of a powerful item in the NCSoft MMO series Lineage. NCSoft owns the Dinos.

Due to the coronavirus, the 2020 Korea Baseball Organization season was pushed back from its original Opening Day scheduled for March 28, 2020, to May 5, 2020. When the KBO ultimately kicked off, baseball and sports fans throughout the world tuned in to see what the KBO was all about, which at the time was one of the only professional sports leagues in action following the coronavirus outbreak.

Unlike the Nippon Professional Baseball league, which had to shorten its season from 143 games to 120 games, all 144 games were played in the 2020 Korea Baseball Organization season. The NC Dinos, who had the best overall record in the regular season finishing 83-55-6 with a .601 winning percentage, defeated the Doosan Bears in the Korean Series to capture its first Korean Series in its 10-year history. The finals MVP of the Korean Series was none other than Yang Eui-ji, who also led the Doosan Bears to the Korean Series back in 2016. 

Opening Day 2021

Andrew Suarez
Ex-MLB pitcher Andrew Suarez pitches for the LG Twins against Doosan Bears in a friendly match at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul’s Songpa District, March 17

Before teams arrived at training camp on February 1, all 1,723 players, coaches, and staff of the KBO tested negative for the coronavirus. All 10 teams of the KBO are scheduled to play the traditional 144 game season in 2021, just as the 2020 campaign accomplished.

As an added precaution for the 2021 season, the league has created the schedule this year to make traveling more manageable and less demanding. To ere on the side of caution, there will be temperature checks each day at both team hotels and training facilities. While there have been no fans throughout spring training, the league anticipates that come to Opening Day on April 3, the KBO faithful will be in attendance.

Olympic Break

South Korean National Team
South Korean National Team

Assuming all goes as planned, the KBO season will take a 22-day break from July 19 to August 9 to accommodate the South Korea national baseball team to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

The South Korea national baseball team is currently ranked 3rd in the WBSC rankings, behind Japan and the United States. The South Korean team has appeared in three Olympics while capturing the 2008 Gold Medal at the Beijing Olympics. In 2008, the Korean team went 7-0 in group play, then defeated Japan in the semifinals, and ultimately outplayed Cuba in the finals. The 2008 South Korea national team was led by Hyun Jin Ryu, who had an exceptional career in the KBO, and has become an elite pitcher in the MLB.

The Impact of Shin-soo Choo

Shin-Soo Choo playing for the Texas Rangers in 2017
Shin-Soo Choo playing for the Texas Rangers in 2017

Originally from Busan, South Korea, Shin-soo Choo was a 16-year major league veteran, split largely between the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Rangers. Electing for a change in the latter part of his career, Soo recently signed with the SSG Landers, the latest KBO franchise after the SK Wyverns were taken over by new management.

Soo’s career in the majors was remarkable, where he goes down as one of the most dominant Asian-born players in MLB history. Throughout his 16 year career, Soo had a 162-game average of 21 home runs, 77 RBIs, with a .275 batting average. On top of that, Soo also averaged 94 runs scored, in addition to 15 stolen bases each season. Overall, he hit 218 home runs and 782 RBIs, both of which are the most among Asian-born major league players.

Since signing with the SSG Landers, Soo is immediately the most prominent name in the KBO, where he will easily transition to the KBO stage.

ESPN Broadcast

KBO and ESPN

With the coronavirus shutting down the sports world, the KBO was able to get on its feet before any other professional league. With sports fans’ desire for professional sports, ESPN formed a partnership with the KBO, which aired one KBO game each day throughout the regular season, along with the entirety postseason. 

Because of this, the KBO had more exposure and viewership than ever before. Unfortunately, with all the major professional sports leagues back in business, the KBO could not secure a deal with ESPN for the 2021 season. However, because of all of the publicity the 2020 season had, baseball fans across the world are now hooked on the Korea Baseball Organization and are eager for the 2021 season to get underway.

Pace of Play

The recent pattern throughout the world of baseball has been to enhance the pace of play. The Korea Baseball Organization has decided to continue its efforts in this area and has executed several rules to speed up games in the 2021 season.

The first significant rule for the 2021 season is that between innings, batters must enter the batter’s box within 1 minute and 55 seconds after the final pitch of the previous inning. While this timing rule has been in place for some time, it continues to get shorter each year, where in 2020, it stood at 2 minutes and 5 seconds. Home plate umpires will enforce this rule, and players will be subject to a $177 fine if they fail to adhere to the rule. As a similar rule, between pitching changes, the next pitch must be within 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

The last major rules are in reference to the team coaches. When a manager or pitching coach goes out for a mound visit, they will be limited to 30 seconds. Finally, If arguing a call, managers will receive a warning after 3 minutes and will be tossed from the game after 4 minutes, which is one minute shorter than last year in terms of both the warning and ejection.

The Future of the KBO

Ha-Seong Kim
Kim Ha-Seong

The future of the KBO is very encouraging. With former gold glove winner of the KBO, Kim Ha-Seong playing for the San Diego Padres after signing a massive four year, $28 million contract, there will be many eyes on the young and versatile player, where he will make noise in the majors. If Kim performs as well as many anticipate, there will be more flexibility from major league teams to pursue other KBO stars who have the talents to make the jump to the major leagues.

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