Thursday, September 26, 2013

Projecting KBO Pitchers Using Hyun-Jin Ryu's First MLB Season

Hyun-jin Ryu has finished his first regular season in the Majors with the Dodgers, with his last start of the year being on Tuesday night. He ends the season with a rWAR and fWAR over 3.0, pitching at an above MLB average rate, even when considering park factors.

Here is how Ryu's last two seasons breakdown:
2012 KBO: 70 ERA -, 66 FIP - (just based off league averages)
2013 MLB: 83 ERA -, 91 FIP - (FanGraphs)

This of course got me thinking of how current KBO pitchers might fare in the Majors if given a chance. Offense is up in the KBO this year, league average ERA is now 4.31, which is why I used the adjusted ERA and FIP for Ryu. A 3.02 ERA in 2013 would be considered as good as Ryu's 2012 season (a 2.84 FIP would be considered as good as Ryu's 2012 FIP). In the Majors, 130 FIP - is about replacement level. The most aggressive translation (penalizing the KBO pitchers the most) would be 25 FIP - points. So, if we used a direct translation, any pitcher with a 105 ERA/FIP - in the KBO could be considered MLB replacement level talented. This is about 4.53 ERA, or the top 20 KBO starters (11 Korean Natives). I only used starters in this post, because Ryu is a starter and to bring bullpen pitchers into the mix, we would have to adjust for reliever/starter splits. 

Out of the 9 non Korean Natives that project to be at least replacement level in the Majors, using career rWAR:
1 no MLB experience
5 under replacement
1 right at replacement
2 above replacement

It should be noted that I projected Ryu as a middle of the rotation/league average MLB starter. He clearly outperformed that projection in the first year, translating better than expected. So it is no surprise that using the way Ryu translated to the Majors, we would be projecting below replacement pitchers to perform at least replacement level. Again, translations are useful because they help us know who to look for, especially if we haven't seen all the players play enough to have the general scouting information that helps MLB teams make decisions on amateur or (in this case) foreign. But, they do not substitute that information.

So here is a list of the 11 Korean pitchers with their current ages whose ERA projects as better than replacement level in the Majors. I also put their 2013 FIPs for comparison, along with their fastball velocities, taken from Naver (except Lee Jae-Hak, who doesn't have a Naver scouting report, I just put his velocity from personal observation. Yu Heui-Kwan doesn't have a Naver scouting report, so he is a future article candidate. If a player has a link attached to their name, I have written about them in the past).

Lee Jae-Hak, 22 years old, 3.49 FIP, 85-89 MPH

Yoon Sung-Hwan, 31 years old, 3.66 FIP, 83-91 MPH

Yu Heui-Kwan, 27 years old, 3.61 FIP

Woo Kyu-Min, 28 years old, 2.96 FIP, 84-89 MPH

No Kyeong-Eun, 29 years old, 3.84 FIP, 86-94 MPH

Yoon Hi-Sang, 28 years old, 4.00 FIP, 84-92 MPH

Song Seung-Jun, 33 years old, 3.82 FIP, 81-92 MPH

Jang Won-Sam, 30 years old, 4.30 FIP, 85-91 MPH

Kang Yoon-Koo, 23 years old, 3.07 FIP, 86-94 MPH

Kim Kwang-Hyun, 25 years old, 4.32 FIP, 83-93 MPH

Bae Young-Soo, 32 years old, 3.42 FIP, 86-92 MPH

Based on the simple Ryu translation, 75 ERA/FIP- in the KBO could be considered MLB average or 3rd starter type. This would be a 3.23 ERA or better. Lee is the only Korean native that has an ERA good enough this year, while Woo and Kang are the Korean natives with FIPs good enough to project as above average in the MLB. Kang also seems to have the best fastball of the group (or is tied with No), though none have as good of a fastball as Ryu (he was listed at 87-95 MPH by Naver).

Charlie Shirek: 3.40 FIP

Chris Seddon: 3.52 FIP

Radhames Liz: 3.35 FIP


  1. Do you have any info on Suk-Min Yoon?

    1. Yes. Wrote a scouting report on him before the 2013 season:

      and here is what his pitches look like as a reliever:

      Some general thoughts:

      The problem with Yoon is that he hasn't stayed healthy consistently. He has had some elbow problems, and 2013 was basically a lost season for him. I don't think he is in the top 5 as far as KBO pitchers by future value. He has the stuff to be a decent reliever, but I would prefer Oh Seung-hwan. Ideally, he would be a starter, but he hasn't proven he can stay healthy over a full season consistently enough. I think he is a decent arm out of a MLB bullpen, but the declining K-rate and very mediocre 2013 numbers show that he isn't without some major flaws.