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