Real, live sports on TV! To prepare, heres a primer on the Korea Baseball Organization.
The KBO began playing in 1982, and is Koreas oldest team-based sports league. Its also the most popular, starting with six teams and expanding to 10 by 2015.
Each season consists of 144 games, and every team plays each other 16 times over the course of the year. This is different than MLB, primarily because there are fewer teams. Every MLB team doesnt face every other team during the season, and the number of games played varies depending on scheduling, league, and division.
The same goes for the playoffs, too fewer teams means a different structure, but the KBO is even more different, choosing to put a greater emphasis on regular season results. The top five teams make the playoffs, and the top three teams get byes of varying lengths. The team with the best record in the KBO gets an automatic bye until the best-of-seven Korean Series, which is the KBOs yearly championship series.
To kick off the four-phase playoffs, the fourth- and fifth-place teams face off in a best-of-three series, but theres an interesting wrinkle: the fourth-place team gets an automatic 1-0 series lead, meaning it could be over in just one game. The winner of that series plays the third-place team in the best-of-five quarterfinals, and that winner plays the second-place team in the semifinals. The well-rested first-place team takes on the only other team left standing in the Korean Series.
The KBO is known as a high-offense league. At the end of the 2018 regular season, the league-wide batting average was .286. Over in MLB during the same season, the league-wide batting average was .248 a difference of nearly 40 points! Such an active offensive environment affects pitching as well. An average KBO ERA in 2018 was 5.17, while in MLB it was 4.15.
The reason were looking at stats from 2018 is because the KBO introduced a new de-juiced ball in 2019 that was meant to dampen some (but not all) of the sky-high offense that the league is known for. It did succeed in that, and because the KBO intentionally announced that it was changing the ball, everyone knew what was going on from the start. (MLB should take a few notes.) The overall KBO batting average for 2019 was .267, a 20-point drop from 2018. Pitchers fared even better, with the average ERA falling an entire run to 4.17.
The slight (intentional) drop in offense hasnt changed the spirit of the KBO. Being a league with a history of lots of hits and home runs means a culture of bat flips has been cultivated and nurtured. The KBO is the home to some of the worlds most enormous and impressive bat flips.
Beyond the run-scoring environment, the main differences between the KBO and MLB are the designated hitter and the existence of ties. In the KBO, the designated hitter is universal across all 10 teams, meaning theres no switching depending on the park theyre playing in. Games are also declared a tie after 12 innings of play.
Every team has a few foreign-born players, but unlike MLB, there are restrictions on how many can be on a teams roster. Each club is limited to just three.
Now to meet the teams. Heres a rundown of the KBOs 10 clubs, based on the order they finished in 2019. (Youll note that KBO teams are named not for their geographic areas, but for the corporation that owns them.)
Owned by: Doosan, a massive South Korean conglomerate that deals in construction equipment, electrical power, and infrastructure, among many (many) other things.
Mascot: A steel robot bear.
Are they good? Yes they are. The Bears, based in Seoul, were the 2019 KBO champions, winning the Korean Series for the third time in five years. The Bears were also won the very first Korean Series back in 1982, the KBOs founding year.
Former MLB players: Raul Alcantara, Jose Miguel Fernandez, Chris Flexen
Owned by: SK Group, an enormous South Korean conglomerate thats involved in the chemical, petroleum, and energy industries, as well as mobile wireless, high-speed internet, construction, shipping, and more.
Mascot: The Wyverns use the goddess Athena and an owl, but they also use their namesake, a wyvern, which is a mythical two-legged dragon that has a snake tail. To celebrate the opening of the 2019 season after winning the 2018 Korean Series, the team used augmented reality to bring a wyvern right into the stadium. It looks fun yet also terrifying.
Are they good? Mostly. The Wyverns, founded in 2000, won three Korean Series titles in four seasons between 2007 and 2010, and have made the playoffs six times since then. They also have third baseman Jeong Choi, one of the best infielders of his generation. Hes 33 and about to start his 16th KBO season.
Former MLB players: Nick Kingham, Ricardo Pinto, Jamie Romak
Owned by: Not a conglomerate! The Heroes are the only KBO team not owned by a giant conglomerate or company, and is instead owned by a group of individuals. They sell the naming rights for the team, which belonged to Nexen Tire from 2010 to 2018, and now belong to Kiwoom Securities.
Mascot: A guardian robot named DomDomI, and two silver hero creatures named Dongeuli and Tuckdori or Teokdori, which apparently translates to Mr. Jaw. A video of this mascot dancing at a game might give you a clue as to why.
Are they good? They are now. The Heroes, reborn in 2008 from the ashes of the defunct Hyundai Unicorns, are continuing to reap the benefits of a long rebuild that wasnt exactly voluntary. It began in 2008 when the team was forced to trade star players for cash to pay the remainder of its new team founding fee to the KBO. The rebuild ended after the 2012 season and in the seven years since, theyve made the playoffs six times but theyve never managed to win the Korean Series.
Former MLB players: Jake Brigham, Eric Jokisch, Taylor Motter, ByungHo Park
Owned by: Multinational South Korean conglomerate LG Corporation. LG operates in chemicals and telecom, but is known in the US for electronics.
Mascot: Baseball robot twins Lucky and Star
Are they good? Occasionally. Theyre one of the KBOs original six teams (they played as the MBC Blue Dragons from 1982-1989), but theyve won the Korean Series just twice (1990 and 1994). Since their last championship theyve been all over the place, including a rough, decade-long stretch of zero playoff appearances and zero winning seasons. Theyve made the playoffs twice in the past five years, including a trip to the quarterfinals in 2019.
Former MLB players: Casey Kelly, Hyun-Soo Kim, Tyler Wilson
Owned by: NCSoft, a South Korean video game developer responsible for games like Blade & Soul, Guild Wars, Lineage, and Master X Master.
Mascot: Dendi the tyrannosaurus and Seri the brontosaurus. Dendi can seriously dance, and Seri looks awesomely weird with his crazy giant neck and enormous arms.
Are they good? Yes, mostly. The Dinos, Eric Thames former KBO team, have only existed since 2013 and havent won any championships yet. Theyve gotten close though, making it to the playoffs in just their second year of existence and all the way to the Korean Series in 2016. Theyve actually made the playoffs in all but two of their seven seasons, and should have two of their superstars, outfielder Sung-bum Na and catcher Eui-ji Yang, ready to start the season.
Former MLB players: Aaron Altherr, Drew Rucinski, Mike Wright
Owned by: KT Corporation, the largest telephone company in South Korea. KT also deals in wireless telecom and high-speed internet.
Mascot: Adorable, big-mouthed monsters Vic and Ddory, whose names are meant to be pronounced together as victory. When the team was founded in 2013, this is the video the team released to introduce the world to Vic and Ddory.
Are they good? Historically (which only goes back to the teams first season in 2015), the Wiz have been pretty bad. They finished dead least in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and improved one spot to 9th place in 2018. Their 6th place, 71-71-2 finish in 2019 is the best in the teams entire (short) history. They finished just two games short of making the playoffs for the first time, and could make that leap into uncharted territory in 2020.
Former MLB players: William Cuevas, Odrisamer Despaigne, Jae-Gyun Hwang
Owned by: The Kia Motors Corporation, the enormous automotive manufacturer.
Mascot: A male tiger and a lady tiger. The animated versions have the male tiger as a baseball player and the lady tiger as a cheerleader with a small crown on her head, but in costume theyre just very, very energetic dancers.
Are they good? Not really. Though they are the most successful team in KBO history with 11 Korean Series titles, only two of them have come since 2000. While the most recent was in 2017, their last few seasons havent inspired a ton of confidence. They made the playoffs in 2018 but got bounced in the first round, and they finished in seventh place in 2019. Looking at the last 20 years, theres more mediocrity than championships.
Former MLB players: Aaron Brooks, Drew Gagnon, Preston Tucker, Matt Williams (manager)
Owned by: Cheil Worldwide, a subsidiary of Samsung. Cheil is a marketing company and advertising agency with clients like Lego, GE, Nestle, and Microsoft.
Mascot: A male lion named Bleo, a female lion named Pinkleo, a girl lion named Lenny, and a little boy lion named Laon. This ragtag group (or possibly family?) of baseball-obsessed lions are from another planet, Theres a six-minute compilation of their in-person antics on Youtube, and since were all hurting for sports-based entertainment, give it a watch.
Are they good? Not now, but they have a history of excellence. Theyve appeared in 17 Korean Series since 1982, more than any other team, and their eight championships are more than every team but one. They also won four straight Korean Series from 2011-2014, but its been pretty bleak since then. They havent been to the playoffs since 2015.
Former MLB players: David Buchanan, Ben Lively, Seunghwan Oh, Tyler Saladino
Owned by: Hanwha Group, which originally started in explosives and expanded into chemicals, construction, and financial services.
Mascot: Two eagles that are red-orange to symbolize fire, which pays tribute to Hanwhas beginnings in explosives. They look a little bit like chickens, dont they?
Are they good? No. The Eagles have existed since 1986 and won the Korean Series in 1999, but theyve made the playoffs just once since 2008. Even though that happened in 2018, they immediately went back to losing after a surprising third-place finish. They finished ninth in 2019.
Former MLB players: Chad Bell, Jared Hoying, Warwick Saupold
Owned by: Lotte Corporation, which owns businesses in the fast food industry, candy manufacturing, hotels, construction, industrial chemicals, and more.
Mascot: A giant was their mascot from 1982 until 2006, but then they changed to two seagulls named Pini and Noori.
Are they good? No, they are not. They have a run of playoff appearances in the recent past, but no championships beyond their two in 1984 and 1992. From 1997 to 2007 they finished in eighth place six times and seventh place two times. Their forecast for 2020 isnt so bleak, as theyre hoping for bounce-back years from several of their players.
Former MLB players: Dae-ho Lee, Dixon Machado, Adrian Sampson, Dan Straily
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