Everyone knows what South Korea’s weaknesses are. But there is no proper countermeasure. A left-handed, left-right imbalance was the beginning of a tragedy.
South Korea suffered a crushing 0-4 defeat against Chinese Taipei in the second game of their Group B matchup at the Hangzhou Asian Games at the Xiaoxing Baseball and Softball Sports Center in Zhejiang Province, China on Feb. 2. It was a red flag for South Korea’s chances of winning gold in four consecutive Asian Games.
Only Yoon Dong-hee, batting at No. 6, managed three hits in a scattered six-hit performance. Concerns about the tragedy in Hangzhou are mounting.
South Korea faced Taiwan with a lineup of Kim Hye-sung (second base), Choi Ji-hoon (center field), Noh Si-hwan (third base), Kang Baek-ho (designated hitter), Moon Bo-kyung (right field), Yoon Dong-hee (right wing), Park Sung-sung (shortstop), Kim Hyung-joon (catcher), and Kim Sung-yoon (left field). This is the best lineup.
In the best lineup, there were six lefties (Kim Hye-sung, Choi Ji-hoon, Kang Baek-ho, Moon Bo-kyung, Park Sung-yoon) and three righties (Noh Si-hwan, Yoon Dong-hee, Kim Hyung-jun). Lefties are the mainstay of the Korean batting lineup. Ideally, Kim Hye-sung and Choi Ji-hoon set the table and Kang Baek-ho takes care of business. Noh Si-hwan is in the middle to keep the opposition in check and give them a boost. This is the role of a heavy right-handed hitter. However, the team is basically unbalanced.
An imbalance is a weakness. It’s a weakness that’s blatantly exposed to the opponent. Taiwan knew that the mainstay of the Korean batting lineup was a left-handed bat, so they prepared strategically. Lin Yi-min (20), a left-hander born in 2003, was the starter. Lin is currently a Double-A prospect for the Arizona Diamondbacks of the American Major League Baseball. He’s not just a major leaguer, he’s a highly developed left-handed starting pitching prospect. He is ranked #4 overall in MLB Pipeline’s Arizona prospect rankings. Among pitchers, he’s the highest ranked.
In the end, South Korean lefties had no answer for a left-hander with a 150-mph fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup, all of which are highly regarded in the United States. Yoon Dong-hee, a right-handed hitter, had a double and a single. Both were well-timed hits. Left fielder Choi Ji-hoon had two hits, but they were not singles. Lin Yumin shut down the Korean bats with a six-inning, four-hit, one-walk, six-strikeout complete game.
In the end, targeting the weakness of left-right imbalance, Taiwan sent a left-hander to the mound and Korea was unable to respond. However, even though the team was informed of the left-hander early on, they were unable to cope. The backups are also limited. Switch-hitter Kim Joo-won’s position is shortstop, and his defense is less reliable than Park’s. Kim Dong-heon, a right-handed hitter, will have to share the same spot with Kim Hyung-joon anyway. That leaves Kim Ji-chan and Choi Won-joon, who are both left-handed hitters.
All of the leading hitters in the KBO currently bat left-handed. This includes last year’s five-time MVP Lee Jung-hoo (Kiwoom), who didn’t make the team. This year’s first through fourth place batting leaders (Son Ah-seop, Koo Jae-uk, Kim Hye-sung, Hong Chang-ki) are also all left-handed hitters. It’s also ironic that the home run race is dominated by right-handed hitters, including Noh Si-hwan, Choi Jung Austin, Chae Eun-sung, and Yang Seok-hwan.
However, there is no denying that the younger hitters in the national team are mostly lefties. It was because of this left-right imbalance that coach Ryu Jung-il controversially excluded left-handed starter Lee Yi-ri, citing poor performance and injury concerns, and selected right-handed outfielder Yoon Dong-hee. However, the addition of one more player did not erase the concern.
This trend has been evident in recent international tournaments. In their first game against Australia in the group stage of the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC), South Korea faced an unfamiliar left-hander in Jack O’Loughlin, who pitched two scoreless innings to shut down South Korea’s Yeobong.캡틴토토
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in 2021, right-hander John Moscott was pulled after just one inning against Israel due to elbow soreness, and left-handed sidearm Jake Fishman took over. It was a bit of a sham and a targeted selection, and while the team eventually pulled off a late win against Israel, they struggled mightily.
In the past, opponents have used targeted starts in international tournaments, knowing Korea’s weaknesses. Before the game against Chinese Taipei, coach Ryu Jung-il even predicted that a lefty would start. In the end, however, the league’s structural problems and the composition of the squad meant that there was no easy answer. The left-right imbalance in the league and national team eventually leads to international performance and competitiveness. It’s a vicious cycle of tragedy and disaster.