Hanwha has hit the bottom of the hitting cycle in June, ranking first in team batting average (.283). For the season as a whole, however, the team is still 10th in both batting average (.234) and OPS (.639). The pitching staff has held its own with the eighth-best team ERA (4.12), but the bats have struggled throughout April and May.
While Chae Eun-sung has been a model free agent, and Noh Si-hwan’s potential is bursting at the seams, foreign hitter Brian O’Grady was sent down to the second team twice after an abysmal hitting slump. Kim In-hwan and Choi Jae-hoon have rebounded since mid-May, and rookie Moon Hyun-bin is adjusting, but Jeong Eun-won’s long-term slump and the outfield’s up-and-down hitting have left the lineup with question marks.
Recently, Moon Hyun-bin, Lee Jin-young, 스포츠토토 and Jang Jin-hyuk have been getting consistent starts in the outfield. Infielder Kim Tae-yeon has also been playing a lot of outfield defense since returning to the first team in June. Even with the addition of the new foreign bats, the two outfield spots will still be a testing process to find a starter.
Hanwha manager Choi Won-ho said before the game against LG in Daejeon on the 11th, “We need to decide on the outfield for the rest of the season. That’s why we’ve been using Lee Jin-young, Jang Jin-hyuk, and Moon Hyun-bin as starters for the most part. We need to find a starter this year so we can keep them (in the lineup) next year,” he said, adding, “If not, we might go with two foreign batters.”
The KBO allows three foreign players in its roster, but all teams use two pitchers and one hitter. As the old adage goes, baseball is a pitcher’s game, so it makes sense to fill the two spots in the starting rotation with foreigners. In the KBO, where pitching resources are extremely scarce, especially starting pitching, this is considered a necessity.
Since 2014, when the foreign player quota was increased to three, the only teams to use two foreign hitters were KT (Andy Marte-Dan Black) in 2015, who had four foreigners as part of a rookie perk, Samsung (Darin Ruff-Mac Williamson) in 2019 and SK (Jamie Lomack-Tyler White) in 2020. However, both were hastily assembled while replacing pitchers who were injured mid-season. No team has ever started a season with two foreign batters.
Despite his pitching background, Choi realizes the importance of hitting. “They say you have a better chance of winning if you have a good mound and defense, but it’s all about results. In terms of the process, a good batting lineup can stabilize the mound and defense. Yesterday (Oct. 10), Kim Tae-yeon’s home run was very big, so when a starting pitcher gets support for three to five runs, he pitches differently. It gives them a little bit of breathing room. The same goes for the defense.” In the game against LG on June 10, Hanwha took a 4-0 lead in the second inning thanks to Kim Tae-yeon’s two-run homer, and starter Ricardo Sanchez pitched a no-hitter into the eighth inning to complete the 7-0 victory.
The bats have been hitting well in June, but there’s no telling how long it will last. Hanwha’s batting slump is nothing new, to the point where the team is considering the unconventional idea of using two foreign batters. It’s a long-term problem that’s been going on for nearly a decade, as the team has failed to rebuild the batting order, especially outfielders. “There’s no doubt that if we add one player to the lineup now, it won’t make a difference,” Choi said.
That’s not to say that the starting pitching staff, which is the backbone of a long season, is easy to find. “We need at least three starters to be stable in the rotation. “You have to look at the pitching staff situation and simulate whether you should go with two batters or three batters, even if it means bleeding (mound weakness),” Choi explained. The best-case scenario is to have a starter or two in the outfield for the rest of the season.
It’s not an immediate concern. The first priority is to find a replacement outfielder sooner rather than later. “I’m looking at one right now, but I’m waiting. Whoever it is, it has to come quickly,” Choi emphasized. It’s already been ten days since O’Grady was released, and there’s no time to waste.