The final roster for the Korean baseball team at the Hangzhou Asian Games in September is almost here. The Kia Tigers, who have an abundance of young left-handed pitchers, are also on the edge of their seats for the Asian Games. Lee Yi-ri and Yoon Young-chul are the favorites to make the team, with Choi Ji-min emerging as the league’s best set-up man this season.
KIA is coming off a three-game home stand against SSG Landers in midweek, losing all three games. With 23 wins and 27 losses on the season, KIA remains sixth in the league, completely out of the top five. They are now 3.5 games behind the fifth-place Doosan Bears.
On the day, KIA took a 4-3 lead into the sixth inning before suffering a heartbreaking late-game loss. In the top of the sixth, with runners on first and second, Choi Ji-min struck out both Ha Jae-hoon and Oh Tae-gon to get out of the jam.
However, in the top of the seventh inning, 먹튀검증 Choi Ji-min, who was also on the mound for a multi-inning stint, gave up a tying solo home run to leadoff hitter Kim Min-sik. A throwing error by shortstop Park Chan-ho one out later was also crucial. The next batter, Park Sung-ho, was also unlucky with a strike-throwing wild pitch.
Eventually, the KIA bench sent Im Ki-young to the mound in place of Choi Ji-min with runners on first and third. Im Ki-young hit a sacrifice fly to Choi Jung, adding another run to Choi Ji-min’s total. This would prove to be the final run of the game.
Despite taking the loss, Choi was unfortunate to have to deal with a fielding error and a blown save. Still, Choi’s stats this season are among the best set-up men in the league. In 23 games (27.2 innings pitched) this season, Choi is 2-2 with a 1.63 ERA, 3 saves, 17 strikeouts, 9 walks, and a 0.98 WHIP.
This career-high season, coupled with a dramatic increase in velocity, has made Choi a strong candidate for a spot on the Korean National Baseball Team for the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games. The KBO will announce its final roster for the Hangzhou Asian Games on June 9. The chances of Choi being left off the final roster are close to zero, as he has the highest save WAR in the league this season (1.17 – 5th in the entire bullpen) of any left-hander on the preliminary roster.
Even within the KIA organization, Choi is the favorite to make the team. The next two candidates are Lee Yi-ri and Yoon Young-chul, both left-handed starters.
Lee has started 11 games this season, going 5-3 with a 2.55 ERA, 68 strikeouts, 41 walks, and a 1.50 WHIP. Yoon is 3-2 with a 2.89 ERA, 26 strikeouts, 19 walks, and a 1.24 WHIP in nine starts this season.
The contrast between Lee and Yoon is stark. The KBO’s power enhancement committee likely had to choose between Lee, whose fastball alone is attractive despite its ups and downs, and Yoon, who has a relatively low velocity but excellent command and game management skills.
The more experienced Lee, who already has experience with the Tokyo 2020 and 2023 WBC teams, should be given the edge. However, Yoon, whose pitches are less prone to ups and downs due to the one-game nature of international tournaments, could be given the left-handed bullpen role.
In the end, it’s likely that Ryu will choose between Lee and Yoon depending on how he wants to operate the mound. It will be interesting to see which left-handed baby tiger will accompany Choi Ji-min to the Hangzhou Asian Games.