Until last year, the KIA bullpen was ‘right-handed’. The Pil Seung-jo line leading to Jeon Sang-hyeon, Jang Hyeon-shik, and Jeong Hae-young was all right-handed. On the other hand, there was no shortage of lefties who could be used in critical situations. Lee Jun-young appeared and struggled, but as a result, the load got worse. It was impossible to duplicate Lee Jun-young.
The answer came unexpectedly from within. Choi Ji-min (20), who joined the team after being nominated in the second round (5th overall) last year, is the surprise star. He’s been a staple of the bullpen this year and has shown remarkable performance improvement. It is difficult to see it as a ‘breeze’ any longer as the performance has continued for more than a month.
In fact, he is a player who was highly expected by the club. Last year’s opening entry board symbolizes this. However, his pitch was not at the level that he could endure in the 1st group. Even if he threw it with all his might, it came out at 140 km/h. However, he was not a player with good ball control, so he fell prey to the goals of the first-team hitters or was knocked down by them.
KIA sent Choi Ji-min to the 2nd team for intensive training rather than competition. He focused on improving his body, adjusting his balance, and improving his speed and pitch. He invested virtually a year into that phase. After the season, he joined Australia’s Geelong Korea to test the results. His performance was encouraging. He increased his average velocity by 4 to 5 km. That momentum continues to this day.
On the 16th, against Samsung in Daegu, he recorded 2 hits, 1 strikeout, and no run in 1⅓ innings, and in the meantime, he became a winning pitcher with the support of other lines. It was his first team victory. His earned run average was lowered to 1.42. It is now a scoreless streak of 11 consecutive games. Now, he has been reborn as the most trusted bullpen pitcher in the KIA bullpen. You can see this clearly when you look at the timing of KIA coach Kim Jong-guk’s introduction of Choi Ji-min. He doesn’t care when he has to digest more than one inning, when he has to catch the opponent’s ace left-handed hitter, and when there is a runner.
It’s still early in the season, and due to the nature of the bullpen pitcher, even if only one game is lost, the average ERA can jump. However, looking at the current performance, it is difficult to find a left-handed bullpen in the league. Among left-handed메이저놀이터 bullpen pitchers who have played more than 10 games and 15 innings in the league this season, no pitcher has a lower ERA than Choi Ji-min (1.42). Choi Ji-min is the only one with an ERA of 1 point. Considering he pitched 19 innings, he’s not a small sample compared to other bullpen pitchers.
Even among lefties and righties, only league top finishers Seo Jin-yong (SSG‧0.00) and Kim Jae-yoon (kt‧1.17) are above Ji-min Choi. This is the part where you can feel Choi Ji-min’s performance at the beginning of this season. It’s not a record made by luck either. His on-base per innings (WHIP) is stable at 1.11. The slightly high scoring rate of the successor runners is a bit high, but if this level of activity continues, this number may continue to drop in the future.
He cautiously challenged the Rookie of the Year race. The bullpen has some disadvantages compared to starting pitchers, but it is still possible to win the award if you play well. Right away, last year’s Rookie of the Year was bullpen pitcher Jeong Cheol-won (Doosan).
The Hangzhou Asian Games national team, which is also greedy as a player, has emerged as a strong candidate. As I realized in the last WBC, the national team is not so rich in left-handed bullpen resources. Among the left-handed bullpen agents on the reserve list, few players are showing as stable an activity as Choi Ji-min. It’s a story that still has time left, but it’s true that the possibility of being selected continues to increase. If you have ‘many’ good experiences this year, next year, there may be talk of finishing or switching to the starting lineup.