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A narrower path than starting... Can ‘Asian bullpen’ Go Woo-seok

Will Ko Woo-seok (San Diego Padres), who entered the Major League Baseball , be able to follow the same path as 'Stone Buddha' Oh Seung-hwan  in the United States?

The San Diego team officially announced a contract with Go Woo-seok on the 4th (Korean time). The two-year total is $4.5 million (KRW 5.9 billion) and includes a mutual option of $3 million (KRW 3.9 billion) for the third year.

He transferred after receiving relatively poor treatment. His brother-in-law and friend Lee Jeong-hoo signed a huge six-year contract worth $113 million (KRW 148.2 billion) last month and transferred to the San Francisco Giants. It falls far short of senior pitchers such as Ryu Hyun-jin (6 years, $36 million, based on guaranteed amount) and Kim Gwang-hyun (2 years, $11 million), as well as fielder Kim Ha-seong (San Diego, 4 years, $28 million).

In MLB, unlike Korea and Japan, the price of relief pitchers is relatively low. While the maximum value of a starting pitcher as a free agent exceeds $300 million, only one relief pitcher, Edwin Diaz (New York Mets, $102 million), exceeded $100 million.

The ‘market price’ was low, and there were few success stories. The Go Woo-seok contract was also known as San Diego's sole bid. Among Asian pitchers who played in the Korean and Japanese leagues and advanced to the MLB, the only one to record more than 100 saves is 'Great Devil' Kazuhiro Sasaki.

Most of those who were treated well and those who played for a long time were starting pitchers. Koji Uehara is considered the greatest success story of the 2010s. As the closing pitcher who led the Boston Red Sox to the championship in 2013, he used a fastball with excellent vertical movement, which is rare in MLB, and a forkball that falls like a waterfall.

There are many more failure cases. In the past 10 years, three Japanese relief pitchers have stepped onto the MLB stage, but the only one who has left behind significant achievements is Yoshihisa Hirano (32 holds, 3 saves, 2.44 ERA in 2018, 48 holds, 8 saves, 3.69 ERA in 3 seasons overall).

Oh Seung-hwan is almost the only successful bullpen pitcher from the KBO League. Seung-Hwan Oh, who moved to the United States in 2016 after playing for the Samsung Lions and Hanshin Tigers, took charge of the tailgate with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 with 19 saves, 14 holds, and an ERA of 1.92. He then left behind outstanding performances for four years, including 20 saves in 2017, 21 holds, 3 saves in 2018, and an ERA of 2.63. However, Koo Dae-sung, Lee Sang-hoon, and Lim Chang-yong, who had gone to the United States before him, returned home without leaving behind any notable achievements.

There is no reason to be pessimistic. There are few relief pitchers who moved to the United States at a younger age than Go Woo-seok. His value and experience are less than that of Yuki Matsui (5 years, $28 million), who will join the team, but he is three years younger than him. Go Woo-seok has been ranked in the top three in the league in fastball velocity every year for the past three years.

A KBO League official said, "Koh Woo-seok not only has a fastball, but his curveball is really top-notch. He is a pitcher whose speed and movement are well separated for the three pitches. There is an impression that he performed poorly last year, but I think it is a result of bad luck." In fact, Go Woo-seok's ERA soared from 1.48 in 2022 to 3.68 last year, but his FIP (average ERA regardless of defense) only increased slightly from 2.88 to 3.06. If he strengthens his ball control, which has been pointed out as below average locally, he can be expected to grow like Ha-seong Kim.

He also has a good environment. Although it may be difficult to secure a winning team right now, San Diego has a thin relief team (depth). He can fully enjoy the opportunity to pitch. Petco Park, which will be used as the home stadium, is also a pitcher-friendly stadium. Following the KBO League, it is up to Go Woo-seok himself to achieve a ‘post-Oh Seung-hwan’ in MLB.
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Saturday, January 6, 2024
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