The Korean Baseball Organization has made some changes to its roster for the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. Both pillars of the national team have been removed due to injuries that prevented them from performing at their best. The KBO emphasized that military service was not considered in the selection process.
“The Performance Improvement Committee of the Korea Baseball Softball Association (KBSA) and the KBO Power Enhancement Committee have confirmed the replacement of two of the 24 members of the Hangzhou Asian Games baseball team who are injured or recovering from injuries but are deemed to be unable to perform normally during the tournament,” the KBO announced today. Of the 24 players, Lee Jung-hoo (25, KIUM) and Koo Chang-mo (26, NC) will be dropped from the squad.
The two players were initially expected to be the core of the national team. Lee, the best hitter in the KBO, was the centerpiece and pillar of the national team’s batting lineup. Last year, Lee batted .349 with 23 home runs, 113 RBIs, and 85 runs scored in 142 games, winning five batting titles and being named the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP). As one of the best hitters in the KBO, he’s no stranger to the major leagues, but this time around, injuries prevented him from wearing a gold star.
Lee took the gamble of modifying his batting form with the hopes of reaching the major leagues later this season, but he didn’t have a great start to the season. By April, he was batting just .218, which caught everyone off guard. However, after reverting his batting form back to much of what it used to be, his batting average and offensive production began to steadily improve to the point where you could say, “This is Lee Jung-hoo. He hit .305 in 26 games in May, .374 in 24 games in June, and .435 in 13 games in July.
However, on July 22, he suffered an ankle injury against Lotte and was diagnosed as out for the season. Not to mention the importance of a player who can hit a big shot at a crucial moment in the short-term international stage. Lee’s injury is a devastating blow for a player who has shown such quality in international competition. However, his case is somewhat different from Koo’s in that it was actually decided in July, so it could be considered a pre-planned exit.
Koo was expected to be the team’s left-handed ace, a pitcher who could step in and save the day when it mattered most. Although injuries have plagued him throughout his professional career, when healthy, he was arguably the best homegrown pitcher in the league. In 2020, he went 9-0 with a 1.74 ERA in 15 games, and last year he was just as good, going 11-5 with a 2.10 ERA in 19 games.
However, Koo has also been plagued by injuries. He was removed from the game against Jamsil LG on June 2 due to forearm soreness, and his subsequent checkups showed no improvement. To make matters worse, he was later found to have a stress fracture and had to undergo a lengthy rehabilitation. He finally pitched in a second-team game on September 19, and while he hit 145 mph, it’s hard to say for sure if he’s recovered his command, as the sample size was too small.
Koo’s inclusion was highly controversial among baseball fans. It was pointed out that the team would be called up on the 23rd and would have their first training session, so how could they be sure that they would be in good shape? While Koo expressed his confidence, the KBO’s Power Enhancement Committee had a different opinion. The KBO Power Enhancement Committee watched him pitch for the second team on the 19th and made a last-ditch effort, but it was a no-go.
One baseball insider analyzed, “Koo Chang-mo is a must-start card for the game that will be the biggest hurdle to reaching the final or finals.” “However, if there is no guarantee that Koo Chang-mo will start, and there is no guarantee that he will pitch in the bullpen, it may be better to select a left-handed bullpen with good current form,” he said.
Whether planned or unexpected, the loss of both players is a huge blow to the team. The team has lost two pillars of its pitching and hitting that can be relied upon at key moments. There is no immediate replacement for Lee’s presence in a squad that is largely composed of under-24 players. There are no left-handed starters who can match the pitching quality of Koo Chang-mo when healthy. While the team will have a strong lineup of right-handed aces, Koo’s presence will be sorely missed.
In their place, the KBO selected outfielder Kim Sung-yoon (24, Samsung) and left-hander Kim Young-kyu (23, NC). The KBO delayed announcing the replacements as long as possible after Lee was already scheduled to be dropped, as they wanted to pick players who were in the best shape before the call-up. This is where Kim Sung-yoon came in. Unlike Koo Chang-mo, Kim is not a starter. However, he is expected to contribute in the bullpen. He can also pitch more than one inning.
In fact, not many people were paying attention to Kim’s name before this season started. He was drafted by Samsung in the fourth round (39th overall) in 2017 out of Pohang Steelworks, but until last year, his most games played in a season was 48 (in 2022). However, he has made a strong impression this year, batting .314 with two home runs, 27 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases in 96 games. It’s clear that he’s one of the best-formed left-handed hitting outfielders in the league among players under the age of 24.
The national team is currently short on outfielders. The only professional outfielders are Choi Ji-hoon (SSG) and Choi Won-jun (KIA). As such, various alternatives were being considered, including using Kim Hye-sung as an emergency outfielder. There was also talk of recruiting a right-handed hitter, but Kim Sung-yoon ended up replacing Lee Jung-hoo.
Kim was a key part of the NC bullpen last year, going 7-2 with a 3.41 ERA in 72 games with 13 saves, and this year he’s been on a roll, going 2-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 59 games with 56⅔ innings pitched. With his fastball and experience, he has been considered one of the top candidates for a left-handed bullpen spot after Koo Chang-mo was eliminated.
However, some fans believe that teammate Lee Jae-hyun should have been selected instead of Kim Sung-yoon, and suspect that the KBO consciously made a selection that took military service into account. Samsung has already selected right-hander Won Tae-in and infielder Kim Ji-chan, both of whom are unavailable for military service. If you add in Lee Jae-hyun, who is also non-drafted, all three players are non-drafted, so there is a suspicion that other teams would have chosen Kim Sung-yoon, who is drafted, instead.
However, a KBO official said, “The principle of not selecting three non-military players per team was not discussed at all,” and emphasized, “For this Asian Games, the selection was made without considering military service at all, and the national team was formed based on the principle of selecting a maximum of three players per team (including wild cards), except for age, annual service limit (25 years old or younger, or in their fourth year of service), and wild cards.” The only considerations were age, seniority, and wild cards, and military service had nothing to do with the composition of the roster. This could be taken as an argument that the current roster needed Kim Sung-yoon more than Lee Jae-hyun.
In fact, the KBO is very sensitive to the issue of military service. Especially in the Asian Games, where winning a gold medal can be rewarded with military service. Because of this, there are always controversies surrounding the issue at every Asian Games. Even at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, there were criticisms that the selection process took military service into consideration, which led to the humiliation of Korean baseball, with then-team manager Sun Dong-yeol being taken to the National Audit Office. This led to a change in the rules, with an age limit being imposed and the league continuing uninterrupted.스포츠토토
Some believe that the bold exclusion of Koo Chang-mo was an attempt to nip the controversy in the bud. Koo Chang-mo is also an undrafted player, and if he doesn’t win a gold medal at the Asian Games, he will be enlisted in the Korean Armed Forces Athletic Corps (Commerce) in December. He had already signed a long-term, non-free agent contract with NC, and his contract was split into two depending on his military status. Because of this, there was a lot of criticism of Koo Chang-mo for raising his pitch right before the tournament after being absent for a long period of time, and there is a view that the KBO should have considered this aspect as well as Koo Chang-mo’s current status.
Meanwhile, there is also a possibility that additional players will be replaced in the future. The KBO added, “In addition to replacing the two players, the KBO Strength and Conditioning Committee will closely examine the physical condition of other representative players and make additional replacements if it is determined that their performance has deteriorated due to injury. Currently, Asian Games rosters can only be replaced by injured players. If a player is not performing well due to an injury, even during the training period, they can always make a substitution, which could lead to another controversy over the use of new players. The league has been going on for a while.