Baek Jeong-hyeon, who was degraded as a ‘home run factory manager’, will he revive as a 10-win pitcher?

Ahead of the 2023 KBO League, the outlook for the Samsung Lions, whose fall baseball was frustrated last year in 7th place, is not very bright. Expectations are high for the leadership of new manager Park Jin-man, who was a ‘national shortstop’ during his active career and went through a verification process as an acting manager last year. 

However, despite the departure of free agents Kim Sang-soo and Oh Seon-jin from the Stove League, Samsung did not reinforce their strength by recruiting external free agents. Although they succeeded in renewing contracts with foreign players Buchanan, Suarez, and Pirella, the reality is raised that it will be difficult for them to do better than last year. This is why the voice that Samsung’s restoration of honor depends on the rebound of domestic players who were sluggish last year is gaining strength.

Especially important is the revival of veteran left-hander Baek Jeong-hyun, born in 1987. In 2021, Baek Jeong-hyun recorded an average ERA of 14 wins and 5 losses with an ERA of 2.63 and an OPPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) of 0.675. He set a career high with his first 10 wins in his debut and an earned run average of 2 points. He pitched 157.2 innings, the most since his professional debut. Thanks to Baek Jung-hyun’s great success, Samsung maintained a tie for first place with kt Wiz at the end of 144 games in the regular season. 안전놀이터

After the end of the 2021 season, Baek Jung-hyun obtained FA qualification for the first time and signed a remaining contract with Samsung for a total of 3.8 billion won over 4 years. Although he is a left-handed starting pitcher, which is rare in the league, his contract size was not as large as expected. Baek Jung-hyun’s contract was praised for being reasonable in the ‘FA craze’ where large contracts worth around 10 billion won appeared one after another. 

However, until 2020, Baek Jung-hyun, who had not been able to achieve this through the selection and bullpen, suddenly raised good grades in the season just before free agency, and there was no concern. Baek Jung-hyun’s task was to maintain the good performance of 2021 unchanged in 2022, the first year immediately after his free agent contract.

With 22 home runs, he became the league’s most single player and took on the disgrace of being the ‘home run factory manager’. He averaged 1.59 home runs per 9 innings. Daegu Samsung Lions Park, the hitter-friendly home stadium, and Baek Jung-hyeon did not match at all. Due to sluggish performance, he went in and out of the 1st and 2nd groups, and ended up digesting 124.2 innings, which is less than the regulated innings (144 innings). The WAR (based on the KB Report), which represents the contribution to victory compared to the substitute player, was negative at -0.24.

It was true that Baek’s sluggish performance overlapped with Samsung’s team performance decline. Some analyzed that Baek Jung-hyun, who had completed the 35-year-old season, faced a sharp ‘aging curve’. His free agent contract period is still 3 years, so there is even a story that he is more concerned about the future.

Baek Jung-hyun should fulfill his role as the most reliable left-handed starting pitcher in the team. If he is sluggish from the beginning of the season, left-hander Young-gun Choi Chae-heung, who will return after being discharged from Sangmu in June, may be pushed out of the starting rotation. For the past two years, the results of Baek Jung-hyun and Samsung have been together. Attention is focusing on whether Baek Jung-hyun will overcome his slump last year and take the lead in Samsung’s return to baseball in the fall.