Based on the available data, the KBO appears to be somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A, on average, although the best players are more likely to be of MLB quality than your typical Double-A league; it’s harder to get a “promotion” from KBO to MLB than Double-A to MLB.
What would Mike Trout’s career be like if he packed his bat and headed for Seoul? The ZiPS projection system was ready to answer this question long before we heard of COVID-19, which made me unusually prepared.
Trout would likely dominate KBO given the extent of his dominance over MLB in the 2010s. There simply isn’t a more complete player than Trout. If anything, the surprise could be the shape of its KBO projections, which see its batting averages increase more than its gross horsepower figures.
There is a reason for this: KBO is not the high-scoring league it was just a few years ago. In 2018, KBO teams reached .286 / .353 / .450, scoring 5.6 runs per game. The pitchers had a collective ERA of 5.17 in 2018, a league-wide ERA never seen in MLB history and not in baseball since the season of 1894, in the years that the pitchers ” adapted to the mound backing up to 60 feet and 6 inches.
After 2018, KBO was looking for a change and was using dehydrated baseballs, something MLB seems unable to do despite having Rawlings. The offense dropped overnight, with a 40% drop in circuits, as well as other smaller drops. What happens if Trout plays in Korea and the KBO brings the ball back live? In this competitive environment, Trout’s projected numbers are much more like video games:
These 61 circuits – in a shorter season of 144 games, you think – would be the strongest of a season in KBO history, ahead of Seung Yuop Lee, who reached 56 in 2003 for the Samsung Lions. There would be something poetic about Trout going to Korea and setting a home run record with the exact number of Roger Maris that has been the record for almost four decades.
It seems extremely unlikely that Mike Trout will travel to Korea, which is unlikely, but at least possible, scenario in which the core business of MLB is paralyzed by a second wave of COVID-19 and / or protracted labor disputes. It’s still an interesting exercise, although I personally prefer that we selfishly keep Trout here for ourselves.