KBO: teams, odds, how to watch, former MLB players and everything you need to know about Korean baseball organization


Major League Baseball was scheduled to kick off its regular season in late March. The spread of the new coronavirus has forced the league to delay opening day until later in the year, with the exact date yet to be determined. If there is good news for the skippers, it is that another league is about to resume play. The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), described in the past as offering the “most wild and most extravagant “of sport, plans to start season with Opening Day Tuesday.

KBO teams will play a full 144 game schedule, but if a player or coach is infected with COVID-19, the league will be closed for a minimum of three weeks. There will be no fans present.

Most American fans are too concerned about MLB to care about the foreign leagues, be it the KBO or Japan’s best league, Nippon Professional Baseball. That could change now if KBO is the only game in town. As such, we have prepared the following manual to help educate everyone about the ins and outs of KBO.

How many teams are in the KBO?

There are 10 active teams. The Doosan Bears, Kia Tigers, LG Twins, Lotte Giants and Samsung Lions are the oldest clubs, each having been founded in 1982. The most recent teams are the KT Wiz (2015), NC Dinos (2013) and Kiwoom Heroes ( 2008). The Hanwa Eagles and SK Wyverns complete the group.

As you have probably noticed, teams are not named for their geographic location. While this deviates from MLB standards, it does differentiate the three teams that share Seoul, the capital of South Korea: the Bears, the Heroes and the Twins. For the curious, the Eagles play Daejeon, the Tigers in Gwangju, the Wiz in Suwon, the Giants in Busan, the Dinos in Changwon, the Lions in Daegu and the Wyverns in Incheon.

What is the structure of the KBO season?

Each KBO team plays a season of 144 games. Because KBO uses a balanced schedule, each team plays the other nine 16 times. This is a departure from MLB, in which the teams play more often within their division and do not play everyone. KBO, despite the start of its season later than expected, still hopes to play a full list of 144 games.

And the playoffs?

Because KBO has fewer teams, the playoff structure is also different from that of MLB. The top five teams advance to the playoffs, with the best team in the world receiving a pass for the top seven championship series, otherwise known as the Korean Series.

Before the Korean streak can begin, teams # 4 and # 5 play in a best-of-three Wild Card series. The catch is that the No. 5 team starts in a 0-1 hole, allowing the No. 4 team to advance with a single win or tie (yes, the KBO allows ties, even in the playoffs playoffs).

The Wild Card winner advances to play against team # 3 in a best-of-five series, with that winner playing against team # 2 in another best-of-five series.

In other words, the focus is more on regular season results.

Who are the best teams?

The Doosan Bears have been the most dominant team in the KBO in recent times. The Bears won the 2019 Korean series, their third title in five years, and finished second in the other two years. Their 22 playoff appearances are second among KBO franchises, behind only the Samsung Lions.

The Lions (eight) and Bears (six) have the second and third most championships in their name. The team with the most, or the KBO equivalent of the New York Yankees, is the Kia Tigers, who have won 11 titles. Five of them arrived in the 1980s and only one (2017) since 2010.

How can I watch?

ESPN and KBO have reached an agreement that one game a day will be broadcast on the American network. That means six games a week, because KBO doesn’t usually play on Mondays. Here is ESPN’s broadcast schedule for the first week, with early morning match times on the East Coast.

Are the odds available?

Yes. William Hill Sportsbook offers odds on KBO games in Nevada and New Jersey.

Are there other differences worth knowing about?

We will mention two others. First, the designated hitter is universal in the KBO. Second, games are tied after 12 innings in the regular season and 15 in the playoffs. Keep this in mind the next time a baseball purist tells you that there is no room in the game for DH or ties.


Kwang Hyun Kim, now with the Cardinals, was one of the best KBO players last season.


Who are the best players?

According to STATIZ’s Wins Above Replacement metric, the best performance of the 2019 season was the left-hander Hyeon-jong Yang of Kia Tigers. Yang, who posted a 2.29 ERA in 184 innings while scoring nearly five times more hitters than he walked, has launched from an exaggerated lunge. He deserves credit for having made progress with his command, having completed at least five for nine innings in five of his first six seasons; he walked 2.1 or less by nine in each of his last three seasons.

The best position player was Eui-ji Yang, receiver of the NC Dinos. He hit .354 / .438 / .574 with 20 circuits and more steps than strikeouts. He was previously a member of the Doosan Bears, but signed a four-year pact worth around $ 10 million in December 2018. It was the second richest contract in the KBO, behind only the Dae deal. -ho Lee with the Lotte Giants.

Three other players finished with more than six wins over the substitution: shortstop Kiwoom Ha-seong Kim; period pitcher, Kwang Hyung Kim (now with the St. Louis Cardinals); and SK third baseman Jeong Choi.

Learn more about the players to watch in the KBO and the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) here.

Could some of them end up in the majors?

When people think of players jumping to majors on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, they tend to think of NPB players. Despite this, the KBO served as a launching pad for a number of players.

Just this last off-season, the aforementioned Kwang Hyung Kim signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and outfielder Jae-hwan Kim was also affected during the winter, but did not generate enough interest.

This paragraph does not include US players who have recovered overseas, such as Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Josh Lindblom.

Among the four players mentioned in the previous section who remain in the KBO, the most promising (in terms of MLB) is Ha-seong Kim. Kim will not be 25 before mid-October, but hit .307 / .389 / .491 with 19 circuits and 33 stolen bases (out of 37 tries). Kim is expected to be posted after the coming season and is expected to generate interest as a second division starter.

Note: Hyeon-jong Yang was already on the job for the MLB teams in the fall of 2014. The Tigers did not accept the winning offer, however, which prevented him from embarking on a successful career.

There are others who could come to the U.S. in due course, but it’s important to remember that MLB isn’t everyone’s goal.

Are there any former league players?

Fans looking for familiar names should be happy to see that, yes, there are former big leagues in the KBO. However, teams are limited to three foreign-born players, which limits the ranks.

Veteran pitchers Dan Straily, Adrian Sampson and Mike Wright are all new additions to the KBO this season. They will join a group that includes Warwick Saupold, William Cuevas, Casey Kelly and Tyler Wilson, among others who have already lived life in the majors.

On the batting side, two former outdoor field hopefuls who ended up in the KBO are Aaron Altherr (best known for his time with the Philadelphia Phillies) and Preston Tucker (Houston Astros). Former minor league buddy Jamie Romak is one of the best KBO home hitters, having smashed at least 29 in each of his three seasons in Korea.


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