Despite leading the league in runs scored, LG manager Yoon Kyung-yeop is having a hard time thinking about mound management these days. With the departure of Kim Yun-sik and Lee Min-ho, the fourth and fifth starting spots are actually up for grabs until ‘bullpen day’ at worst.
In the end, I adjusted the starting rotation 안전놀이터 of Lim Chan-kyu, who is the No. 1 starter in Korea this season, and pushed it to the fourth day. Otherwise, the team would have to play the first two games of the next week with 4-5 starters, which could have a huge impact on the team’s week if the bullpen is used up in both games. In the first game against the KIA in Jamsil, we had to consider using our bullpen on day 2 when starter Adam Plutko left the mound earlier than expected. We couldn’t just go all-in on day 2 because Lee Jung-yong, who had 60 pitches, had to start.
Yoon is hoping that Kim Yun-sik or Lee Min-ho will return in the second half of the season, as he is looking forward to seeing how Lee adjusts to the starting role. He has already calculated that if the fourth and fifth starters can give up three runs in five innings, the bullpen can hold up in the second half when Yoo Young-chan and Baek Seung-hyun return. Given the quality of the bullpen and batting lineup, that’s not a stretch, but the postseason is a different animal. LG’s potential source of anxiety lies with foreign pitcher Casey Kelly (34).
It’s too early to start talking about the postseason, but given the team’s current position – 10.5 games out of fifth place – and the overall strength of the team, it’s hard to argue with the notion that LG shouldn’t be playing baseball until the fall. The postseason is different than the regular season. It’s a tremendous clash of focus, and at the end of the day, it’s all about the ace who can deliver game one of the series and the big game.
LG’s postseason starter last year was Kelly. He was undeniably the team’s ace. He pitched 166 1/3 innings in 27 games last season with a 2.54 ERA. He has some postseason experience, and he pitched well in the fall. But with his current form, it’s hard to see that happening. He’s been on a roller coaster of ups and downs and hasn’t found his groove.
Kelly has a 6-4 record in 16 games this season, but his ERA is in the four-run range (4.37). Compared to last year, his strikeout rate is down (23% to 15.4%) and his batting average is up (0.232 to 0.277). The increase in his FIP is smaller than the increase in his ERA, but it’s clear that he’s struggling more this year than last.
First of all, his velocity is down about a kilometer per hour from last year, and while he has slightly fewer pitches, it’s not a decisive difference. That’s how LG sees it, too. In the end, the problem is command, according to LG manager Yoon Kyung-yeop. After giving up four runs in six innings against the KIA on June 30, Yoon said, “I got hit in the middle at 1B-2S, 2S. It went in the middle,” and diagnosed “a lot of mistakes.”
In other words, the pitches themselves aren’t that much different than last year, but the count battles and mistakes are. Kelly’s advantage is that he can throw a lot of pitches in the zone, even if they’re not his fastball, so he can be aggressive and keep his innings down. This year, however, he’s been giving up a lot of ground balls up the middle, which has led to an accumulation of hits that have hurt his performance.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to replace him now. Other teams in need of a foreign pitcher have been unable to find one in the U.S. and have turned to the independent leagues or Taiwan. Kelly’s remaining salary will reduce the amount of money available to spend on a replacement by $100,000 per month over time, so even if they had the money, they wouldn’t be able to spend it now. It’s hard to get a good pitcher on a $400,000 budget. If you have to pay a transfer fee, it’s almost impossible. In this case, it’s better to just keep Kelly.
In the end, the best case scenario for LG is that Kelly rebounds and regains much of his old form. Even Plutko, who has been playing well this year, cannot be trusted 100% because of his illness last fall. Will Jamsil Jesus be able to pitch in the first game of the first series of fall baseball like he did last year, and it will be a key point to watch for the rest of the season.