How good is Korean professional baseball compared to American professional baseball?
This is a question that has been asked many times since the late 1990s, when Park Chan-ho rose to success in the major leagues (ML) and the foreign player system was introduced in the KBO. Then and now, the answer comes out as minor league double-A, triple-A, or somewhere in between.
The opinions of the local media in the US, more precisely, the opinions of experts are not very different.
Fangraphs, a baseball statistics and analysis site, recently came up with an answer to this question, drawing attention. On the 14th (hereafter Korean time), 메이저사이트 this media reported that in a corner introducing the KBO level under the title of ‘KBO Prospects’, ‘ML officials evaluate the KBO at the same level as the Double A level’. The reason for this was found in the pitcher’s velocity and batter’s slugging power.
Fangraphs said, ‘KBO pitchers fall short of ML-level velocity. The average velocity in the KBO in 2022 is about 89 mph. The major league average velocity this season ranges from 93.6 to 94.0 mph, depending on the measurement company.
He continued, “In the batting category, KBO reached its peak in power hitting, which started 10 years ago, but declined due to changes in the official ball and two strike zone changes that had a clear effect this year.” The ideal is 39 people. That number was 67 in 2016,’ he explained.
Fan Grafs said, “If you look at the KBO individual rankings, there are a lot of prospects from the major leagues or minor leagues. Most of them are quadruple-A hitters. KBO clubs believe that those who go up and down the ML and minor leagues will develop, and attach a price tag of $ 1 million, the upper limit.” Quadruple-A is halfway between Triple-A and Major League Baseball.
In other words, Fangraphs rated the KBO’s average level as Double-A, given that hitters who went back and forth between Triple-A and the major leagues occupied the upper ranks in the KBO’s individual titles.
Then, where does NPB fall into? On the 15th, Fangraphs said in a corner titled ‘NPB Prospects’, ‘ML officials evaluate NPB at least at Triple A level. Some officials consider it somewhere between Triple A and the major leagues,” he said.
And he focused on the latter. Fangraphs said, “The level of NPB is halfway between Triple A and Major League in that Quadruple A type hitters who are trying to get a chance in Japan leaving the United States do not dominate the leaderboard.” “The best players in NPB are usually Japanese. There are historical exceptions to this point, but Hector Luna was the last time a foreign player made the top 10 fielder WAR in 2014,’ he said.
The pitching category was also evaluated as being close to that of the major leagues based on speed. Fangraphs said, “The average velocity of NPB fastballs this year was 90.8 mph, below the major league’s 93.6 mph. But like major league pitchers, Japanese pitchers started throwing harder. The rate of increase in fastball arrest is faster than in the major leagues,’ he said.
Average velocity on NPB and ML fastballs ranged from 87.9 mph to 91.8 mph in 2014 and 89.3 mph to 92.8 mph in 2018. The gap is steadily narrowing to 3.9 → 3.5 → 2.8 miles every four years. Viewing the NPB level as a higher version of Triple A, Triple A+, is of the opinion that it is okay.
You can guess the level of NPB by looking at the WBC national team. In Japan, major league aces from NPB Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani are poised to come out with a one-two punch.