+ A

Home runs prove elusive for KBO’s top sluggers

New ball means nearly 500 fewer homers have been hit so far this year
Aug 09,2019
이미지뷰
Jamie Romak of the SK Wyverns watches a home run during the KBO All-Star home run race at Changwon NC Park on July 21. [YONHAP]
Last year, Kim Jae-hwan of the Doosan Bears had to knock 44 home runs out the park to win the KBO’s home run title. This year, whoever takes that accolade will probably do so with a much less impressive scorecard.

With more than 100 games now played, the 2019 KBO season is heading into its final stretch. As of Wednesday’s games, Jamie Romak of the SK Wyverns leads the home run category with 23, followed by his teammate Choi Jeong with 22. As few as 30 home runs might be all it takes to win the title this year.

After the two Wyverns players, the Kiwoom Heroes’ Jerry Sands is ranked third with 21 and Park Byung-ho, also of the Heroes, is fourth with 20.

The number of home runs is a lot lower this year. Around this time last year, Romak led the race at 35 home runs. This year, he’s been averaging 0.22 home runs per game, significantly lower than the 0.30 he averaged last season.

As the Wyverns have played in 106 games as of Wednesday, Romak is expected to hit about eight to nine more home runs this year.

However, as the players have already played in more than 100 games, that may not be possible as they are already tired.

Since 2000, Lee Dae-ho of the Lotte Giants is the only player to have won the home run title by hitting less than 30 home runs. In 2006, Lee won the title with just 26 homers.

This could be the first season since 2006 when less than 30 homers is enough to take the title.

The most obvious reason for the change is the KBO’s new baseball. The baseball introduced this season has a lower restitution coefficient, which can affect the distance the baseball flies. Essentially, changing the ball increased the drag, so although the KBO’s top sluggers haven’t changed, the hits that worked for them last year may not be enough this season.

After 521 games last year, the 10 KBO clubs managed to hit a total of 1,220 home runs, averaging about 122 home runs per club. This year, with 521 games competed, the clubs only hit a total of 747 homers, averaging 74.7 per club.

This is about 50 home runs less per club than last year.

Former major leaguer Park is also struggling with the new baseball. Since the 2012 season, Park has comfortably hit over 30 home runs in each season he has played in the KBO. Back in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Park hit 52 and 53 home runs respectively to win back-to-back home run titles. This year, he is nowhere near 50.

Having been sent down to the Futures League due to an injury and struggled in June, Park hasn’t been seeing many home runs since he returned. He did manage to hit his 20th home run during a game against the Giants on Wednesday, continuing a six KBO season streak of hitting 20 home runs or more, but still a long way away from those halcyon 50-homer days.

A number of batters in the KBO have reported that it took a while for them to realize the impact the new ball was having. At the start of the season it wasn’t immediately obvious that the number of home runs was falling so dramatically, but as the months have passed by it’s becoming more obvious.

“The batters had a hard time this year with a new baseball,” said Lee Jong-yeol, an SBS Sports commentator. “The number of home runs decreased significantly. But I think there will be more than 30 home runs. Since the top three players in the home run ranking are close to each other, we’ll have to wait until the end.”

Unlike the KBO, where batters are struggling to hit home runs, the major league is seeing the exact opposite thing happen after the ball in the big league was changed to decrease drag. Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers currently leads the major league in home runs at 39 as of Wednesday, Korea time.

Yelich is highly likely to easily exceed last year’s record of 48 home runs hit by Khris Davis of the Oakland Athletics.

BY PARK SO-YOUNG, KANG YOO-RIM [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]