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Injuries prove critical in KBO

So far this season, the fittest teams have performed the best
Sept 08,2017
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The Lotte Giants, left, had the least injuries throughout the 2017 season, while the Hanwha Eagles, right, are missing the majority of their starting players. [JOONGANG PHOTO]
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During the Doosan Bears game against the Lotte Giants at Jamsil Baseball Stadium on Aug. 29, Kim Jae-ho, left, injured his shoulder while trying to catch a flyball hit by Park Hun-do of the Lotte Giants. [YONHAP]
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Injuries have had a huge impact on the Korea Baseball Organization this season, with the healthiest teams climbing to the top and the accident-prone players plummeting to the bottom. As the league enters its final few weeks, coaches are desperate to keep their rosters as healthy as possible.

The Lotte Giants and the Doosan Bears, the two most dominant teams in the second half, have not suffered any major injuries since the All Star break. The LG Twins, on the other hand, are struggling with the majority of their starting players out due to injury.

After Jeon Jun-woo and Andrew Burns went out with rib injuries and Moon Kyu-hyun injured his finger at the beginning of the season, the Giants haven’t had any major injuries for the remainder of the season. With the team at peak fitness the Giants recorded 19 wins and eight losses in August and their closer, Son Seung-lak recorded a total of 16 saves in 22 games.

“Once I joined the Giants last year, I was given structured, technical training,” Son said. “Before, I did great, but always had a slump. But this season, from the Giants’ structured physical conditioning program, I’m able to keep my physical condition at its best without falling behind halfway through the season.”

Though the Bears had quite a few players out in the first half of the season - including big names like Min Byung-hun and Yang Eui-ji - they’ve returned to form in the second half and climbed into second place.

At the other end of the table, the Twins, now in seventh place, have really struggled with the absence of their players. Ace pitcher David Huff had to miss two games from injury and Lim Jung-woo, who played for the Korean national team at the World Baseball Classic, was unable to return until Aug. 11 due to shoulder pain. Though Lim has returned to the Twins’ roster, he is struggling to pitch anywhere near his full potential after a lengthy rehabilitation period.

As the Hanwha Eagles near the end of the season they’ve had to call up about half of their roster from the Futures’ League, as top players including Kim Tae-kyun, Jeong Keun-woo and Lee Tae-yang are out with injuries.

Injuries are very common in baseball as pitchers constantly strain their arms and shoulders while batters have a high chance of getting injured trying to get on base. There are also incidents where players fracture bones after being hit by balls thrown by the catcher or pitcher.

Though being hit by a baseball cannot really be avoided, physical training can limit the chance of other injuries occurring. As injuries directly affect the clubs’ performance, baseball managers are starting to prioritize players’ conditioning.

Each club has a department that takes charge of players’ physical conditioning and the clubs have trainers registered as official coaches.

“The teams did have trainers, but their role was to report the condition of players to the coaches,” said Lhee Sang-hoon, head of CM General Hospital. “It was hard for them to comment on player appointments. But recently, the managers tend to pay more attention to the physical trainers. And to prevent players from injuries, they rely heavily on the trainers when it comes to strength and conditioning.”

According to Forbes in 2015, between 2008 and 2012 the major league lost $1.1 billion from pitching injuries. As a result, major league clubs spend a lot of money preventing injuries. To do so, they use wearable equipment to observe players’ movements and regularly check their stress levels. Starting this season, the major league allowed players to wear biometric monitoring wristbands during games.

BY KIM WON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]