+ A

Kim Hyun-soo propels LG Twins

Ex-MLB slugger’s batting proves he’s worth big bucks
June 07,2018
이미지뷰
Kim Hyun-soo of the LG Twins runs to first base during a game against the Hanwha Eagles at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in southern Seoul on Tuesday.[NEWS1]
The LG Twins are heading full-speed ahead towards the All-Star break on the back of their newest star - slugger Kim Hyun-soo.

The Twins’ winning streak ended with a 5-1 loss to the Hanwha Eagles on Wednesday, but the Twins are still ranked fourth in the KBO standings, and have a substantial lead of 2.5 games over the fifth-place Kia Tigers.

“I don’t think it changed because of me,” Kim said. “I think the young players’ experience is finally showing some good results.”

After the 2017 season, the Twins made a shocking management decision. They released a majority of the team’s veteran players in order to create a younger team.

Because the Twins didn’t seem to be putting much effort into signing big-name free agents at the time, the team’s fans protested in front of Jamsil Baseball Stadium.

But the Twins’ big investment in Kim silenced the critics. After playing two seasons in the U.S. major leagues, Kim returned to the KBO and signed a four-year contract worth 11.5 billion won ($10.8 million). Kim became the second-highest-paid free agent in KBO history, after Lee Dae-ho, who signed with the Lotte Giants in 2017.

Kim faced high expectations from the Twins and the fans after the signing, but he’s managing to play up to those lofty standards. As of Tuesday’s game he’s played in all 61 games this season, and has maintained a batting average of 0.379 with 11 home runs, 54 RBIs and 91 hits.

Though he struggled in the beginning of the season, Kim quickly adjusted to the KBO. Over the last ten games until Tuesday, Kim has had an impressive 0.455 batting average with three home runs and 17 RBIs.

All of Kim’s statistics are in the top five in the KBO, and he is en route to setting a new league record for hits. Seo Geon-chang of the Nexen Heroes currently holds the record for hits with 201, which he set in 2014.

The Twins’ overall batting had improved significantly this season. Last season, the Twins had the strongest pitching mound, with the lowest average ERA of 4.30.

Despite their strong pitching, the Twins still failed to advance to the postseason, finishing in sixth, as the team’s batting average ranked seventh at 0.281.

Making matters worse, the Twins were dead last in the KBO for home runs, with 110.

This season, the Twins’ batting lineup is much improved. Though they are currently missing Adonis Garcia, their cleanup batter, the Twins’ batting lineup is strong, and the team is ranked second in overall batting averages with 0.301.

This season, Kim has mostly batted fifth in the lineup. After Garcia’s injury, Kim is currently batting cleanup.

Fans have given Kim the nickname “batting machine” for his consistency. Commentators and other professionals have complimented Kim’s swing.

Throughout Kim’s career in the KBO, he’s batted 0.322 on average. He’s had only three seasons ? 2006, 2007 and 2012 ? with batting averages below 0.300. Kim and the Twins’ veteran outfielder Park Yong-taik have been consistent batters for the Twins this season.

After playing ten seasons with the Doosan Bears, Kim left for the United States after the 2015 KBO season. He signed a two-year contract worth $7 million with the Baltimore Orioles.

Although Kim struggled during spring training, Kim got on the Orioles’ roster by refusing a minor league assignment, and was booed by the fans over this on Opening Day. However, Kim soon proved his worth, as he finished his rookie season in the MLB with a 0.302 batting average, six home runs and 22 RBIs.

In his second season, Kim wasn’t as successful, and he was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. Kim finished his MLB career in Philadelphia with a 0.231 batting average, one home run and 14 RBIs.

Though Kim’s career in the major didn’t last long, his experience has been a boon for the Twins’ young roster.

“Kim Hyun-soo is becoming a role model to the younger players,” said Shin Kyung-sik, the Twins’ hitting coach. “A lot of the young players are following Kim Hyun-soo’s training program he learned from the major league.”

Of the team’s young players, Chae Eun-seong and Yang Suk-hwan have benefited from Kim’s training program.

“I hate losing more than anything,” Kim said. “Baseball is fun these days, so I just get to try my best. I want the younger players to play like how I play. To do so, I need to be the one to act and show it to them.”

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