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KT’s Kang is on track for Rookie of the Year

July 13,2018
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Kang Baek-ho runs to first base during a game against the Nexen Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul on April 3. [YONHAP]
Kang Baek-ho of the KT Wiz has had a remarkable debut season. With the KBO about to reach its halfway point and the All-Star break this weekend, Kang looks like a shoo-in for this year’s Rookie of the Year award.

In 82 games as of Wednesday, Kang has a batting average of .299 with 16 home runs, 49 RBIs and 60 runs. The star rookie has done enough to have the second best average in batting and in home runs in his team and third in RBIs.

In the league, Kang is ranked 32nd in batting average, tied for 14th in home runs and is 31st in RBIs. He has been regularly assigned as the Wiz’s leadoff batter since May, giving him more opportunities to score and appear in the batter’s box.

Though Kang was in a month-long slump in April, he quickly got back on pace and has improved on his weakness against change-ups. In the 29 games Kang played in June he had a batting average of .327 with eight home runs.

Kang’s overall statistics aren’t as good as those of rookies in previous years - the 2017 rookie of the year Lee Jung-hoo of the Nexen Heroes or the 2015 rookie of the year Koo Ja-wook of the Samsung Lions - but his slugging average of .537 definitely sets him apart.

While Kang is back on top, his potential competitors for Rookie of the Year are starting to struggle. Han Dong-hee of the Lotte Giants is still in the Futures League after showing weakness in defense.

Historically, starting pitchers tend to be more likely to win rookie of the year, especially if they consistently have a spot in the rotation. In the beginning of the season, pitchers Yang Chang-seob of the Samsung Lions and Yoon Seong-bin of the Giants received as much attention as Kang. Yang made an impressive debut during a game against the Kia Tigers on March 28, throwing six scoreless innings to pick up a win. Though Yang lost his second game, he still only gave up two runs in five innings.

Yang was injured right when he seemed to be positioning himself as a potential rookie of the year. Since returning to the team he has been inconsistent. Yang picked up a win against the Hanwha Eagles on June 26, but in his next game, on July 6 against the Bears, he gave up eight runs in three and one third of an inning.

Yoon, too, got off to a good start in his first five games, giving up less than three runs in four innings in each game. Recently, he seems to have lost control in his pitches which has led to him switching to a bullpen pitcher. However, that didn’t help much and he is now in the Futures League.

The relief pitchers - Gwak Been of the Bears, Park Ju-hong of the Eagles and Lee Seung-jin of the SK Wyverns have been consistently appearing on the mound but aren’t leaving as strong of an impression on the league.

Just like the 2017 season where Lee concluded the rookie of the year race way before the end of the season, Kang, too, seems to already have the competition sewn up.

This weekend, Kang will compete at his first KBO All-Stars Game at Ulsan Munsu Baseball Stadium. He will also take part in the home run race.

BY AN HEE-SOO [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]