Lotte has become one of the most exciting teams in the league this season, and as of the 29th, they sit in third place in the league with an impressive 26-16 (.619) record. Rather than fourth place, first place is closer. They have a two-game lead over first-place LG, compared to 4.5 games over fourth-place Doosan.
The team is definitely playing more organized than last year. This is not only due to the overall performance of the players, but also to the effect of the hot free agent signings. It’s also nice to see some of the younger and lesser-known players step up. It’s a sign of a team’s improving player base. We may not be the best in the league in defense or on the bases, but we’re much better than we were last year. Most importantly, we’re losing fewer blowout games.
While there’s a lot of history of teams doing well in April and May only to sag in June, the overall team metrics that Lotte is putting up right now suggest that they’re more likely to maintain their current level of play to some degree than they are to fall off. However, there is one disturbing aspect. The bullpen is showing signs of fatigue, and that fatigue has the potential to snowball.
It’s clear that early in the season, the bullpen had to make frequent appearances and digest a lot of innings because the starters weren’t able to digest solid innings. In May, the starters are performing better than they did in April, but the offense is struggling a bit. There are fewer blowout wins and more close games every time. This is inevitably accompanied by frequent calls to the bullpen.
In fact, even in the game against Gochuk Kiwoom on the 28th, Lotte used a lot of pitchers in their previous two wins, and when their closer Kim Won-joong was unavailable due to back-to-back pitches, they ended up losing a heartbreaking game. It was a game that highlighted what Lotte needs to work on and improve upon, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing who they have. It’s right-hander Choi Jun-yong (22).
Choi was Lotte’s first-round pick in 2020 out of Gyeongnam High School, and in his sophomore year, he broke out as a bullpen arm in 2021, pulling ahead of the rookie of the year race. He went 4-2 with a 2.85 ERA and 20 saves in 47⅓ innings pitched in 44 games, making him a key part of Lotte’s bullpen. However, he hasn’t been as good since.
Again this year, Choi was a late starter due to injury, and while he put up good numbers with a 0 ERA in nine games, the details 메이저놀이터 were worrisome. His batting average was 0.333 and his walks per inning allowed (WHIP) was 1.57. He is still rehabbing after being designated for assignment on May 17, when inflammation in his back was discovered.
His return is expected to take more time. “He needs to rehabilitate for the next two weeks or so, and then he will pitch in the Future League,” a Lotte team official explained. “He will have to pitch two or three games in the Future League, and there may be a series of pitching tests, so he needs to schedule at least a week. That would mean a mid-June return at the earliest.
But right now, I don’t want to rush it, I want to rehabilitate thoroughly. If he makes it back to the first team, the last thing he needs is to be sent back down to the second team due to injury. Add to that the fact that he hasn’t yet found his 2021-level stuff, and it’s clear that he needs to take the season long view to get his stuff up to par.
According to Trackman, which provides tracking data for all nine KBO clubs, the data for Jun-yong Choi in 2021 and 2023 are slightly different. In 2021, his average fastball velocity was 147.5 kilometers per hour, but this year it was 146.0 kilometers per hour after his injury. That’s a pretty big drop in average velocity between the two years. His fastball’s revolutions per minute (RPM) also dropped from 2585 in 2021 to 2469. This symbolizes that Choi hasn’t found his groove yet.
However, he’s still young, and his numbers aren’t at the point of collapse, so there’s a good chance he’ll regain his strengths quickly. Choi is also struggling with a different pitching form than last year. If Choi finds his groove, Lotte will have one more strong card to play in the seventh and eighth innings with Koo Seung-min, Kim Jin-wook, and Kim Sang-soo. It’s a card that can also help keep the health of three players who have already pitched a lot. This is why it’s not an exaggeration to say that Lotte’s 2023 season is in their hands.