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5/10 IN THE NEWS - THE KOREAN BASEBALL LEAGUE


The KBO (Korean Baseball League) is now on ESPN and gaining in wagering popularity. It is one of the only games going to wager on so naturally, there is a larger interest in it. I am a data guy, so I have been able to find some sites that provide numbers. They are not nearly as detailed as the MLB and I would not expect them to be. The interesting thoughts going through my mind are those of context. Does MLB strengths and weakness reflect in the same way that KBO would? For example, most of the pitchers in MLB are (at 1st look) graded by hits and strikeouts vs innings pitched and walks vs strikeouts. If a pitcher has fewer hits than innings pitched and more strikeouts than innings pitched, plus fewer walks than strikeouts, he is considered good. There are not many KBO starting pitchers with fewer hits than innings pitched. The reality is that MLB has so much better quality than comparisons that will not equate properly. Josh Lindbloom (now with MIL) was the “Cy Young” and MVP of the league last season in the KBO. He will likely be a #3 starter for MIL this season. He projects a 2.0 WAR making 26 starts which ranks him about 100th in the league.


KBO has poor depth in the rotation and bullpen. Many of us complain about the MLB bullpens, but due to lack of pitching depth, KBO teams really struggle in this area. The league plays decent defense and is probably an overall strength. Each team seems to have a couple of decent hitters, who also have some power, but most of the players are singles hitters. This means they value station to station advancement of runners. Whereas MLB has all but killed the bunt, this league would benefit from bunting. It would be a positive outcome due to the lack of power. Through 4 or 5 games (rain out causes conflict) the league has hit 44 home runs. There are 10 teams that have either player 4 games or 5 games making 45 games between them. It makes for 1 home run on the average per team per game. There have been 20 sacrifices so far. The running game is a struggle too. Apparently, the runners do not excel at stealing bases. They have 26 steals but have caught 19 times so far. It is a much different game in those respects.


How can we take advantage? We need streaking teams! FanGraphs has Lotte Giants projected as the 9th best team (remember there are 10 teams). However, they have started extremely hot with the bats. They are hitting a league-best .313 with 32 runs, again league best and tied for league-best with 8 home runs. They are 4-0 and tied for 1st place in the league. These are the type of spots where jumping on a hot team can bring home the bacon. Often missed are the value offense and the differential between how hard one team must work to score versus the other. Lotte is scoring easy whereas their opponents must work station to station and are finding it hard to keep up. Pitching has not been a large differentiator to this point. The bullpens have been the equalizer that offset quality starts. Overs are 24-18-2 so far. They were 22-11 after 33 games but the unders are starting to bring the mean average back. I will be looking at the pitching to see where the offense can capitalize. MLB, I look for the pitcher to capitalize on the offense. Opposite format but simple enough to see based on the data available. I expect the data to improve as well. Fangraphs is setting up an entire KBO area, once this is complete, we should be able to see specifics that might lead to larger wagers.


As for now, I am wagering pizza money on these games. Once there is a better handle of the expectations and the predictability, this may become a stream of wagering just like anything else. The issue is the verification of edge and defining that edge. Over time and improved data, we shall see clear edges and spots to get down larger amounts. Until then, I will take a pepperoni, with double cheese, onions, green pepper, and sausage.

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