Slugging It Out in South Korea: Top Foreign Hitters in KBO History
The last two years I have written posts on the all-time record holders among foreign players in Japan’s NPB, mainly because I had never been able to find such a list on the internet. The posts met with some success, so I thought it might be fun to do a similar post on South Korea’s KBO.
From what I understand, KBO only began allowing foreign players in 1998. KBO is a young league, starting play in 1982.
Initially, KBO teams brought in mostly hitters; and the foreigners, at least at first, hit a lot of home runs. As the league improved, KBO teams began to realize in the second half of the 2000’s that North American pitchers were worth more to them than the hitters. So much so that by 2012 and 2013, there were no foreign hitters in the league at all.
KBO teams expanded the roster space for foreigners from two to three in 2014 (four of the expansion KT Wiz) with the requirement that one of the three be a position player/hitter. Foreign hitters have been back in the league the last two seasons and have fully taken advantage of an extreme hitters’ league. However, they haven’t yet had a chance to join the all-time lists.
Here it is:
Batting Average (2,000 at-bats)
Jay Davis .313
Jay Davis 979
Jay Davis had far and away the best career of any foreign hitter in the KBO, with Tyrone Woods as the only other player in the conversation.
The problem is that very few foreigners have had long careers in the KBO. Until the last few years, the foreigners who played in KBO were clearly a cut below the foreign players who signed with Japanese NPB teams. They tended not to maintain their initial KBO performance levels for long — three full seasons is a long KBO career for a foreigner — or they moved on to greener NPB pastures. That’s still the case, as NPB teams simply can offer bigger salaries based on greater revenue streams than KBO teams can.
Tyrone Woods 174
Jay Davis 167
Cliff Brumbaugh 116
Tilson Brito 112
Karim Garcia 103
Felix Jose 95
In the early days (late 1990’s and early 2000’s), KBO teams paid foreigners to hit home runs. The most prolific was Tyrone Woods, who blasted 174 dingers over five KBO seaons and then moved on to the NPB, where he blasted 240 HRs in six seasons. Woods never played even one game in the major leagues, and there are some reasons to believe that PEDs may have had something to do with his tremendous Asian performance, at least by the time he reached NPB.
Cliff Brumbaugh is another guy who never played in the majors but had a successful career in the KBO.
You probably remember Karim Garcia and Felix Jose, who both had significant major leagues careers, and you may remember Tilson Brito, who played in 92 MLB games in 1996-1997 for the Blue Jays and the A’s.
Jay Davis 538
Jay Davis 591
Tyrone Woods 510
As you can see from the above numbers, the KBO records for foreign players are ready to be broken in all categories, because so relatively little has been accomplished by foreign players to date. It’s mainly a matter of whether the 2014 crop of foreign hitters can hang around lot enough to add their names to the above list in one to three more years’ time.
Next, the pitchers.