The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of South Korea’s KBO
Thanks to a big year from Dustin Nippert and Andy VanHekken’s mid-season return to KBO after an abortive attempt to establish himself in Japan’s NPB, the foreign pitcher records for South Korea’s KBO ticked strongly upward.
Danny Rios 90-59
Dustin Nippert 80-35
Andy VanHekken 65-35
Dustin Nippert had a tremendous 2016 campaign, finishing 22-3, tying Danny Rios’ 2007 record for wins by a foreign pitcher in a KBO season. Nippert’s 2.95 ERA was the league’s best by more than a third of a run. It is widely expected that Nippert will become the third foreign player to win the KBO’s MVP award, joining Rios in 2007 and Eric Thames last year.
Nippert stated in September that he wants to finish his baseball career with the Doosan Bears, so he is expected to return to the KBO in 2017, probably for a one year deal at about $2 million, given that the Bears are the KBO’s wealthiest team.
Andy VanHekken, like Rios in 2008, tried jumping to Japan’s NPB this year immediately following a strong KBO season. As with Rios in 2008, it did not work out well at all for VanHekken. He pitched extremely well in five NPB minor league appearances but got roughed up to the tune of a 6.31 ERA in 10 NPB major league games, and was quickly released.
Unlike Rios in 2008, Van Hekken was able to re-sign with his old KBO team, the Nexen Heroes, in time to make 12 late season starts. He went 7-3 and will also most certainly return to the KBO in 2017.
ERA (800 Career Innings Pitched)
Danny Rios 3.01
Dustin Nippert 3.38
Chris Oxspring 3.90
Henry Sosa 4.58
As far as I am aware, Rios, Nippert, Oxspring and Sosa are the only four foreign pitchers to reach my 800 career innings pitched cut-off. If healthy, both Andy VanHekken and Eric Hacker should reach the 800 IP mark next year. Both currently have career KBO ERAs just over 3.50.
Eric Hacker (44-27) and Henry Sosa (48-40) should both break the 50 career wins threshold if they play in KBO next year. Hacker missed about eight starts to an injury in the middle of the 2016 season, but was great both before and after, finishing 13-3 with a 3.45 ERA, excellent for the hit-happy KBO of recent seasons.
Sosa went 10-9 with a 5.16 ERA but ate up 199 IP. Sosa’s ERA was 15th out of 17 qualifiers, but given the amount of offense in the league, it would probably makes sense for the LG Twins to bring him back for the same $550,000 he made in 2016, which is definitely at the low end of what veteran foreigners make in the KBO.
Danny Rios 807
Dustin Nippert 756
Andy VanHekken 721
Henry Sosa 629
Jose Cabrera 53
With a limited number of roster spots for foreign players (currently three total, only two of whom may be pitchers), KBO teams want starting pitchers, not relievers. Of the 59 KBO pitchers to record at least one save in 2016, only one, Eric Surkamp, was a foreigner, and he recorded only a single save.
The best season by a foreign reliever was Scott Proctor‘s 2012, when he had a 1.79 ERA and saved 35 games. However, he returned to the U.S. in 2013 to play at AAA. The KBO has yet to have a foreign closer last more than a couple of seasons.