The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of South Korea’s KBO, Post-2017 Season Update

We are in what now amounts to the Golden Age of foreign starters in South Korea’s KBO with almost all of the leaders listed below currently active.

The KBO has decided that what it needs in terms of foreign players is starting pitchers.  Two of every KBO team’s current three roster spots for foreign players are held by starting pitchers, with the third spot typically going to a power hitter, only because under current KBO rules provide that third foreign player cannot be a pitcher.  As a result, the all-time leader boards for foreign pitchers is changing on an annual basis.


Dustin Nippert   94-43

Danny Rios   90-59

Andy VanHekken   73-42

Henry Sosa      59-51

Eric Hacker      56-34

Dustin Nippert came back down to earth after a 2016 campaign in which he went  22-3, tying Danny Rios’ 2007 record for wins by a foreign pitcher in a KBO season.  This year, however, Nippert won 14 games, making him the winningest foreign pitcher in KBO history.  He should return to the KBO for his age 37 season in 2018, although his team, the Doosan Bears, may well expect him to take a pay cut from the record-setting (for a foreign player) $2.2 million he made this season after going “only” 14-8 and posting “only” the ten-team circuit’s 11th best ERA (4.06).

Andy VanHekken, like Danny Rios in 2008, tried jumping to Japan’s NPB in 2016 immediately following his strongest KBO season.  As with Rios in 2008, it did not work out 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, VanHekken was able to re-sign with his old KBO team, the Nexen Heroes, in late 2016.  This year, VanHekken, who turned 38 in late July, had some injuries that limited him to 24 starts.  However, he remained effective enough to expect his return in 2018.

Henry Sosa and Eric Hacker both broke the 50 win threshold in 2017 and are expected to return to the KBO in 2018 following strong seasons.

ERA (800 Career Innings Pitched)

Danny Rios    3.01

Dustin Nippert    3.48

Eric Hacker    3.52

Andy VanHekken  3.56

Chris Oxspring    3.90

Henry Sosa 4.58

As far as I am aware, these six are the only foreign pitchers to reach my 800 career innings pitched cut-off in the KBO’s history.  There should be more in the next few seasons.


Dustin Nippert   917

Andy VanHekken   860

Danny Rios   807

Henry Sosa   782

Eric Hacker 619

Dustin Nippert also became the KBO’s all-time strikeout leader among foreign pitchers this season. Andy VanHekken also passed former leader Danny Rios this year, and Henry Sosa should do so in 2018.


Jose Cabrera   53

With a limited number of roster spots for foreign pitchers, KBO teams want starting pitchers, not relievers.  Of the 23 foreigners to pitch in the KBO in 2017, Henry Sosa was the only one to record even one save, the first and only one of his KBO career.

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 and none in the last few seasons.

Hector Noesi, Merrill Kelly, Brooks Raley, Ryan Feierabend and Josh Lindblom are the foreign pitchers most likely to be added to my lists a year or two from now.  All pitched well enough in 2017 to be invited back by their respective teams.  Noesi and Kelly had the strongest seasons, but I see Kelly as the KBO pitcher most likely to join Japan’s NPB in 2018.

Kelly finished 7th in the KBO this year with a 3.60 ERA (Noesi was 6th at 3.48), and Kelly led the KBO in strikeouts (189 in 190 IP) and K Rate (8.95) among qualifiers.  Kelly, who will be 29 next season, is two years younger than Noesi and much less well paid.  Noesi made $1.7 million in 2017, similar to what he made in 2016.  After winning 20 games and helping the Kia Tigers finish the 2017 season in first place, guaranteeing the team a spot in Korea Series and helping the team draw more than a million fans, Noesi could well receive a one-year offer for 2018 matching the $2.2 million Dustin Nippert made this year, particularly if he pitches well in the Korea Series.

Kelly, on the other hand, made only $950,000 this season, meaning that a two-year $3.5M-$4M offer from an NPB team would be a whole lot more enticing to him than it would be to Noesi.  Finally, Noesi’s KBO strikeout rates haven’t been particularly impressive; and Noesi has had a good thing going in his two years of KBO play at the top of the KBO salary scale that should make him think long and hard if an NPB team comes calling.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baseball Abroad, KBO, NPB

6 Comments on “The Best Foreign Pitchers in the History of South Korea’s KBO, Post-2017 Season Update”

  1. Burly Says:

    Merrill Kelly didn’t help his chances of a more lucrative NPB payday in his only KBO post-season start: he allowed eight runs, all earned in 2.1 innings pitched, taking the loss that knocked his team, the SK Wyverns out of the play-offs.

  2. Burly Says:

    Both the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants of NPB are reportedly interested in Wilin Rosario, who was the KBO’s best foreign hitter this season.

  3. Burly Says:

    The Nexen Heroes have elected not to re-sign Andy Van Hekken, instead electing to give far more money to Esmil Rogers, who came back from 2016 elbow surgery late in the 2017 season. We will see if another KBO team is willing to make an offer to Van Hekken, who was still a very effective starter in 2017.

  4. Burly Says:

    It looks like Eric Hacker is returning to the KBO. After Esmil Rodgers broke his finger and returned to the U.S., it looks like the Nexen Heroes will be signing Hacker as a replacement.

    Andy Van Hekken has a 5.09 pitching in the Atlantic League after nine starts. That won’t get Van Hekken a job in Taiwan’s CPBL let alone the KBO.

    • Burly Says: reports that Hacker can earn $300,000 including all incentives for pitching the rest of the way with Nexen. The guarantee is probably $150K or $200K.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: