The KBO is one of the few sporting organizations operating during this crazy time and the rules are not identical to those in the baseball we are accustomed to in America. A full introduction to the sport can be found in a SportsGrid introduction piece to KBO but the basic differences of KBO include ties after 12 innings, a 144-game schedule (instead of 162) and a universal designated hitter (DH). Teams are allowed a maximum of three foreign players which is the reason that the ex-MLB players are only sporadically scattered throughout rosters. Otherwise, the game is similar to the MLB in most other ways.
On May 5, all teams will play on Opening Day, as all teams play everyday Tuesday-Sunday (with Monday being every team’s off-day). As is the case with MLB DFS, stacking is the preferred tournament method in KBO, with high scoring teams’ players correlating with one another when runs are produced in bulk. This article will cover the top plays for the first slate of the 2020 season and break down the top ways to build rosters across the industry (as both FD and DK will be offering KBO DFS):
Nick Kingham, SK Wyverns, $29 FD/$9,000 DK – Once upon a time, Nick Kingham (SK) was one of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top prospects, and now he finds himself as the ace for one of the best teams in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). According to an article by Yoo Jee-ho, Kingham posted a sparkling 1.96 ERA in 23 innings in five spring training and intrasquad games prior to this preseason. In those innings, he struck out 19, allowed 15 hits and walked just four, so the transition to the KBO seems to be going smoothly in the early-going. Comparatively to other Major League Baseball (MLB) pitchers, Kingham’s 92.5 mph average fastball was not exactly elite, but he induced nearly a double-digit swinging strike rate with the Pirates and a 32.8-percent O-swing rate. Only two teams averaged fewer runs per game (R/G) than the opposing Hanwha Eagles so the matchup is ripe as well. If spending up at starting pitcher, Kingham is the cream of the crop.
Odrisamer Despaigne, KT Wiz, $$20 FD/$7,600 DK – If going the value route at starting pitcher, the price tag on Odrisamer Despaigne (KT) is unreasonably cheap. Not only do ex-MLB pitchers historically dominate in the KBO but Despaigne will square off against a Lotte Giants team that averaged a league-worst 4.01 R/G last season. Furthermore, the Giants won the fewest games of any team (48-93 record) and yielded the second most runs per games to opponents as well (5.12 R/G allowed), boding quite well for Despaigne’s chances for a victory. Despite posting a career 14.0-percent K rate in the MLB, he consistently displayed an above-average slider that should translate quite well to a less challenging league. On DK, multiple starting pitchers are required, so the Kingham/Despaigne duo makes a ton of sense, but Despaigne should be considered the top alternative to Kingham on FD (especially because it allows fantasy owners to load up on bats).
Dan Straily, Lotte Giants, $26 FD/$7,100 DK – Offically, the Giants have named Straily their opening day starter. The price point on Straily is more favorable on DK but the KBO is likely a great fit for Straily’s skill set. Since there was only a homer once per every 48 at-bats (ABs) or so in the KBO last year, Straily’s pure fly ball nature will not hurt him as much as it did in the MLB. In his final year with the Orioles, Straily was an absolute disaster, posting a career-worst 9.34 FIP, 7.14 xFIP and 6.07 SIERA while nearly walking hitters at as high of a rate (9.3-percent) as he struck them out (14.0-percent). However, the overall MLB sample for Straily was not nearly as bad, as he induced a career double-digit swinging strike rate and owned a career K rate close to 20-percent (19.8). Even pitching in pitcher-friend Marlins Park in 2017 and 2018, Straily could not post a FIP under 4.50 or a SIERA under 4.40, so he is far from a sure thing. On DK specifically, Straily is priced like a scrub, whereas his price is not far off from the likes of Kingham on FD. The Wiz averaged the fifth most runs per game last year so they were the definition of an average offense. If Straily has anything left in the tank, this should be a league he can put up competitive numbers in once again.
It should be noted the Giants/Wiz game opened with a slate-high 9.0 run over/under but the prices on Despaigne/Straily still warrant playing them in both single-entry and GPP lineups on DK especially.
Opposing starter Cha Woo-chan (LG) is coming off a completely underwhelming 2019 in which he posted a 4.12 ERA and 1.43 in 29 appearances (and those numbers were significant improvements comparatively to 2018). Woo-chan is a 15-year KBO veteran so it is unlikely, at age 32, he is destined to show extreme improvement. At this point, Woo-chan is simply a below-average starting pitcher and matched up against an offense that average 5.11 R/G in 2019 (second most in the KBO). The Bears are led by the trio of Jae-il Oh (DOO), Jae-hwan Kim (DOO) and ex-Los Angeles Angel Jose Miguel Fernandez (DOO) who all hit 15-plus homers last season with batting averages (AVG) over .280. Fernandez originally came from the Cuban National Series (CNS) and was only given a 116 AB shot with the Angels. He was never a huge power hitter but rarely struck out with the Cuban league and has shown similar plate discipline and on-base ability in the KBO. If targeting the middle of the order, Fernandez will be a player to include in all stacks. If attempting to fade the Bears chalk, but still roster the team, targeting the bottom of the order always leads to some unique roster constructions.
After leading the league in R/G last season, the Kiwoom Heroes will begin their year facing off against Yang Hyun-jong (KIA) and the Kia Tigers. Byung-Ho Park (KIW) is the former powerful Twins DH/1B who hit 12 homers at the MLB level in 2016. Last year, Park led the league in homers as he blasted one once every 13.1 ABs (best in the league). By comparison, the average in the KBO last year was one homer per 48.5 ABs, or about twice the number as the MLB in 2019 (24.6). Park’s elite power was an absolute outlier and comes after he had averaged 49.3 homers per season in his previous three seasons combined. Right now, Park is the Barry Bonds of the Korean League and should be a player targeted most of the time (especially in cash games). Hyun-jong is a lefty so the Heroes righties are the preferable play even though it should be noted Hyun-jong is coming off by far the best season of his 12-year career (2.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP).
Ex-Phillie Aaron Altherr (NC) headlines the Dinos lineup that averaged a respectable 4.68 runs per game last year. To be fair, their lineup had included the likes of Jake Smolinski and Christian Bethancourt who appear to no longer be with the organization. Eui-ji Yang (NC) led the team in homers last year and slashed .354/.438/.574 in what was his second consecutive 20-plus homer season…and he is a catcher. Basically, consider him the Gary Sanchez/Yasmani Grandal of the KBO. Sok-min Park (NC) is the other top name to target in this lineup coming off a year where he launched 19 bombs to go along with a .393 OBP, .478 SLG and the second most fantasy points per game of any of the team’s hitters (10.4 DK per contest). The Dinos are one of two teams that has never won a KBO championship but that is obviously not of concern when talking about stacking a regular season game. Their main trio gives them quite a potent offense and they will take on a pitcher who has never posted a WHIP below 1.36 in a full season nor an ERA under 4.24.