How will Korean players fare in the 2015 MLB postseason?

October 6, 2015
From left, Houston Astros catcher Hank Conger, Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo and New York Yankees second baseman Robert Refsnyder. (AP Photos)

From left, Houston Astros catcher Hank Conger, Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo and New York Yankees second baseman Robert Refsnyder. (AP Photos)

By Brian Han

The Major League Baseball postseason is upon us, and the magic of October will be in full swing beginning Tuesday with the American League wild-card game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees.

As always the playoffs will feature many of the best talents in the game. This year, that group includes three players of Korean heritage.

Texas Rangers outfielder Choo Shin-soo will make his second career playoff appearance. The 11-year veteran only got a taste of postseason in 2013 during his single season with the Cincinnati Reds.

During the single elimination National League wild-card game, Choo hit a home run in the bottom of the eighth becoming the first ever South Korean player to hit a long ball in the playoffs. But it wasn’t enough as the Reds fell 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This year he won’t have to face any of the wild-card drama as he makes his first-ever divisional series playoff game appearance.

The 33-year-old has momentum on his side. After a dismal first half in which he only batted .221 after coming off an ankle and elbow surgery in the offseason, he sprung back with a .347 average after the All-Star break to help the Texas Rangers claim the AL West Division Championship.

He could very well carry that success into the Rangers’ first match up against the Toronto Blue Jays.

As a left-handed hitter, Choo naturally excels at hitting right handed pitchers and struggles with lefties. His career averages are .300 and .241, respectively. He’s hitting almost exactly those same numbers (.299, .238) in 2015, which speaks volumes to his consistency, but it still doesn’t negate the fact that there is a 60 point disparity between the splits.

Luckily, the odds are on his side. Choo is 6-for-19 (.316) against one of the league’s best left handers who also happens to be the Blue Jays’ ace, David Price.

The rest of the starters he will face are all right handed. The South Korean seems to mash the trickiest of pitchers including Blue Jays’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Choo holds a .364 career average in 11 at-bats against him.

Going back to the Astros’ and Yankees’ Bronx showdown, the wild-card game could feature two Korean American players.

The first is catcher Hank Conger who is in his first year with the very young and talented Astros team.

The 27-year-old is having the best year of his career, exceeding his previous season bests with a .229 average and 11 home runs in the 2015 regular season, which included his first two grand slams.

But ever since starting catcher Jason Castro came back from a DL stint, Conger has been seeing less and less playing time. In fact, he only started in one of the last 15 games while making a single plate appearance in two other games over that same period.

To top it all off, he has very little exposure to the Yankees’ pitching staff, and the numbers he has put together so far come out to a .182 average in 11 at-bats.

Castro’s numbers aren’t much better. He’s never gotten a hit of Yankees’ ace Masahiro Tanaka who he might face on Tuesday if he does start. For Astros’ Manager A.J. Hinch, it may come down to who can provide better leadership and defense from behind the plate.

Lastly, there’s rookie Robert Refsnyder. The Yankees confirmed that he will be on the 25-man active roster for the playoffs. The Seoul-born Korean adoptee has shown a glimpse of his power with his two home runs in just 43 major league at-bats. With a .302 average, Manager Joe Girardi knows that he can handle a bat, but his weaknesses lie in his lack of experience.

Not only has he played in only 16 games, he’s an outfielder-turned-second-baseman which had him pegged as a defensive liability especially early in his Triple-A career when he made five errors in his first nine games of the 2013 season.

He’s shown a steady improvement and reduced his error total by more than 50 percent in 2014. Refsnyder should be a viable option to replace Stephen Drew who is still working through a concussion.

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