KBO’s Park Byung-ho, Thames on verge of historic marks

September 15, 2015
Park Byung-ho, first baseman of the Nexen Heroes  hit 52 home runs last season. (Yonhap)

Park Byung-ho, first baseman of the Nexen Heroes hit 52 home runs last season and could be the first to break 50 in back-to-back KBO seasons. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, Sept. 14 (Yonhap) — The two most feared premier sluggers in South Korean baseball are on the verge of historic marks in what has already been an outstanding offensive year.

Thanks to some video game numbers, Eric Thames of the NC Dinos and Park Byung-ho of the Nexen Heroes are the leading MVP candidates in the 2015 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) League season. And they are about to do what no one has done in the league’s 33-year history.

Thames, in his second season with the Dinos after stints with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, sits four steals away from becoming the first KBO player with at least 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in one season.

Through Sunday’s action, Thames had 41 home runs and 36 steals, his last base swipe coming last Friday. His manager, Kim Kyung-moon, has expressed his reservations about Thames’ base-stealing ways, saying he didn’t want his slugger to get hurt trying to go for the milestone.

It hasn’t kept Thames from running; he has been caught just once in five attempts this month. The Dinos have 16 games remaining.

This week, the Dinos will face the KT Wiz for two games starting Tuesday and then the Hanwha Eagles for the next two days. The Dinos will then have two days off before taking on the Heroes on Sunday and next Monday.

The Eagles have allowed the KBO-worst 150 steals this season and have thrown out only 28 percent of the runners, also the lowest rate in the league.

Only four players have pulled off a 40-40 season in Major League Baseball: Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006).

A 40-40 season for Thames would go a long way toward helping his MVP case. He is currently leading the KBO League in batting average (.379), on-base percentage (.495), slugging percentage (.787) and extra-base hits (85). He’s second in RBIs (123) and runs scored (116), while his 41 homers put him in third place and 36 steals rank him fifth.

Thames has already put himself in the record books this year, after becoming the first KBO player to hit for the cycle twice in one season last month.

Park, the MVP in 2012 and 2013, has 48 home runs, 135 RBIs and 119 runs scored to lead the KBO League.

In the long-ball department, Park is chasing two pieces of history: he can become the first player to lead the KBO in homers for four consecutive seasons, and also the first one to hit 50 or more home runs in back-to-back seasons.

Park has raised his home run total from 31 to 37 and to 52 over the past three seasons. Only one other player, Lee Seung-yuop of the Samsung Lions, has had two 50-homer seasons, but he didn’t do so in consecutive seasons. Lee had 54 in 1999 and then established the KBO’s single-season record with 56 in 2003.

The Heroes will start their week Wednesday against the LG Twins. After two days off, the Heroes will play LG again on Saturday and then the Dinos on Sunday and next Monday.

Though the Twins are only ninth among the 10 clubs at 56-73 with two ties, they have been the stingiest team this season in home runs, having allowed 118 in 131 games. The Dinos have served up 128 home runs in 128 games but have the league’s lowest ERA with 4.38.

Though reaching 50 homers seems to be a foregone conclusion for Park, breaking Lee’s single-season record could be a long shot, as the Heroes only have 14 games remaining.