Starting pitching carries Landers to KBO’s best record in early going

April 22, 2022

Just how important is starting pitching to a team’s success?

Given the way their season has gone so far, the SSG Landers would respond, “Very important.”

The Landers have jumped out to a 15-2 record in the early days of the 2022 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season, sitting pretty in first place by 4.5 games over the Doosan Bears. And the Landers’ starting rotation has accounted for 12 of those wins, by far more than any club this year. Their starters were responsible for 33 wins out of 66 in the entire 2021 season and the revamped staff this year is on pace to shatter that mark.

The Lotte Giants are next with seven wins from their starting pitchers this year. The Kia Tigers have had the fewest wins from the rotation with just one.

Starters like to talk about pitching deep into games, saving their bullpen and giving their team a chance to win as often as possible. SSG’s starters have done just that. Through Thursday’s action, they are the only team whose starters have logged over 100 innings combined, with the league-high 102 1/3 innings pitched.

That rotation also leads the KBO with a 2.02 ERA and an opponents’ on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .489.

They are more than 100 points better than the next team, the Kiwoom Heroes (.592), and the league average is .641.

No. 1 starter Wilmer Font has been lights out while going 2-1. He began the season by tossing nine perfect innings in a 10-inning victory on Opening Day on April 2. The Venezuelan right-hander has not yet allowed a hit against right-handed batters, holding them to 0-for-36 with one hit-by-pitch.

Font has an excellent 1.33 ERA after four starts but doesn’t even lead his rotation in that category. Kim Kwang-hyun, in his first season back with the club after two years with the St. Louis Cardinals, is tops with a 0.47 ERA. He has a perfect 3-0 record in three starts.

Ivan Nova, the third former major leaguer in the rotation, has contributed two victories. In the back end of the rotation, left-hander Oh Won-seok has a win, and right-hander Lee Tae-yang also chipped in a victory before moving to the bullpen.

The most surprising figure has been Noh Kyung-eun, the 38-year-old right-hander who was released by the Giants after last season. He has gone 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three starts.

In all, the Landers’ starters have combined for a league-best 11 quality starts, a designation given to an outing in which a starter throws at least six innings and holds the opponent to three or fewer earned runs.

With starters doing the heavy lifting, the Landers’ relievers have also held up their end of the bargain while throwing the second-fewest innings in the KBO at 50 2/3. Only the KT Wiz bullpen has eaten up fewer innings at 46, but the Wiz have played one fewer game than the Landers.

The Landers’ bullpen ERA of 3.20 is the third-best mark in the league, and their opponents’ OPS is the second-lowest at .635. The Landers are also the only team not to have blown a save opportunity this season.