Former Big Leaguers Playing Abroad: KBO Pitcher Roundup


It’s always fun to keep an eye on familiar players who’ve taken their talents across the pond. Now that the 2019 season is in the books, it seemed an opportune time to check in. Numerous former big leaguers are playing abroad, many of them thriving in Asia’s top leagues.
We’ve seen foreign stints help spur big league revivals from quite a few players. Eric Thames, Miles Mikolas, and Chris Martin are among those that played significant roles in the 2019 MLB campaign. Whether any of the players covered below will do so remains to be seen, but there’s certainly a path.
We started by looking at position players in the Korea Baseball Organization, the top league in South Korea. Remember, teams in the KBO and other leagues face limits on the number of non-native players they can employ. That creates a lot of pressure to secure big production from those roster spots, and often spurs mid-season change.
Now, we’ll check in on KBO’s hurlers. (Statistics courtesy of the always excellent MyKBO.)

The LG Twins made out like bandits with Tyler Wilson and Casey Kelly. The former, who once had a three-season run with the Orioles, spun 185 frames of 2.92 ERA ball in his second strong KBO effort. The latter, a former first-round pick and veteran of four MLB campaigns, was even more effective, with a 2.55 ERA in his 180 1/3 innings despite a less-than-impressive 126:41 K/BB ratio.
But neither of those hurlers took the foreign hurler ERA crown. That went to Josh Lindblom of the Doosan Bears, who has carved out a prominent career in Korea and was at his finest in 2019. Over 194 2/3 frames, he worked to a 2.50 ERA with 189 strikeouts against just 29 free passes. Doosan’s other out-of-town pitcher, Seth Frankoff (a one-appearance MLB veteran), spun 117 1/3 frames of 3.61 ERA ball.
Righty Angel Sanchez pitched great for the SK Wyverns in his second season with the club. The former Pirates hurler sported a 2.62 ERA in 165 innings. Teammate Henry Sosa, a former Astro turned KBO stalwart, threw 94 1/3 frames of 3.82 ERA ball. Another strong combination was formed by the Kiwoom (formerly Nexen) Heroes. Eric Jokisch posted a 3.13 ERA in thirty starts while Jake Brigham went for a 2.96 mark in 28 outings.
The Hanwha Eagles also got a nice 1-2 effort from a pair of former (Detroit) Tigers hurlers. Righty Warwick Saupold went for 192 1/3 innings of 3.51 ERA pitching, while southpaw Chad Bell notched a 3.50 ERA in his 177 1/3 frames of work. Another duo — Athletics alum Raul Alcantara and former Red Sox/Tigers hurler William Cuevas — was solid but unexceptional with the KT Wiz. The former worked to a 4.01 ERA while the latter checked in at 3.62 earned per nine.
The NC Dinos received strong output from right-hander Drew Rucinski, who was pitching his first season in the KBO after jumping around with several MLB organizations in recent years. He logged 177 1/3 innings of 3.05 ERA ball. Eddie Butler lost his spot with the Dinos after 13 marginal outings, with the club replacing him with fellow former Rockies hurler Christian Friedrich. The new southpaw proved a better fit, working to a 2.75 ERA over 72 frames over a dozen starts after being plucked from the indy ball ranks.
The Samsung Lions parted ways with Justin Haley and Deck McGuire after watching them combine for forty starts with more than five earned per nine. Fellow righty Ben Lively was better after he came over, throwing 57 innings with a 3.95 ERA and 58 strikeouts.
The KIA Tigers struggled to get consistent results from their foreign hurlers. Former MLB righties Jacob Turner (5.46 ERA in 153 1/3 innings) and Joe Wieland (4.75 ERA in 165 innings) both disappointed.
Likewise, Jake Thompson failed to make good on his chance with the Lotte Giants, providing them 62 2/3 innings of 4.74 ERA ball before he was cut loose. Lotte received better work from Brooks Raley (181 innings, 3.88 ERA) and Brock Dykxhoorn (149 1/3 innings, 4.34 ERA).

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