Shock therapy doesn’t work… How a perfect championship team became a completely different team in a year
SSG Landers is in total disarray. That’s the thing about baseball. Once you start to get tangled up, you can’t find a single upside, and once you start to untangle, it seems like you’ll be able to win again. But watching SSG play baseball lately, it’s hard to win and too easy to lose. There is no sense of power on the field to overwhelm the opposition.
This is a team that was clearly a complete unit. They have almost all the same starters from last year and this year, and they haven’t changed much, but the results are different. SSG, who were in sole possession of the lead at the beginning of the season, are now in third place. They are 7.5 games behind first-place LG and 1.5 games behind fourth-place KIA. In the first half of the season, they were second with a winning percentage of 0.590 (46 wins, 1 draw, 32 losses), but in the second half, they are only sixth with a winning percentage of 0.424 (14 wins, 19 losses).
▶The absence of an ‘ace’. Where did it go wrong?
The team ERA is 4.37, 9th out of 10, and the starting pitching staff is last at 4.47. The team has given up 85 home runs, the second most in the league, and 482 strikeouts, the most in the league. Unsurprisingly, their WHIP (walks allowed per inning) is also last at 1.53.
The data isn’t everything, but it does tell us a lot. The underlying problem for SSG all season has been the lack of an ‘ace’. Last year, that role was filled by Wilmer Font. Font was clearly a pitcher who could deliver an “ace” performance when the team needed it. The definition of an “ace” is not a quality start (6 innings, 3 earned runs or less); it’s more about holding teams to fewer runs for more innings, and this year’s SSG was off to a rocky start. 안전놀이터
Font’s re-signing was canceled as he tried out for the major leagues, and we had to replace all three of our foreign players. However, Ennie Romero, who we had hoped would take over the starting role, was released with an injury before pitching a single game, and we brought in a replacement.
Kirk McCarty, who has been with the team since camp, and Romero’s replacement, Roenis Elias, are clearly good pitchers. Their demeanor on the team, their performance on the mound. But they are not “ace” pitchers. Add to that the fact that Kim Kwang-hyun hasn’t been able to pitch consistently this season due to a combination of factors, and SSG doesn’t have a clear “ace” right now. Even though there are losing streaks, winning streaks are rare.
The light and shadow of the KBO’s oldest team
SSG is the oldest team in the KBO, with an average age of 28.9 years old, and the oldest player in the league, Choo Shin-soo, is a member of SSG. The team has four players in their 40s (traditional Korean age), including Kim Kang-min, Ko Hyo-joon, and Noh Kyung-eun, and surprisingly, they are still the mainstays.
While it’s true that Shin-soo Choo’s batting performance hasn’t been as good as it could have been, it’s hard to replace a leadoff man with a nearly 4% walk rate. In addition, Ko Hyo-joon and Noh Kyung-eun are still the core of the bullpen. No other pitcher in their 20s has a more reliable delivery.
It’s not that the 40-somethings are being forced to take chances; it’s that the prospects aren’t developing enough to push them out of the way. It’s not that the opportunity hasn’t been there, it’s just that no one has taken advantage of it. Even players in their 20s, such as Oh Won-seok, Choi Ji-hoon, and Park Sung, who were once considered mainstays, have performed below the club’s expectations. In fact, only Seo Jin-yong, the closer, is performing above expectations among the main players.
▶Salary cap traps…multi-year contracts and miscalculated free agency
It’s not like they were sitting on their hands. The salary cap was scheduled to be introduced this year, right after the championship, and SSG made long-term plans by signing Choo Shin-soo and Kim Kwang-hyun to join the team and signing multi-year contracts with Hanyusum Moon Seung-won and Jong-hoon Park in advance. The tight salary cap due to the large number of high-paid players was also addressed by being selective and focused in free agency.
However, it ended up making a miscalculation. The players who signed multi-year contracts have become a sore thumb for the clubs, and the free agency strategy has been criticized for failing to address weaknesses at the position.
SSG proved last year that ‘investment=performance’ with the best player treatment in the league and the support of a fiery parent company, but this year, they are suffering from the side effects of the overall ups and downs.
▶No more shocks
SSG sent the main pitching coach and hitting coach of the first team to the second team on the last three days, but it has been criticized that it is only a change of atmosphere and not a fundamental solution.
On the first day of the coaching change, SSG lost 6-8 despite hitting three home runs. Four straight losses in a row. The players are clearly motivated and determined to break the streak somehow, but the results are completely different.
It’s no longer about winning the championship for the second year in a row, but about getting back on track and not falling into a worse place. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous now, as the first half of the season was characterized by a sense of confidence that we could easily reclaim the top spot if we could just get on a winning streak.
The team may have a different name, but Landers still remembers the shock of the 2019 Wyverns. It’s back to building for the long haul.