After reaching the final of the Asian Professional Baseball Championship (APBC) 2023, South Korea will be led by right-handed ace Kwak-Bin Kwak (Doosan Bears).
Kwak will take the mound for the final against Japan at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan, on Nov. 19.
It’s a chance for the Koreans to avenge their 1-2 loss in the second game of the preliminary round on Sept. 17, while also avenging their 2017 invitational final loss.
After turning pro in 2018, Kwak went 12-7 with a 2.90 ERA in 23 regular-season appearances in 2023, the first time in his career he earned double-digit wins in a season.
With a fastball in the high 100s of miles per hour and a mix of curveballs, changeups, and sliders, Kwak has established himself as one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the KBO.
On a personal level, Kwak-Bin is looking to erase the disappointment of missing out on the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March and the Hangzhou Asian Games in October.
At the WBC, where he first wore the Korean flag, Kwak struggled in relief in two games against Japan and the Czech Republic, giving up three runs on four hits in two innings.
At the Hangzhou Asian Games, he didn’t play a single game before his team’s first group game against Hong Kong due to biliousness in his back.
“I didn’t pitch well at the WBC, but I want to pitch well this time and be recognized as an international player,” Kwak said after the game against Chinese Taipei on Aug. 18. “I will overcome the pressure and do my best to pitch.”
“I had a good experience at the Asian Games, so I hope I can use that momentum and do well again to win,” she said.
Regarding the Japanese batting lineup, he laughed and said, “They hit well from 1 to 9,” and added, “They are great batters, so I will try to push myself to my limits.”
“Kwak Bin is a right-handed Korean ace,” said Ryu Jung-il, the Korean national team manager, “and his changeup is the key. I hope he pitches well in the final.”
The Japanese starter Kwak will have to overcome is “wild card” right-hander Tatsuya Imai (25-Seibu Lions).
The sixth-year Imai pitched 19 games and 133 innings in 2023, posting a career-high 10-5 record with 130 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA. His career record is 38-32 with a 3.69 ERA.
Imai throws a fastball that tops out at 95 miles per hour, along with a changeup, slider, and curveball. He also recently added a fastball that has a similar trajectory to his slider, but with a quicker cut.
His strikeout rate is high, which is something the South Korean team will look to capitalize on.
Imai walked 61 batters this season (4.13 per nine innings), the most in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).
“I’m curious to see how our hitters will handle him,” said Ryu Jung-il, “I’ve been watching Imai’s videos. I will think of a strategy.” 파워볼