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Checking in on the Quality of Defense in KBO

June 16, 2020
With MLB owners and players still in a stalemate, the Asian baseball leagues continue to hold the spotlight for baseball enthusiasts. For now it's just the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), but Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) starts later this week.

Over the last couple weeks we've talked about outstanding hitting and pitching performances, so it's only fair to start talking defense. That said, it isn't appropriate to draw conclusions about players defensively with teams not even having forty games under their belts. So we'll look at the results team- and league-wide instead.

When we calculate Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) for leagues other than MLB, we always use MLB as the basis for the calculation, essentially answering the question, "How well would these players perform compared to Major League players?" With that in mind, here is a rundown of the team DRS totals in KBO at roughly the quarter-pole.

Team DRS
NC Dinos -23
Kiwoom Heroes -31
SK Wyverns -39
Lotte Giants -46
LG Twins -51
Hanwha Eagles -55
Samsung Lions -57
KT Wiz -59
Doosan Bears -62
Kia Tigers -64


The NC Dinos top the leaderboard just as they lead the league with a
26-9 record so far. As we'd expect, none of the teams have performed better than the MLB average, but we might not have expected the extent of the difference. All but two teams have cost themselves more than one run per game defensively compared to an average MLB team.

Of course, all of the non-MLB levels might have numbers that look something like this. Let's take a look at how KBO in 2020 stacks up against the other levels that we tracked in 2019. Because these levels have different numbers of games tracked per season, we'll use a prorated calculation of DRS per team over 162 games (roughly what we'd expect over a full MLB season).

Team Defensive Runs Saved per 162 Game Season, by Level
2020 for KBO, 2019 for all other levels

Level DRS/162
AA -113
NPB -117
A -143
A+ -156
AAA -178
KBO -223

Acknowledging that we're looking at a quarter of a season of KBO data, it looks like the defense in that league is comparable to the lower end of the minor leagues. That might feel a bit low considering that players do transition from KBO to MLB successfully on occasion, but with so few players moving between the leagues it's hard to determine what we should expect. After all, Triple-A defense was worse on average than Single-A and High-A last season, so this isn't a simple sliding scale.

We'll keep an eye on this and other defensive results as we get closer to a full season of data coming out of Korea.



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