A time-worn baseball adage says pitching and defense win championships.
Kim In-sik, the former South Korean manager of two World Baseball Classic (WBC) tournaments, said Wednesday that pitching will be crucial for South Korea at the third WBC scheduled for March 2-19.
"Comparing this roster to the national teams of the previous two WBCs, I don't see much difference in offense and fielding," Kim said. "I think it will ultimately come down to pitching."
Kim managed South Korea to the semifinals at the inaugural 2006 WBC and then led the team to the final at the 2009 championship where South Korea lost to Japan 5-3 in 10 innings. The 65-year-old will not be the manager at this year's tournament. Instead, as the technical director for the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), the governing body of professional baseball here, he was involved with selecting players for the roster.
Building a national team is a tough job, one that was made even harder this year. Choo Shin-soo of the Cincinnati Reds and pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the country's only two Major League Baseball (MLB) players, pulled out, citing commitments to their big league clubs for spring training. Others, such as Kim Kwang-hyun of the SK Wyverns and Bong Jung-keun of the LG Twins, both star left-handed pitchers in the KBO and integral members of the previous WBC teams, withdrew because of injuries.
In all, five pitchers have been replaced from the provisional roster announced on Nov. 12.
"We lost important left-handers like Ryu Hyun-jin, Kim Kwang-hyun and Bong Jung-keun, and that really put us in a tough spot when we were trying to complete our pitching staff," Kim In-sik said. "Our bullpen will hold the key."
The current pitching staff has 13 players, including four southpaws. Of them, Kim said Jang Won-sam of the KBO's Samsung Lions will be an important figure.
Jang, 29, led the KBO in 2012 with a career-high 17 wins and earned his first Golden Glove, helping the Lions win their second straight KBO championship. Though not overpowering, Jang is known for his control and recently added the changeup to his arsenal.
Kim In-sik noted that Jang brings some international experience as a member of the gold medal-winning South Korean team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and that the versatile lefty can both start and make relief appearances as necessary.
Among other pitchers, Kim pointed to Noh Kyung-eun, the late-blooming right-hander of the Doosan Bears. The 28-year-old won a career-best 12 games and finished second in the league with a
2.53 ERA in 2012, which was his eighth KBO season. Noh can reach 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour) with his fastball, and can also throw slider, fork and curve.
"He doesn't have great control, but all of his pitches have a lot of late movements," Kim said. "That will work to his advantage against hitters who will be facing him for the first time."
In the opening round, South Korea has been paired with Taiwan, Australia and the Netherlands in Pool B. Their games will all take place at Taichung International Baseball Stadium in Taiwan.
The top two teams from the pool will advance to the second round, which will be played at Tokyo Dome in Japan. They will take on the top two teams from Pool A, and potential opponents are Japan, the two-time defending WBC champion, and Cuba, a perennial international baseball power.
South Korean players will open their training camp in Taiwan on Feb. 12. (Yonhap News)