SPORTS

Baseball closer finds own success 'mysterious'

By a2016032
  • Published : May 24, 2017 - 11:48
  • Updated : May 24, 2017 - 11:48

NC Dinos' right-hander Lim Chang-min has been the steadiest closer in South Korean baseball this year, but don't bother asking him how he's getting it done.

In 21 appearances, Lim has 14 saves to lead the Korea Baseball Organization. The 31-year-old also boasts a 1.17 ERA, second only to Kim Jae-yoon of the KT Wiz, who has yet to give up an earned run in 12 2/3 innings.

In this file photo taken on March 31, 2017, Lim Chang-min (R), closer for the NC Dinos, high-fives his catcher Kim Tae-gun after getting a save against the Lotte Giants in a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Masan Stadium in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap)

And Lim and Kim are the only two closers who have not yet blown a save in 2017.

Kim is a more of a prototypical closer who can overpower hitters. Lim, though, is not a flamethrower, with his average fastball speed at 142.3 km/h (88.4 mph).

Lim mixes in sliders, splitters and curves, but doesn't have a defining "out pitch" like some other closers.

And the KBO hitters still haven't figured him out. He has struck out 26 in 23 innings, the opponents are batting just .159 against him, compared to the league average of .274.

"I actually find all this mysterious myself," Lim said Tuesday before the Dinos' game against the Nexen Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. "I often wonder how the hitters swing and miss on some of the pitches I throw."

And Lim has even looked up some numbers, and even they don't paint a clear picture for him.

"I checked out some statistics site, and I had a better swinging strike rate on fastballs than pitchers who had better spin rates," Lim said. "I am sure there must be reasons (for my success) but I just don't know them yet."

That Lim has great command of all pitches -- the ability to put them anywhere he wants, depending on the hitters' weak spots -- certainly helps.

"From the hitters' perspective, there are certain pitches at certain counts that they absolutely have to hit, or they'll get nothing else in that at-bat," Lim said. "And I take my risks. And if they foul off or miss those pitches, then I get the huge upper hand."

Lim said he usually has two types of game plans for save situations. He will either try to retire the side and make quick work. But if he is up against the middle of the opposing lineup, he will avoid giving them much to hit and risk putting men on base, and then try to finish the game against the bottom part of the order.

And like all successful pitchers, Lim is an industrious student of the game and opposing hitters. And he's most careful against unfamiliar players because he simply doesn't have enough data to break down their weaknesses and tendencies beforehand.

In recent years, Lim has gone from a middle reliever to a top-level closer. He had 31 saves with a 3.80 ERA in 2015, his first as a full-time closer, and then recorded 26 saves with a 2.57 ERA the following season.

Lim recalled how stressed out he was early in his closing stint but he's gotten used to the demands of the job.

"It's such an intense assignment, and I dealt with headaches and insomnia earlier," he said. "But I guess I've grown into the job. I am not stressed out as much."

But that type of stress is actually beneficial to athletes, Lim opined.

"I think baseball is a sport where you will get better the more you worry about your performance," Lim said. "Even if you're naturally gifted, you won't take the next step unless you keep worrying about how to get better." (Yonhap)