Understanding Ex-MLB pitcher Noesi‘s sudden KBO dominance

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 18, 2017 - 16:04
  • Updated : Jul 18, 2017 - 16:04
Kia Tigers pitcher Hector Noesi delivers a pitch against the NC Dinos in a game on July 11, 2017. (Yonhap)
After a season and a half in the Korean Baseball Organization, Hector Noesi has become a bonafide star as the ace of the first place Kia Tigers. Noesi has won his last 15 decisions, a KBO record, and is on pace to break the KBO single season record for wins by a foreign-born pitcher.

With all this success, one would be easily forgiven for thinking this Hector Noesi is a different player than the one who pitched five seasons in Major League Baseball from 2011-2015. That Hector Noesi was a failed prospect and journeyman who struggled to crack the starting rotation with four different teams.

Statistics retrieved from Fangraphs, STATIZ

But despite the stark difference in performance, much of what characterizes Noesi as a pitcher has stayed constant throughout his career. His pitch arsenal -- Fastball, slider, curve, changeup, sinker -- has been the same since his major league debut in 2011. The pitches themselves have mostly stayed the same, both velocity-wise and movement-wise.

In the MLB, Noesi was known as a flyball pitcher who did not strike out many batters. These characteristics too, have not changed. He averaged 6.35 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched in the MLB, and his KBO K/9 is nearly identical, at 6.29. He pitched to a 40.7% flyball rate in the MLB, and his KBO flyball rate has been a similar 44.6%.

So what has changed?

Two things -- Control and contact management. 

Statistics retrieved from Fangraphs, STATIZ

First, Noesi’s walk rate is way down, by over a batter per 9 innings. Secondly, as a flyball pitcher, Noesi has worsened the kind of contact he has allowed, suppressing home runs almost entirely, and dramatically increasing his infield fly rate. What’s driving this sudden increase in control and contact management? It seems Noesi has made a mechanical change in his pitching motion.
The picture above shows two Noesi follow-throughs, one from his time on the Chicago White Sox in 2014, and one after joining Kia in 2016. The difference in positions is clear -- Where Noesi’s MLB motion was more vigorous, finishing with his torso nearly parallel to the ground, his KBO motion is more relaxed, with an upright head position and slanted torso.

It appears that the more relaxed pitching motion has allowed Noesi to locate his pitches better, a change that has paid massive dividends for both him and his team, the Kia Tigers, who are currently chasing the KBO single season wins record.

By Alex Park / Intern reporter (