After playing four seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball with the Orix Buffaloes and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, and one season in Major League Baseball with the Seattle Mariners, first baseman Lee Dae-ho signed a deal with the Lotte Giants to return to the Korean Baseball Organization for the 2017 season.
For the Giants, the signing was a return of the prodigal son. Lee played his first 11 professional seasons, from 2001 to 2011, with the Giants, and is originally from the team’s Busan area.
The addition of Lee, who has over 340 professional home runs, also meant adding another impact bat to an already threatening lineup that includes left fielder Kim Moon-ho, right fielder Son Ah-seop and designated hitter Choi Jun-seok.
Lotte Giants designated hitter Choi Joon-seok at bat against the LG Twins in a game on June 28, 2017. (Yonhap)
For much of the first half of the season, the lineup produced as anticipated. Kim, Son and center fielder Jeon Jun-woo got on base at the top of the lineup, and Lee and Choi, hitting in the middle of the order, drove them in.
There was, however, one issue. Both Lee and Choi are sluggers in the traditional mold, meaning they spray power hits all over the field, but are cumbersome on the base paths. When both hitters slumped midseason, and began to hit too many balls on the ground, the Giants’ rallies were snuffed left and right by inning-ending double plays. As of July 19, the two ranked second and third in the league in grounding into double plays, with Choi at 18 and Lee at 16.
The team attempted to solve the problem just before the All-Star Game break by adapting the lineup to put distance between the two sluggers. However this led to an overall decrease in offense, and the team quickly canceled the experiment.
Now the team has another problem: Choi is slumping again. He is hitless in the second half so far, and is a mere 1-for-21 (.048) in his last 10 games.
His continued struggles present the Giants with a dilemma; if Choi does not return to form quickly, they may be forced to send him to the minors to figure out his swing.
Both Choi, who is a free agent after the season, and the Giants, who sit at seventh place among the 10 teams in the KBO standings, would benefit greatly if Choi returned to his old 30-home run, 100-RBI form.
By Alex Park / Intern reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)