It was a foregone conclusion, but we couldn’t stop it. The result was a last-place humiliation in the first half.
The Samsung Lions lost 1-5 at home to the Doosan Bears on June 6 at Pohang Baseball Stadium. After dropping all three games in the “promised land” of Pohang, Samsung is now 28-48 on the season with a .368 winning percentage. The gap to the ninth-place Hanwha Eagles (32-39-4, 0.451 winning percentage) has grown to 6.5 games. Even if Samsung wins all of its remaining games in the first half and Hanwha loses all of its games, the standings won’t change. Samsung’s last place finish in the first half would be confirmed.
There are many reasons for Samsung’s fall to the bottom of the standings, but the biggest one is their increasingly weak bullpen. This season, their bullpen ranks last in ERA (5.10) and has a bullpen WAR (wins above replacement) of -0.40 per STATIZ, the only negative value among the 10 teams. They’ve also been blown out 23 times, a far cry from the second-place KIA Tigers (17).
In fact, the bullpen disaster was predicted before the season. Last year, the Samsung bullpen ranked ninth with a WAR of 4.30, just ahead of last-place Hanwha (4.10), and was third in blown saves (21). Closers Oh Seung-hwan (6-2, 31 saves, 2.32 ERA, 1.69 WAR) and Woo Kyu-min (4-3, 1 save, 16 saves, 3.26 ERA, 1.07 WAR) kept the bullpen afloat.
Despite the uneasiness, Samsung didn’t make any moves at the last Stobrig. They sat on the sidelines as other teams signed free agents and brought in released players to bolster their depth. Despite holding some good trade cards at the catcher position, they had the guts to close the door early.
Once the season started, my fears were realized. With veterans Oh Seung-hwan and Woo Kyu-min faltering without a centerpiece, the bullpen collapsed as it always does when the aging curve hits. To put out the fire, the team added a rookie designation to Lee Won-seok and acquired Kim Tae-hoon from the Kiwoom Heroes, but it only added fuel to the fire (Kim is 1-3 with a 7.77 ERA in 26 games with two saves and two holds).
To make matters worse, the team also has a hole at third base with Lee Won-seok out. Currently, Samsung’s batting WAR at the third base position is -1.11, the worst among the 10 clubs and the third-worst in KBO history (1st place, 1996 Hyundai Unicorns -1.49 / 2nd place, 1987 MBC Cheongryong -1.22). The stopgap measure of taking the bottom stone and adding the top stone has produced the worst results 꽁머니지급.
Having accepted the humiliation of finishing last in the first half of the season, Samsung’s outlook for the second half is even bleaker. With the second team sitting at the bottom of the Futures South League, it’s hard to find anyone who can bolster the first team’s depth. Even if Oh Jae-il returns from injury, it’s unclear how much form he’ll be able to muster, as his batting average is at the bottom of the league (0.183). In the end, the team will have to rely on its existing first-team players to step up and make trades to bolster its lineup.
Samsung recently made a move to bolster its relatively thin infield with a trade that sent Kim Tae-gun to KIA for all-weather infielder Ryu Ji-hyuk. It will be interesting to see what changes Samsung will try to make to avoid the humiliation of a first-place finish.