Foreign Players Giving Teams Headaches

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An article at Sportsworld discusses the subject of poor foreign pitcher performance this season. Here is a translation, followed by comments below.

Foreign Players Giving Teams Headaches

In the fight for pro baseball league standings, a new variable has emerged. Foreign players are expected to make a considerable contribution to teams’ success. However, many teams are beginning to suffer due to poor mercenary performance.

The team with the biggest worries is Doosan. Dustin Nippert is meeting expectations as the team ace, but left-hander Garrett Olson has suffered from injuries. His recovery has been sluggish and he has not shown one solid performance this season. He has a record of 1 win – 1 loss after appearing in 9 games this season, with an ERA of 6.38. Above all, his inability to stay in games past the 5th inning has hurt the team. The Olson situation is one of the reasons that Doosan has not been able to reach the upper half of the league standings.

League-leading Samsung is also worrying about their mercenaries. So far Rick VandenHurk and Aneury Rodriguez only have 6 wins between them. After complaining of elbow pain on July 4th, Rodrugiez has been sent to the minors. Last year Mitch Talbot and Brian Gordon combined for 25 wins, but it seems unlikely that Samsung’s current crop of foreigners will come anywhere near that total. This year KIA entrusted their closing duties to Anthony Lerew. He racked up 20 saves, good enough for second in the league, but he has recently experienced a major slump. Manager Sun Dong-Yeol was forced to send him to the minors.

SK’s duo of Chris Seddon and Jo-Jo Reyes pitched very well at the beginning of the season, but recently both have been faltering. Seddon has 7 wins, 5 losses and an ERA of 2.50 which seem like good enough numbers, but his last few starts have been worrying, including giving up 5 runs in 6 innings against KIA on July 2. Reyes has 6 wins, 8 losses, and an ERA of 4.39. Reyes has been inconsistent, with some good starts combined with some very bad ones.

Last year Brandon Knight and Andy Van Hekken were pillars of the Nexen team. Knight finished 2012 with 16 wins, 4 losses, and an ERA of 2.20. So far this year Knight is 5-6 with an ERA of 4.42. Van Hekken has started 6 games since June 1st, with poor results of 1 win, 3 losses and and ERA of 8.16 in this time period. LG lefty Ben Jukich has not performed well, spending some time in the minors. Hanwha’s Dana Eveland and Denny Bautista have also been unable to meet expectations.

At least there are 2 teams that seem to be happy with their mercenary pitchers, Lotte and NC. Lotte’s Shane Youman looks about the same as last year, and late addition Chris Oxspring has pitched very well, allowing their team to reach 4th place. NC’s mercenary trio of Charlie Shirek, Adam Wilk, and Eric Hacker have given NC a strong starting rotation.

A few comments:

  • I would like to talk a little about the use of the term mercenary. This is a direct translation of the Korean term "용병" which is often used by both fans and media to refer to foreign players. In my mind, this has at least some negative connotation. A more neutrul term is "외국인 선수" which literally means foreign player. The above translated article actually uses both terms in different places, and I kept them the same in the translation. 
  • A recent Korea Times article mentions the term mercenary and some other issues that foreign players face in Korea.
  • It's obvious that these guys are under a lot of pressure. With only 2 roster spots for foreigners and the high salaries that they earn, teams have very high expectations. They are expected to be among the best players on the team. They can't waste an opening on a player who is injured or not playing well. I would assume that most foreign players are well aware of this when they make the decision to come play in Korea.
  • It's difficult to remember a season where so many foreign players have struggled as much as this one. Is it just bad luck? Or has Korean baseball improved to the point where the talent level of foreign players that Korean teams typically recruit is no longer enough?