Na Seong-beom is out for the season, and he hasn’t even been able to develop a slugger… KIA returns to the past, will it pay the price for failing to do its homework?

 KIA’s team batting average in 2021 was 0.248, ranking 9th in the league, below the league average (.260). It didn’t hit me well, and I couldn’t even hit it far. KIA had only 66 team home runs in all of 2021. As a result, the team OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) was 0.673, the lowest in the league.

I couldn’t stay still. It moved with ‘two tracks’. It took time to develop a slugger. We needed a player to use right away. Coincidentally, there was an optimal listing in the free agent market. It was Na Seong-beom (34), a left-handed hitter representing the league. His career batting average in the KBO League was .300, and he had three 30 home run seasons, including hitting 34 home runs in 2020, and seven seasons with 20 or more home runs. He was a hitter with both accuracy and slugging power.

The club enthusiastically supported the scene. There was money. I went ahead without hesitation. KIA uniforms were provided for a total of 15 billion won over 6 years (12 billion won guaranteed and 3 billion won optional). First of all, we have secured a player who can provide weight in the central batting lineup. But KIA shouldn’t have let this end. Na Seong-beom was a player in his late 30s when his six-year contract ended. It was clear that the record would gradually fall. It was necessary to develop a heavy hitter to succeed Na Seong-beom.

So, since last year, KIA has been keeping an eye on players who can ‘hit far’, led by Hwang Dae-in and Kim Seok-hwan. This was especially true for right-handed heavy hitter options. Ahead of this season, right-handed slugger Byun Woo-hyuk was recruited through a trade with Hanwha. In this way, fostering heavy artillery was KIA’s long-cherished wish.

As of September 20th, KIA has neither. Na Seong-beom, who only started the season this year on June 23rd due to a left calf injury, collapsed again. This time it’s the right hamstring. He was injured during the 8th inning against LG in Gwangju on the 19th. He didn’t think it was such a serious injury until he was replaced, but when he got a checkup, he was diagnosed with a hamstring injury. Rehabilitation alone takes 10 to 12 weeks. Most teams tend to allow a generous departure period. But no matter how you look at it, this is a season out.

Na Seong-beom, who came to the plate in the 8th inning when the team was down 1-4 and had a chance to hit second and third base with no outs, hit a timely hit to right-center, giving the team an additional point. Since they were fast runners (Choi Won-joon and Kim Do-young), they had plenty of chances to get into the groove. Afterwards, Na Seong-beom, who went to second base due to a wild pitch during Choi Hyeong-woo’s at-bat, started running toward third base when Kim Seon-bin hit a fly ball to right field. It wasn’t a good situation, so I slid into third base, but immediately afterward, I felt something was wrong. He was immediately replaced by pinch runner Lee Woo-seong. This was Na Seong-beom’s last scene this year.

Na Seong-beom was not healthy this year. But he’s proven that as long as he’s healthy, he’s still one of the league’s best hitters. He only hit 18 home runs in 58 games this season. This was not much different from the number of home runs (21) in 144 games last year. Although he fell far short of the required at-bats, he still had 253 at-bats and had a very high batting average of 0.365. OPS is 1.098. KIA coach Kim Jong-guk’s statement on the 19th, “If the season had started from the beginning, he would have been at MVP pace,” is not a lie.

With Na Seong-beom down, all mid- to long-distance resources that were given a chance with a view to the future are also performing poorly. Dae-in Hwang got 194 at-bats, and Woo-hyuk Byun got 175 at-bats. However, the total of home runs hit by the two players is 11 (Hwang Dae-in 5, Byun Woo-hyuk 6), which falls short of expectations. Daein Hwang’s batting average this year fell to 0.219. He wasn’t performing consistently enough to deserve a chance to play. Byun Woo-hyuk also basically didn’t have a good batting average and had a lot of strikeouts. If he failed once, he was left out of the starting lineup, moved to the second team, and then moved up to the first team again, creating an environment that was not easy for a player.

Kim Seok-hwan, a left-handed slugger, only played in four first-team games this year. He had a batting average of 0.302 and 18 home runs in 76 Futures League games, but was underutilized in the first team. In the end, neither Hwang Dae-in, Byun Woo-hyuk, or Kim Seok-hwan were able to achieve a significant ‘step-up’ this year. Na Seong-beom is ranked first in team home runs with only 58 games, and tied for second place are veteran Choi Hyeong-woo and foreign hitter Socrates Brito (17). For Socrates, renewing his contract is key right away, and Hyung-Woo Choi is not a resource ready for 3-4 years from now. As for the rest, there is no double-digit home run hitter.

It is no exaggeration to say that with Na Seong-beom missing, the slugging power of KIA’s batting line has reverted to what it was two years ago. Although Park Chan-ho and Kim Do-young are showing signs of growth, they are not players capable of leading the team’s slugging power. He has no alternative. For now, we have to do it with the players we have now. This is why the KIA batting lineup is expected to struggle for the remainder of the season. Na Seong-beom’s one shot that could change the course of the game will be missed for a long time.

Coach Kim is placing his hopes on the three outfielders who played hard during Na Seong-beom’s absence in the first half of the season. The main characters are right-handed hitters Lee Woo-sung and Lee Chang-jin, and left-handed hitters Go Jong-wook. Coach Kim expressed his expectations, saying, “First of all, I believe that players like Lee Woo-seong, Ko Jong-wook, and Lee Chang-jin, who have played for us before, will fill the gap as much as possible.” Lee Woo-sung recorded a batting average of 0.296 and an OPS of 0.788 in 102 games this year. Lee Chang-jin’s performance was not bad, with a batting average of 0.280 and OPS of 안전놀이터0.762 in 81 games, and Ko Jong-wook showed off his power as a pinch-hitting specialist.

In addition, outfielder Kim Ho-hyung, who has good defensive skills, will join the team around the 22nd. However, Manager Kim also expressed concern, saying, “I think the central batting lineup needs to be re-arranged, and I think the overall slugging power may be dropping a little.”

This direction was also confirmed in the starting lineup for the Gwangju Kiwoom match on the 20th. Although the game was not held due to rain, on this day, KIA placed Choi Won-jun (right fielder) and Kim Do-young (third baseman) as table setters. Kim Seon-bin (second baseman) entered the 3rd position, which was the starting point of the main batting line and Na Seong-beom’s position. Kim Sun-bin has not had a special relationship with long hits throughout his career. With Choi Hyeong-woo (designated hitter) and Socrates (center fielder) positioned at numbers 4 and 5, Lee Woo-seong moved into left field as the starting pitcher at number 6. The bottom batting order was Tae-gun Kim (catcher), Seon-woo Oh (first baseman), and Gyu-seong Kim (shortstop).

There are three things to see in this lineup. First, there is no player who can replace Na Seong-beom. Number 3 went to Kim Sun-bin, and outfield defense went to Lee Woo-sung. Second, there appears to be an intention to focus on structure rather than long shots. The sharp decline in slugging power shows preparation. Kim Sun-bin, who has good contact and batting average, was placed at third base to strengthen the batting order. In fact, in the current situation, there is no right player for number 3.

Third, the development of geopo resources failed again this year. Regardless of the opposing pitcher’s left or right, KIA’s original ideal scenario was for either Hwang Dae-in or Byun Woo-hyuk to be in position by now. However, both players were left out of the starting lineup and left-handed hitter Oh Seon-woo was included. We were unable to raise regular members. KIA, which failed to do its assigned homework this year, faced a crisis with Na Seong-beom’s departure.

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