Best to avoid… Kiwoom Lee Jung-hoo, who evolved further from last season’s hitting trophy

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Kiwoom Lee Jung-hoo (24), who was the batting king of professional baseball last season, is still leading the league with a more advanced appearance these days.

On the 18th, in the home game against LG held at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Lee Jung-hoo’s true worth was confirmed. When Kiwoom led 2-0 in the bottom of the 7th, Lee Jung-hoo was at bat at 2nd base on 2nd base, and the LG dugout sent him out as an automatic intentional ball. In the previous three at-bats, Lee Jung-hoo had all of his hits, so he avoided a head-to-head match in a situation where he could easily concede. Lee Jung-hoo, who started as the 3rd batter center fielder that day, led the team to a 2-0 victory with 3 hits, 1 RBI and 1 walk.

Lee Jung-hoo, who recorded a batting average of 0.326 (61 hits in 187 at-bats), 6 homers, and 31 RBIs from the opening day until last month, is increasing his pace even more in June. In 15 games played this month, Lee Jung-hoo posted a batting average of 0.379 (22 hits in 58 at-bats), 4 home runs, and 14 RBIs. His batting average rose to .339 (3rd) and his home runs hit double-digit homers (10 and 8th) in two years after the 2020 season (15) when he hit his personal first double-digit homer. The season isn’t even halfway through, so it’s possible to set a career-high home run record. He hits with and without runners and is also batting 45 points in RBI (5th place). This is also highly likely to exceed the 101 RBI in 2020, which was the personal highest.

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What stands out in particular is the intentional ball. This season, Lee Jung-hoo scored 7 intentional balls, which is a tie for first place with Samsung foreign batter Pirella (33). Pirella, who debuted in the KBO League last year and finished adapting, batting average (0.361, 1st place), hits (87, joint first place), runs (45, second place), home runs (12, third place), RBI (44) Point and joint 6th), etc. It means that the opposing team’s pitchers regard Lee Jung-hoo as harshly as the best foreign hitter. Lee Jung-hoo’s previous personal highest number of intentional throws was 6 in the 2020 season, and he has already surpassed this record.

Ahead of this season, Kiwoom’s giant Park Byeong-ho (36) obtained a free agent qualification and changed to KT’s uniform, and the weight of the team’s batting line dropped sharply. Park Byeong-ho, who hit 53 home runs in 2015, is said to have suffered an ‘aging curve (senescence with age)’, but it was not easy to find a replacement for Park Byeong-ho as he hit 20.5 homers per year over the past two years. Hye-seong Kim (23), who has excellent operational skills, often took the 4th and 5th batting order, but Kim Hye-sung, who made her debut in 2017, hit a total of 15 home runs until last year.

In a crisis situation, Lee Jung-hoo, who boasts the most sophisticated bat in KBO league history with a career batting average of 0.340, is awakening to so-called ‘big indicators’ such as home runs, RBIs, and intentional throws. Kiwoom, which is evaluated to have weakened due to the transfer of Park Byeong-ho and Park Dong-won (KIA) amid the great performance of ‘The Grandson of the Wind’ (Lee Jung-hoo’s nickname), is fighting fiercely for the lead while maintaining the 2nd place in the league.

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Reporter Bae-Jung Kim wanted@donga.com

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