Those missing baseball and DFS can take a swing with the KBO League
The KBO League's 2020 season officially started last week, but it's not too late to get in on the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) action with the overseas (Korean Baseball Organization) professional league.
Its counterpart, MLB DFS, has been around for more than a decade. However, due to the delay to the start of the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention that ESPN has started broadcasting KBO League games, DraftKings and FanDuel are both now offering KBO DFS contests. Since this is a brand-new exercise in the fantasy world, it made sense to observe the action for a couple of games to get a "feel for the nuances" of KBO DFS before offering any recommendations.
As for my own experiences with KBO DFS thus far the summary goes like this — I've won, I've lost. And yes, I'm in the profit zone. But my profits are far lower than they might have been as I have experimented with different kinds of KBO DFS lineups to get a feel for it.
Before I share my observations, let's go over some basics. Scoring is essentially the same as MLB DFS, especially on DraftKings. However, FanDuel has made two basic changes to its usual MLB format for its KBO games. First, pitchers are not specific players but that team's starting pitcher that night. Should there be a starting pitcher change (which has occurred), DFS players are not stuck with an SP whose turn in the rotation is skipped or pushed back. Secondly, the roster construction is SP, 2 IF, 2 OF, and 2 UTIL.
The KBO takes Mondays off but has all 10 teams play the other six days of the week, barring rainouts. Bad weather does happen, though, so you might need to make changes to your lineup for a given night. Of course, that gets into nightly strategy, which is a great segue into our recommendations.
So if you ready to find out how to play KBO DFS, batter up!
How to Play KBO DFS
General Strategic Recommendations
First and foremost, if your schedule allows you to be awake shortly before the 5:30 a.m. ET start times, take advantage of that fact. For example, knowing there is a rainout can be a huge advantage as you pivot to other players. The rest of us will likely be using players from expected lineups. And yes, just like MLB, players will move up and down lineups based on matchups and recent performance.
That brings us of course to the common DFS strategy of stacking. In case you are unfamiliar, especially in GPPs, a common DFS strategy is to "stack" your entry with multiple players from the same lineup. When you know the actual lineup as we often do with MLB DFS, using the 2-3-4 hitters, for example, is often a sound strategy. However, most nights we can only assume whom the 2-3-4 hitters are in a KBO lineup for example are.
Yet there is more value in KBO DFS than in MLB DFS with going with "expected" 1-3-5 hitters. First off, those hitters might end up back-to-back. Secondly, even a 1-4-7 stack is not a bad strategy in Korean baseball. Much of the pitching in KBO is inferior to major league pitching, even relative to the overall talent level. So if the matchup is good, even your hitters deeper in the lineup can be extremely valuable options.
Understanding KBO Pitching
Speaking of the bad pitching, they "de-juiced" the ball during the 2019 KBO season. Perhaps surprisingly, though, offensive numbers seem to be rebounding this year, even without as many home runs. This is in part due to strikeouts coming at a far lower level than we see in MLB. The KBO hurlers have struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings this season, a mark which only 11 MLB starters went under in 2019.
This means that those KBO pitchers who strike out even eight or nine opposing hitters a game are extremely valuable. Furthermore, it means we should give less emphasis to strikeouts when selecting our KBO pitchers and more emphasis on those likely to get the win.
And what teams are likely to get the wins?
Well, like any game played on the diamond, much is dependent on the pitching matchup. There are plenty of sources that can tell you who is favored in each game, and there's quite the talent gap within the league. Some teams definitely look like the 2019 New York Yankees, while others look more like the 2019 Detroit Tigers.
I find myself time and time again with more shares of the Doosan Bears and Kiwoom Heroes. On the flip side, I often find myself choosing players squaring off against the Samsung Lions. I have not been really tempted by the KT Wiz either. And similar to MLB, there are teams like the Lotte Giants whose pitching depth is far better than the depth of their lineup or others whose hitting is far better than their pitching. The NC Dinos, for example, have an amazing lineup and recently staked their pitchers a seven-run lead, only to lose that very game 10-7. A team losing a seven-run lead here is practically unheard of, but it was of little surprise with the NC Dinos.
Those are just some of the general KBO trends. Remember we are only seven games into the season, so things could change. But with the trends established, let's go around the diamond and talk about players who have caught my DFS eye. Stats are through May 12th unless otherwise noted.
KBO Players to Watch
Yang Eui-ji, NC Dinos
Similar to MLB, there are a limited amount of studs at catcher. There is a huge chasm between Yang and the rest of the catchers in the KBO. But it's greater than the difference between say MLB average and top hitting catchers like Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez. Think of it more like the divide between Alex Rodriguez's '98 season and all other shortstops.
However, Yang recently injured his hamstring and was unable to start the last game. He did see some pinch-hitter duties, so he is likely fine. Yet those who are risk-averse or when the Dinos are facing a strong pitcher might want to look into other alternatives. My favorite Yang alternatives have been Park Dong-wan (Kiwoom Heroes) and Park Se-hyuk (Doosan Bears), both of whom are hitting more than 40 points above the .272 league average. If in doubt who to start at catcher, go with one of these two Parks.
Roberto Ramos, LG Twins
Like MLB, first base is absolutely loaded with talent. However, many first basemen on DraftKings qualify at other positions (in FanDuel you are either OF or IF, no dual eligibility). Therefore, I want to focus first on players who are only first basemen. Ramos quickly jumps out. That is because he is fairly expensive on FanDuel but currently beneath the $3K line on DraftKings. Ramos put up some gaudy stats at the Colorado Rockies' Triple-A affiliate in 2019, and the KBO is a step below the competition level of the Pacific Coast League. He's off to a strong start with three home runs and a .435 batting average, helping boost his OPS to an impressive 1.413. What is also helping is that he has reduced his strikeout rate from 28 percent in 2019 to 18.2 percent thus far.
Ramos, however, is an unproven commodity. If you are looking for a more proven KBO commodity, consider Byung Ho Park.
Park Byung-ho, Kiwoom Heroes
Park has cooled off his last few games, and you might be able to get him at a reduced salary if his slump continues. However, he has hit 30 or more home runs in both of the past two seasons and should hit that mark again this year.
If you want someone who is scorching hot, consider Oh Jae-il (Doosan Bears), who is hitting .385 right now and has hit safely in every game so far. But Oh doesn't even come close to doing what another first baseman is doing, who also qualifies at second base.
Jose Miguel Fernandez, Doosan Bears
Fernandez is a former major leaguer, playing in 36 games in 2018 for the Los Angeles Angels. He is absolutely hitting the cover off the ball right now. He has a 1.439 OPS with a mindblowing .577 batting average. Yes, he's expensive, but fading him right now comes with extreme danger.
A slightly cheaper option is Dixon Machado (Lotte Giants, but played 2015-18 for the Detroit Tigers), who is not in such a lofty stratosphere but still hitting .348 with three homers so far. Of course, Machado has been sliding over and playing a lot of shortstop lately, where he also is a valuable asset. If you want someone who only qualifies at 2B, consider Machado's teammate Jung Hoon, who is ridiculously affordable right now on both sites. He has hit in all six games the Giants have played so far and is hitting a clean .409.
Kim Sun-bim, Kia Tigers
I've been playing mostly Machado at shortstop, but Kim is probably my most common alternate at shortstop. He's not a power bat and many DFS players will ignore him. However, he has been an on-base machine to start the season (.577 OBP) and is a great value bat to allow you studs elsewhere in your lineup.
No Jin-hyuk, NC Dinos
Third base is often the hardest position for me to fill in my DK lineups. Likewise, I often find myself bypassing most third basemen for my IF slots on FanDuel. It's not that there isn't talent at the position. However, the prices for most third basemen seem a little too steep. Therefore, I tend to favor some of the bargains available at the hot corner. Be aware that No has not exactly been Mike Schmidt in his six-year career, with his zenith being 2019 with 13 HRs and a .782 OPS. However, he is playing every day and has an OPS above 1.200 right now. Ride him while he's hot.
Kim Jae-hwan, Doosan Bears
Plenty of options here, but who doesn't love a good comeback story? Kim is off to a hot start and will be a favorite for Comeback Player of the Year in the KBO. Kim had at least 35 HRs each year between 2016 and '18 but saw his round-trippers drop to 15 in 2019. However, he is back on his 2016-18 tear after going yard three times already.
His price is steadily rising, but when your OPS is just a hair under 1.300, that will happen. But there are plenty of even more expensive options out there.
Preston Tucker, Kia Tigers
Tucker, who played parts of three seasons (2015-16, '18) in the majors, has been a contributor every game including a couple of "slate-breaking" performances like when he went 5-for-5 with two homers and six RBIs against Samsung the other night. There is no way Tucker continues to have a 1.499 OPS all season. However, a 1.200+ OPS is certainly foreseeable. But if you're going to include Tucker, you better have some bargains ready.
Na Sung-bum, NC Dinos
Na is my favorite nightly bargain. He was hoping to play here in the U.S. this year, but an ACL tear last year (plus the pandemic) put a crimp in his traveling plans. He did hit .366/.443/.645 in 23 games before his injury last season. Since his rookie year, he has yet to hit below .300 and seems to be a fixture in the loaded Dinos lineup as the No. 3 hitter. I do expect his price to rise, but he'll continue to be a nightly fixture in my lineup while he remains affordable.
Of course, pitching is still the name of the game in baseball DFS, so let's move to the mound.
As we've discussed already, the KBO is a hitting-heavy league. It is worth noting that many of the pitchers who seemed to have had success so far in the KBO this year are "foreign-born" arms, however, KBO limits teams to three non-Korean baseball players. There are some decent Korean pitchers out there, but my top two pitchers so far are some you might recognize.
Warwick Saupold, Hanwha Eagles
This Australian-born former Detroit Tiger is off to a blistering start. After two starts, he sports a 1.20 ERA and 0.60 WHIP. Those numbers will likely rise, but Saupold is following up on a strong first season in the KBO last year when he won 12 games with 3.51 ERA and 1.27 WHIP and finishing among top players in punch-outs with 135.
Eric Jokisch, Kiwoom Heroes
Saupold's 135 Ks last year were good, but Jokisch topped him with 141 punchouts. Jokisch kicked around the Cubs minor league system for a number of years but is now kicking behinds in the KBO. He looks to be one of the best pitchers in the KBO again this year. He is fresh off another strong performance. He scattered three hits over six innings with no earned runs and seven strikeouts. The question will be whether he can sustain it and catch the league's best pitcher so far, Cha Woo-chan.
Cha Woo-chan, LG Twins
Cha currently leads the KBO in Ks. He has command of four pitches and is absolutely dominating on the mound. From the video below, we know Chan can rack up the strikeouts.
Now with a stronger team behind him, I expect Chan to be one of the more productive pitchers this year.
It's still early, but two other pitchers I'm watching closely are Drew Rucinski (NC Dinos) on the higher salary end and Nick Kingham (SK Wyverns) on the lower end. It's too early to see if these pitchers can dominate, but I like what I see so far. Either way, it's time to step up to plate and enter in your KBO DFS lineups!
— Written by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.