This article is part of our DraftKings KBO series.
Baseball is back! Not only is it back on this side of the Pacific, but also in Korea, where the KBO will kick off its season Saturday. DFS KBO contests are back on DraftKings, which means KBO coverage is back on RotoWire.
It's shaping up to be an exciting season of KBO action. The Dinos have to be feeling good about their chances of a repeat after holding onto most of their key players, including Sung Bum Na, who failed to find an MLB suitor. Many of the league's other contenders lost important pieces, with Mel Rojas Jr. leaving the Wiz for the NPB's Hanshin Tigers, Ha Seong Kim leaving the Heroes for the MLB's San Diego Padres and Chris Flexen leaving the Bears for the MLB's Seattle Mariners, but the constant influx of new foreign talent could turn almost any team into a playoff contender.
Saturday's slate, which begins at a reasonable-by-KBO-terms 1:00 AM ET, features a full set of aces, including eight pitchers with MLB experience. Unfortunately, rain looks like a major factor across the entire country, threatening every game except the Lions-Heroes contest at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul.
This article will contain recommendations from all five games, but be sure to check the weather before submitting your lineups.
In a day full of aces, you could certainly save budget space and go with someone other than Dan Straily ($10,200), but he's the most expensive pitcher on the slate for a reason. He has a strong case as the best pitcher in the league . He finished second among all qualified starters last year in ERA (2.50), first in WHIP (1.02) and first in strikeout rate (26.4 percent). With a matchup against a Landers lineup that ranked ninth out of 10 teams in scoring last year (when they were named the SK Wyverns), he stands a strong chance of producing a performance to justify his lofty price tag.
In the middle tier, Hyeong Jun So ($8,900) looks like the best choice. He may get overlooked on a slate full of former MLB arms, but the 19-year-old second-year righty is very deserving of the Opening Day nod. He struggled early in his rookie campaign, as almost any 18-year-old would, posting a 6.65 ERA through his first nine starts. Once the calendar flipped to July, however, he was excellent, allowing more than two earned runs just once and never allowing more than three in an outing, closing the year with a 2.38 ERA in his final 17 outings. His overall 16.1 percent strikeout rate does suppress his upside somewhat, but he'll have a very high floor against an Eagles lineup which finished last in scoring by more than half a run in 2020.
It's a mystery to me why Eric Jokisch ($7,200) begins the year as the third-cheapest pitcher on the slate. He was the only qualified starter to beat Dan Straily in ERA, finishing atop the leaderboard with a 2.14 mark, while his 1.06 WHIP ranked fourth. His 18.0 percent strikeout rate was low for a foreign pitcher but still came in slightly above league average, so it's not as if you're completely giving up on whiffs by selecting him. He'll be facing a Lions lineup which ranked third-last in scoring last season and which won't be propped up by the team's hitter-friendly home park in this one, with the game taking place at the Heroes' Gocheok Sky Dome.
A bonus fourth recommendation for Opening Day: Artie Lewicki ($4,000) has no business costing the minimum amount for a pitcher. Saturday's game will be his KBO debut, but every player deemed worthy of filling one of a team's three foreign player spots should be considered something close to a star until they prove otherwise. Lewicki's MLB track record is nothing special, as he owns a 5.16 ERA and 1.78 WHIP in 52.1 innings at the highest level, but that hardly stands out among his peers such as Jokisch, who's made all of four MLB appearances but has dominated KBO hitters for three straight years. It may be tough for him to get a win against Dan Straily, but the Giants' offense was a bottom-half unit last year, so he should be able to produce a good performance.
Sung Bum Na ($5,700) faces a tough opposing pitcher in Casey Kelly, but that's true of virtually every hitter on this slate. If you're going to pay up for an elite bat, getting the guy who produced the most fantasy points per game by over a full point last season among players still in the league sure doesn't seem like a bad idea. Na failed to achieve his dream of signing with an MLB club this past winter, though that may have been more due to the depressed pandemic market than anything. He could hardly have made a better case for himself than with his .324/.390/.596 slash line, as his .987 OPS was good for fourth among qualified batters. He also ranked third with 34 homers, while his place at the heart of the league's strongest lineup helped him finish second with 115 runs.
Hyoung Woo Choi ($5,000) gets the nod here over teammate Preston Tucker ($5,300) by virtue of being slightly cheaper, though both could make for strong options if you're looking to roster a high-priced pair. Both will get the platoon advantage against Walker Lockett, who deserves the same respect as any other foreign pitcher until he proves otherwise but who isn't necessarily any more intimidating than most of the arms on this slate. Choi, whose KBO debut came all the way back in 2002, proved he still had plenty to offer in his age-36 campaign last year, leading the league with a .354 average. He was far from a pure contact hitter, as he added 28 homers and 115 RBI, with the latter number ranking fourth in the league, one spot ahead of Tucker.
DraftKings' pricing algorithm seems to be looking only at KBO stats, creating massive values on the leagues' four new foreign hitters. Every hitter who a team chooses to give one of its precious few foreign player spots (of which typically only one goes to a hitter) is expected to be a star, yet all four of the new foreign bats is priced at the minimum. Jose Pirela ($2,000) was a competent enough utility man over parts of six MLB seasons, hitting .257/.308/.392 with 17 homers in 985 plate appearances. He spent last year with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan, hitting a fairly modest .266/.312/.411 in 99 games, but he should be in line for a stronger showing this season given the step down in competition. Even with a tough matchup against Eric Jokisch on Saturday, he's far too cheap to ignore.
Ryon Healy ($2,000) joins Pirela as a minimum-price foreign hitter, making him a bargain that's hard to pass up even against a quality righty in Hyeong Jun So. Healy actually has a slightly above-average batting line in 405 MLB games, with his .261/.298/.450 line translating to a 101 wRC+ and making him one of the most accomplished foreign hitters in the league. He hardly walks, posting just a 4.7 percent walk rate, but he struck out at an acceptable 22.2 percent clip and showed solid power. He could hit quite a few homers off of KBO pitchers, even good ones like So.
Stacks to Consider
Kim is a decent enough pitcher, but the fact that he's starting on Opening Day says far more about the Eagles than it does about Kim himself. Kim's 4.34 ERA last season was respectable enough and came in more than two runs better than the marks he'd produced in the previous four years, but it's nowhere near the level of the rest of the arms on this slate. He did strike out a fair number of batters (20.9 percent) but also walked far too many (12.1 percent). The Wiz should be a very popular stack here, but it's hard not to go along with the crowd given the alternatives.
Kang looks set to take over as the Wiz's scariest bat following the departure of league MVP Mel Rojas Jr. to Japan over the winter. He's more than capable of filling that role and would have already filled it on most teams in the league last season, as his .955 OPS tied him for fifth in the league. His .330 batting average ranked ninth among qualified hitters, while his 23 homers ranked 12th. He has the potential to add significantly more power, as he homered 29 times as a rookie back in 2018 and is still just 21 years old.
Former San Francisco Giant Hwang is deservedly the second most expensive option at the somewhat shallow hot corner. He posted a strong .312/.370/.512 slash line last season, with his .882 OPS ranking 17th among qualified hitters. He hit 21 homers, marking his fifth straight KBO campaign with at least 20 bombs. He and Kang should remain one of the strongest pairs of Korean hitters in the league this season, likely trailing only the Dinos' combination of Eui Ji Yang and Sung Bum Na.
Almonte has huge shoes to fill following Rojas' departure, and how close he comes to filling them will go a long way towards determining whether or not the Wiz can get back to the playoffs for the second season in their seven-year history. While Almonte's experience at the MLB level is limited, as he struggled to a .523 OPS in just 47 games, the last of which came back in 2014, he has plenty of experience at the international level. He's spent the last three seasons playing for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, hitting .316/.375/.484. He could be a potential star with the step down in competition to the KBO level, but he's priced at the minimum on DraftKings as he's yet to play a game in Korea.
Buchanan is a solid KBO starter, but we can't help but use hitters against some quality arms on Opening Day given the quality of pitchers taking the mound around the league. Buchanan's 3.45 ERA and 1.27 WHIP were both good marks last season, but his underlying numbers were nothing special. His 16.6 percent strikeout rate was below average, though he at least avoided issuing many walks, posting a 6.9 percent walk rate. On the whole, it's an unintimidating resume, and the Heroes still have enough big bats even with Ha Seong Kim in San Diego.
Whether or not the Heroes remain a contender rests heavily on the very capable shoulders of Jung Hoo Lee. The 22-year-old was a very capable contact hitter in his first three seasons in the league, posting a batting average no lower than .324, but he hit a total of just 14 homers in those three campaigns. He showed the beginnings of a power breakout last year, clearing the fence 15 times, and he didn't sacrifice any contact to get there, hitting .333 while striking out in just 7.6 percent of his at-bats. If the power keeps improving this year, which is certainly possible given his age and his obvious feel for the bat, he'll be a potential MVP candidate.
Veteran outfielder Yong Kyu Lee was one of the few players to change teams in free agency this offseason. His departure will hurt the already very weak Eagles, as his forgettable .718 OPS was still good for one of the best marks in a remarkably shallow lineup. The way he got to that OPS keeps him somewhat interesting for fantasy purposes. He has next to no power, hitting just a single homer while slugging .337, but his strong contact and eye helped him to a .381 on-base percentage. That's a skill that could give him a role atop the Heroes' lineup, which should be a far more rewarding spot than it was for the Eagles. Even if he finds himself lower in the order, he's a well-priced budget option who will get the platoon advantage against one of the day's weaker arms.
Freitas is the fourth clearly mis-priced hitter on the slate. Like Pirela, Healy and Almonte, he's miscast as a minimum-cost option given that he's never played at the KBO level, but he has the potential to be a star just like any other former MLB hitter. Freitas' track record at the highest level is thoroughly unremarkable, as he's hit .200/.268/.288 in 59 games, but he's a career .326/.403/.474 hitter over parts of seven Triple-A campaigns. Confusingly for a player who's exclusively been a catcher and first baseman throughout his professional career, Freitas is eligible on DraftKings at second and third base. He'd have even more value once he's correctly labeled as a catcher, but he'll be a huge bargain at any position as long as he remains this cheap.