After a dismal start to August, many would be forgiven for prematurely calling curtains on the Lotte Giants’ season. The first series in August saw the Giants swept in Jamsil by fellow playoff hopefuls, the LG Twins, and stranded in seventh place in the KBO standings, 17 games behind first placed KIA Tigers, and 6 games behind the fifth place wildcard spot contenders: Nexen Heroes.
Following this, the Giants have exploded into life and won 17 out of their next 21 games, posting an August win-rate of 0.708. Despite a 9-8 loss on Sunday to the Nexen Heroes that ended a 10-game winning streak in Sajik, Lotte currently sit in fourth place in the KBO standings, 4 games behind third place NC Dinos, and 2.5 games ahead of Nexen. The only team enjoying a better run of form is the Doosan Bears who have posted a 18W-5L-1D record (0.750) through August and currently sit 1.5 games behind the first place KIA Tigers.
There have been several key factors in the Giants’ recent surge of success, including the strong form of bullpen pitchers Jo Jeong-Hun (조정훈), Bae Jang-Ho (배장호), and Son Seung-Lak (손승락), smart late game use of pinch runners, and the offense provided by three players in particular: infielders Lee Dae-Ho (이대호), and Choi Jun-Seok (최준석), and outfielder Son A-Seop (손아섭).
Son A-Seop, Lee Dae-Ho, and Choi JunSeok’s production from the 24 games in August. Stats from the Korean Baseball Organization.
While these three players have accounted for 68 of the 142 runs batted in (47%) during August, 29 year old Son A-Seop has spearheaded the Lotte Giants playoff push, single-handedly accounting for nearly 20% of the runs that have crossed home plate. Adjustments to his plate discipline, and detailed analysis of pitchers he has previously faced has seen him put up a 0.385/ 0.478/ 0.708 record over the last 24 games, improving his season stats to 0.344/ 0.430/ 0.537.
These offensive improvements have allowed him to add 9 home runs and 9 stolen bases to his tally this month, including his 22nd stolen base against the LG Twins on August 25, and his 20th home run of the season vs Nexen Heroes on August 27, making him the 32nd player to add their name to the KBO’s 20-20 club. He is the 46th entry on the list, and is the second player to achieve the feat in the 2017 season after Roger Bernadina of the KIA Tigers hit his 20th home run in the 3-7 defeat against the Hanwha Eagles on August 04.
Pictures from Naver Sports. Original Broadcasts by SkySports, SPOTV, and SBS Sports. Left to Right: Jim Adduci, Hwang Jae-Gyun, and Son A-Seop reach the 20-20 mark.
Son A-Seop’s achievement marks the third consecutive season that a Lotte Giants player has added their name to the 20-20 club. (Jim Adduci in 2015 (28-24), Hwang Jae-Gyun (황재균) in 2016 (26-25), and Son A-Seop in 2017) This equals the Hyundai Unicorn’s record for consecutive 20-20 seasons from a single team set when Hyundai legend Park Jae-Hong (박재홍) recorded three back to back 20-20 seasons between 1996-1998. The title for the most 20-20 seasons recorded by a single player is shared by Haitai Tigers’ Yang Joon-Hyuk (양준혁), and the aforementioned Park Jae-Hong, with both players amassing four such seasons. Of Park’s 20-20 entries however, three were 30-30 seasons. (1996: 30-36, 1998: 30-43, and 2000: 32-30) Among the six players in the 30-30 club, including the only player to register a 40-40 season in the KBO: Eric Thames, Park Jae-Hong is the only person to have ever recorded more than one 30-30 season. Among the original six KBO franchises, the Doosan Bears, together with the 2015 expansion team, the kt wiz, are the only teams that are not yet represented in the 20-20 club. Samsung and KIA are the two most represented clubs with 10 entries apiece.
While a 30-30 season may seem a tall order for Son A-Seop with only 23 games remaining, there are two other hitting milestones that Son could have his eye on as the KBO enters the final stretch of the 2017 season: his 2016 personal best of 186 hits, and Nexen Heroes’ Seo GeonChang’s (서건창) single season record of 201 hits set in 2014. If Son is able to maintain his August hot streak through September, then joining Seo as the second player in KBO history to reach the 200-hit landmark is a very real possibility.
Since he became a regular fixture in the Lotte starting lineup in 2010, Son has yet to hit lower than a 0.300 average in 8 seasons, and over the 2016 and 2017 seasons he has not missed a single start in all 261 games.
His consistent production over the last two seasons in particular represents an interesting predicament for the Lotte front office as the 29 year old will become a free agent at the end of the 2017 season. Like his former team mate, Hwang Jae-Gyun, Son was posted after the 2015 season, but he failed to attract any bids from MLB teams. Should Lotte fail to convince Son A-Seop to remain at Sajik, it is possible that he could follow in Hwang’s footsteps and attempt to attract interest from an MLB side during the off-season as a free agent.
On the back of what stands likely to be the most productive year of his career, many KBO teams will be likely be keeping a keen eye on what he decides to do after the conclusion of the 2017 season.
Son A-Seop’s career stats. Stats from the Korean Baseball Organization.
Title picture from Lotte Giants. Son A-Seop 20-20 promotional image.