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Don't forget betting basics when handicapping Korean baseball

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

May 7, 2020 11:37 AM

In all sports, too many recreational bettors make the mistake of assuming the best teams are great all the time. If you’re just now starting to bet the Korea Baseball Organization, don’t take that mistake overseas. 

Last season’s champion Doosan Bears provide a great example. They earned a top seed with an 88-55-1 regular season record on their way to the title. But, if you focus only on what Doosan did vs. other good teams, you wouldn’t see “championship material” week-in and week-out.

VSiN ran through the full 2019 standings in our preview article earlier this week. You’ll recall that six of the KBO’s 10 teams finished at .500 or better, while the bottom four were WAY off the pace. Seventh-place finisher Kia went 62-80-2. Samsung, Hanwha, and Lotte were even worse. Let’s throw those stragglers out of the mix for a moment. Here’s what happened when the six best played each other…

KBO “SuperLeague”

Kiwoon Heroes: 45-35-1

SK Wyverns: 44-36-0

Doosan Bears: 41-38-1

LG Twins: 40-40-0

NC Dinos: 38-41-1

KT Wiz: 31-49-0

In its 80 games vs. opponents that finished at .500 or better, Doosan won only three more than it lost. Kiwoon truly were Heroes when contenders faced each other during the regular season. Down at the bottom, KT wasn’t very wizardly in the SuperLeague…exposed as pretenders with a woeful 31-49 mark. 

How did Doosan earn its top seed? The Bears bullied the four stragglers to the tune of 47-17. 

If you’re the type to bet a “dominant” franchise regardless of opponent, Doosan would have damaged your bankroll in many regular season challenges. 

And, check this out on the other end of the spectrum. When the four stragglers played each other, lowly Lotte managed to play .500 ball! 

In the “Straggler League,” Kia was “best of the worst” at 29-19, followed by Samsung 25-23, Lotte 24-24, and Hanwha 18-30. Lotte finished dead last overall in the KBO with a 48-93-3 mark because it was badly outclassed by quality (24-69-3 vs. the SuperLeague). 

Recreational instincts to bet the best and fade the worst would have blinded you to value opportunities within the class structure of have’s and have not’s. Keep that in mind as the new season progresses, particularly if tweaks to class structure emerge. 

One of those tweaks may involve the Lotte Giants. The franchise made significant moves in the front office and on the field after last year’s disaster. Lotte impressed out of the gate with a series sweep at KT. The Giants won by scores of 7-2, 9-4, and 7-3. That’s a 14 run differential through three games as road underdogs!

Other opening series results…

  • Doosan took two of three vs LG at Jamsil Stadium, home to both Seoul franchises. The Bears were pricey favorites in all three despite the neutral field. Gives you an immediate sense of high market respect for Doosan, much less for LG. 
  • Kiwoom took two of three on the road at Kia. But, backing the Heroes in all three games would have cost you money. Kiwoom was more than a two dollar favorite in Thursday’s 8-5 loss. 
  • NC swept all three games on the road at Samsung, winning by scores of 4-0, 4-3, and 8-2. That’s a run differential of plus 11 with impressive pitching. 
  • Projected doormat Hanwha shocked the league by winning two of three on the road at SK as underdogs. More bad news for SK. The Wyverns lost their starting catcher to a broken thumb in Thursday’s series finale.  

Early standings

3-0: NC, Lotte

2-1: Doosan, Kiwoom, Hanwha

1-2: SK, LG, Kia

0-3: KT, Samsung

This past Monday, we encouraged you to monitor bullpen performance so you can avoid (or exploit) late-game explosions. Worth nothing that KT’s bullpen struggled in all three losses to Lotte. The Wiz allowed six earned runs in three innings Tuesday, three in four innings Wednesday, and four in 2.2 innings Thursday. KT’s composite bullpen ERA is currently 12.10.

New three-game sets begin Friday with KT at Doosan and LG at NC in showcase series from last year’s SuperLeague; as well as SK at Lotte, Kia at Samsung, and Hanwha at Kiwoom. 

Games that early birds or night owls can watch live on ESPN2:

  • Friday 5:30 a.m. ET: Kia at Samsung
  • Saturday 4 a.m. ET: LG at NC
  • Sunday 1 a.m. ET (10 p.m. Saturday night in Las Vegas): LG at NC

For some reason, ESPN’s family of networks will show the NC Dinos four times in its first six games. Tough to get a sense of the whole league that way! Hopefully a Wyvern will soar onto US airwaves soon. 

More tips:

  • Many recreational bettors will be tempted to lay -1.5 on the run line to “lower the juice” on big favorites. This is typically a losing strategy over the long haul, and is even more dangerous in a league that no longer uses a juiced ball. If pitchers dominate early season action, consider taking 1.5 runs and laying odds in projected nail biters featuring quality underdogs. Sharps don’t mind paying a value price to purchase a very valuable run. Learn to think and bet like sharps. 
  • Remember that pitchers from the U.S. you may have watched struggle in MLB are often dominant in the KBO. In terms of performance projections, it’s like getting demoted to Double-A. Many borderline (or worse) MLB hurlers would be Double-A all stars. 
  • KBO box scores are easy to find online. Studying about 50 rotation pitchers in a 10-team league is a lot easier than monitoring more than 150 in MLB. Log pitching performances in a spreadsheet or old-school style on index cards to familiarize yourself with rotations. Informed bettors are winning bettors!

See you next week for more KBO coverage from a sports betting perspective. 

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