This article is part of our DraftKings KBO series.
We're approximately 30 games into the KBO season, and at least a bit of a hierarchy has started to emerge even with the entire league separated by just 6.5 games. Three teams that missed the playoffs last season (the Tigers, Eagles and Giants) occupy the final three spots in the standings. Those three are all getting outscored by at least half a run per game, as are the Heroes, who've climbed up to seventh after a very poor start. That group is all at least five games back of the league lead, with a group of six teams separated by 3.5 games leading the pack.
The leading group features mostly the usual suspects plus a pair of surprises. The Lions sit alone atop the standings, leading the rest of the pack by a game and a half, and it looks much more legitimate than expected, as they also sit second in run differential thanks to a very strong start by the rotation. The Landers sit right in the middle of the group of contenders, though their bounceback season appears to be far less sustainable, as they're second-last in run differential, ranking in the bottom three in both runs scored and runs allowed.
Tuesday's slate kicks off a new set of matchups, highlighted by a showdown between the first-place Lions and the Wiz, who sit tied for third. The five games feature eight foreign pitchers in what looks like one of the strongest groups of starters so far this season.
Any time you can get Dan Straily ($7,900) for this cheap, it's hard to turn it down. He's admittedly not been at his best this season and is coming off a poor outing in which he allowed five runs on nine hits against the Tigers, but his numbers remain solid despite that blip. His 1.47 WHIP is high, thanks in part to a .354 BABIP, but his 3.73 ERA is still perfectly respectable and comes with a strong combination of a 21.0 percent strikeout rate and 7.2 percent walk rate. Even this version of Straily should be more than enough to silence the eighth-ranked Landers lineup, and if he shows signs of getting back to last year's form, when he was arguably the best pitcher in the league, he'll be a fantastic bargain.
Ben Lively ($7,700) was quite bad in his first two starts of the year, giving up 11 runs in 8.2 innings while striking out seven and walking six. A switch apparently flipped after that, however, as he's been dominant over his last four outings. He owns a 1.46 ERA and 0.77 WHIP over that stretch, striking out 31 batters in 24.2 innings while walking just seven. His strikeout rate now sits at 27.1 percent, the second-best mark among qualified starters and up significantly from his already strong 19.9 percent mark from last year. He doesn't have an easy matchup Tuesday against the Wiz, but he's a bargain at his confusingly low price against just about any lineup given how he's pitching lately.
Daniel Mengden ($7,400) completes this trio of mysteriously affordable foreign arms. It's perhaps no surprise to see him get off to a strong start, as his respectable 4.64 ERA in 302.2 MLB innings represents one of the better resumes in Korea. He's riding a streak of four straight quality starts and has been very good all-around for the Tigers through six total trips to the mound. His 3.57 ERA comes with a 1.10 WHIP, 24.5 percent strikeout rate and 8.4 percent walk rate. He'll face a Twins lineup which is hitting better lately but which still sits ninth in runs per game.
The Lions could easily have been one of Tuesday's recommended stacks, as they'll face Wiz righty William Cuevas, who hasn't looked at all right this season, struggling to an 8.00 ERA and 1.94 WHIP through four starts. Ja Wook Koo ($5,900) will get the platoon advantage against him and looks like an excellent option with or without his teammates. He sits fourth among qualified hitters with a 1.050 OPS, the product of a .353/.438/.612 slash line. His nine doubles sit second in the league, and he seems to really like standing on second base, as he also sits tied for third with eight steals.
Jung Hoo Lee ($5,100) is the only player in the league with more doubles than Koo. He's yet to hit a homer after hitting 15 last season – smashing his previous career high of six – but just about everything else is going right for the young outfielder. He owned a modest .715 OPS through his first 17 games of the season but has a 1.001 mark over his last 14 games. His 7.2 percent strikeout rate ranks second among qualified hitters, so there's little reason to believe his .314 batting average will drop any time soon. He'll get the platoon advantage Tuesday against Bears righty Walker Lockett, whose 4.28 ERA doesn't appear to be supported by his peripherals such as a low 15.4 percent strikeout rate.
Sticking with the Heroes, Yong Kyu Lee ($2,400) has been occupying the leadoff spot frequently in recent games. He'll also get the platoon advantage against Lockett and provides an inexpensive way to grab a piece of a lineup which has scored 6.6 runs per game over its last seven contests. The veteran outfielder joined the Heroes over the winter after spending the last six seasons with the Eagles. He has almost zero power, homering just 25 times over his 17-year career, but he's a good table-setter. He owns a lifetime .385 on-base percentage and has a .364 mark this season thanks to a 12.5 percent walk rate. That number could rise along with his .291 BABIP, his lowest mark since his rookie season back in 2004.
On the theme of very cheap leadoff men, rookie Jae Seok An ($2,400) occupied that spot for the first time in his career Sunday and reached base three times. He'll be a very interesting option if he remains there Tuesday. Filling that spot for a team that has made six straight Korean Series is indicative of the 19-year-old's potential, as is the fact that the Bears grabbed him with their regional-round pick in the most recent draft. (The regional round precedes the bulk of the draft and allows each team to select a player from its local area.) His 17-game sample thus far at the KBO level isn't much to go on, but it's been quite positive, as he's hitting .289/.400/.368.
Stacks to Consider
Oh seemingly has potential, as the young lefty was a regional round pick in the 2020 draft. He does have a 25.3 percent strikeout rate this season, but that's about where the positives end. Even with that strong mark, he's struggled to a 6.86 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. He's split the year between the bullpen and rotation but had farm more success in the former role. Oh allowed four runs in 8.1 innings as a reliever but has since gone on to allow 14 runs (12 earned) in 12.2 frames as a starter. The righty-heavy Giants lineup shouldn't have much trouble with him here.
The stack given here features three of those righties, a trio that hit second through fourth in the team's latest game. Lee is riding a six-game hitting streak in which he's hit a pair of homers. Jeon Has gone 10-for-22 with a homer and seven RBI over his last five games, bringing his batting average up to .319. An has been similarly effective lately, hitting .433/.500/.667 over his last nine games to raise his OPS to .857.
Kelly was one of the top starters in Korea in his first two KBO campaigns, posting ERAs of 2.55 and 3.32. Judging by his 2.91 ERA this season, he looks to be heading down a similar path, but his underlying numbers reveal that he's actually been quite hittable. After posting a 14:14 K:BB over his last four starts, he now owns a low 15.4 percent strikeout rate and a 11.4 percent walk rate. That's not a sustainable path to success, and while he didn't allow more than two runs in any of his first five starts of the year, it caught up to him in his last outing, as he allowed four runs against the Bears. A cheap Tigers stack here looks like an interesting gamble and may not be a particularly popular choice.
The stack listed here skips a few of the Tigers expensive, underachieving bats in favor of some cheaper options. Even Tucker is quite cheap compared to what he's cost in the past. He's turned things around dramatically after a slow start, however, posting a 1.408 OPS thus far in May after struggling to a .585 mark in April. Lee has a very short track record, playing just 20 career KBO games, but he's a cheap option at catcher if he hits third or fourth like he did in all four of his starts last week. Going 5-for-16 with a homer, three walks and just one strikeout over that stretch certainly can't hurt his quest for more at-bats. Kim wasn't part of the picture early in the season but has jumped into an important role, batting either fifth or second in each of his last four games. He's riding an eight-game hitting streak, batting .353 over that stretch.