South Korean right-hander Suk-min Yoon and the Baltimore Orioles have reportedly reached an agreement on a three-year, $5.75 million contract pending a physical, according to MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli.
While the Orioles have already shelved two potential contracts this offseason (Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin) as a result of medical concerns, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com believes that Yoon is “in good shape to pass” his physical.
Regardless of whether the Orioles deploy the 27-year-old as a starter or reliever next season, Yoon will soon face the challenges of pitching in the offense-driven American League East.
Here’s what you need to know about the Orioles’ new right-hander, including insight into how he might fare this season within the division.
Yoon first broke into the KBO as an 18-year-old in 2005, spending the first chunk of his professional career alternating between the Kia Tigers’ starting rotation and bullpen.
|Suk-min Yoon Career KBO Statistics|
In 2011, the right-hander was transitioned into the team’s starting rotation full time and ultimately turned in a breakout performance, registering a 2.45 ERA with a career-best 9.30 K/9 rate in 172.1 innings. Yoon’s overwhelming success in the role earned him league MVP honors, also putting him on the map as a legitimate major league prospect.
Yoon’s breakout performance carried over into the 2012 season, as he posted a 3.12 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 153 innings. However, the right-hander took a step back the following year, as a shoulder injury—which you’ll read more about in a few minutes—forced him to the bullpen for the second half of the season.
In spite of his background as a highly accomplished KBO hurler, there is less scouting information available on Yoon than there was on Hyun-jin Ryu or even Masahiro Tanaka prior to their respective signings.
However, based on his PITCHf/x data from the 2009 World Baseball Classic (per Brooks Baseball), the 6’0”, 180-pound right-hander employs a five-pitch mix of a four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, curveball and slider.
Both Yoon’s fastball and sinker usually work in the low 90s, though the former has been known to flirt with mid-90s velocity in the past. In terms of his secondary arsenal, the 27-year-old features a hard slider in the mid-80s that’s thrown from a similar release point to his fastball and has late biting action.
Yoon’s changeup should serve as an above-average offering in the major leagues, as it’s thrown with good velocity differential in the upper 70s and features horizontal movement that should help him miss bats and induce weak contact. Lastly, even though the right-hander mixes in the occasional curveball, it represents his least-advanced offering and is used primarily to give opposing hitters an unexpected look.
Though he was healthy for the majority of his professional career in the KBO, Yoon dealt with a shoulder injury in 2013 that limited him to 11 starts (4.16 ERA) and prompted a move to the bullpen for the final months of the season.
Yoon and the AL East
When a pitcher joins an American League East team, especially one entering Major League Baseball from the international ranks, there’s always a debate as to how he’ll fare in the division’s hitter-friendly ballparks.
As a member of the Orioles, Yoon will be forced to pitch in three of the AL’s more offense-oriented parks including his new home, Camden Yards.
|2013 American League East Park Factors|
|Team (Ballpark)||Runs||Home Runs||Walks|
|Blue Jays (Rogers Centre)||1.118||1.289||1.095|
|Yankees (Yankee Stadium)||1.087||1.128||1.081|
|Orioles (Camden Yards)||1.057||1.275||1.011|
|Red Sox (Fenway Park)||0.960||0.845||0.915|
|Rays (Tropicana Field)||0.931||0.975||0.966|
Specifically, the Rogers Centre, Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards all ranked within the top 10 in the major leagues last season for home-run rate and overall scoring (per ESPN). (A rate higher than 1.000 favors hitters.)
However, Yoon should get a reprieve here and there, as he’ll also spend time pitching at Fenway Park and Tropicana Field next season (and ideally beyond), two parks that ranked in the bottom third among all 30 teams last year in overall scoring.
To make matters more complicated, Yoon’s new division rivals generally posted strong numbers against right-handed pitchers last season (per FanGraphs), with each team registering a .281-plus BABIP (batting average on ball in play) and 10.9-plus percent HR/FB (home runs per fly ball) rate.
|American League East vs. RHP (2013)|
While those specific splits don’t imply that Yoon will be any less successful in the AL East than he would in any other division, they do offer an idea of the unforgiving nature of its hitters. However, like any accomplished international pitcher launching a career in Major League Baseball, Yoon’s success next season will more so be tied to his capacity to make adjustments on the fly rather than the previous successes of the division’s hitters.