Hyeon-Jong (pronounced “Hyun-Jong”) Yang (pronounced “Yah-ang”) is a left-handed starting pitcher who plays for the Kia Tigers of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). The 2014 season marked his 7th full season in the KBO, which will allow him to test the foreign markets as a “conditional free-agent,” only with the Tigers’ approval. According to the latest news, Yang has been posted by the KIA Tigers, and MLB teams have until November 21, 2014 5:00 pm EST to submit its bid. The highest bidding amount will and team will be sent to the KIA Tigers. If the Tigers accept the winning bid, that MLB team will have the exclusive rights to negotiate with Yang in a 30-day window.
As one of the best pitchers in the KBO, Yang was presented with the 2014 “Choi Dong-won Award” recognizing the best South Korean born pitcher based on their record, ERA, strikeouts, quality starts, and innings pitched. He also made the All-Star team during 2014.
Career in South Korea
Yang was born on March 1, 1988 (Age: 26) in Seoul, South Korea. He is 6’0 tall and weighs 172 lbs. At Dongsung High School in Gwangiu, South Korea, Yang was considered one of the nation’s best left-handed pitchers. He was selected by the Kia Tigers in the 2nd round of the 2007 KBO Draft, and has spent his entire career with the Tigers.
Yang has also had two stints with the Korean national team, during the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games. By Team Korea winning the gold medal in 2010, it made Yang exempt from the two-year mandatory military service.
Below are Yang’s KBO career statistics:
- 2007: 1-2, 4.17 ERA, 30 G, 49.2 IP, 39 H, 7 HR, 31 BB, 48 K, 1.41 WHIP
- 2008: 0-5, 5.83 ERA, 48 G , 75.2 IP,77 H, 4 HR, 48 BB, 56 K, 1.65 WHIP
- 2009: 12-5, 3.15 ERA, 29 G, 148.2 IP, 133 H, 14 HR, 58 BB, 139 K, 1.28 WHIP
- 2010: 16-8, 4.25 ERA, 30 G ,169.1 IP, 116 H, 9 HR, 98 BB, 145 K, 1.58 WHIP
- 2011: 7-9, 6.18 ERA, 28 G, 106.1IP, 116 H, 9 HR, 69 BB, 74 K, 1.74 WHIP
- 2012: 1-2, 5.05 ERA, 28 G, 41 IP, 51 H, 3 HR, 31 BB, 26 K, 2.00 WHIP
- 2013: 9-3, 3.10 ERA, 19 G, 104.2 IP, 99 H, 10 HR, 43 BB, 95 K, 1.26 WHIP
- 2014: 16-8, 4.25 ERA, 29 G, 171.1 IP, 162 H, 12 HR, 77 BB, 165 K, 1.39 WHIP
- Career: 62-42, 4.33 ERA, 242 G, 3 CG (1 SHO), 866.2 IP, 846 H, 68 HR, 455 BB, 748 K, 1.50 WHIP
Yang made his debut in April 2007, but was demoted to the minor leagues at the end of the May. Yang was later called up to fill a role in the bullpen, finishing his rookie year with a 1-2 record with a 4.17 ERA in 30 appearances. Yang’s sophomore year in 2008 was another disappointment, where he had a 0-5 record with a 5.83 ERA in 75 innings pitched.
The 2009 season proved to be a career year for Yang. He was 9th in the KBO in wins (12), 5th in ERA (3.15), 4th in strikeouts (139) and 12th in innings pitched (148.2), all of which were career bests. His team went on to end the season with the best record and a Korean Series title. In 2010, Yang once again reached career high in wins (16) but saw his ERA rise to 4.25. He ended the year with a 16-8 record and 145 strikeouts. Yang was league runner-up in wins and 3rd in strikeouts. He pitched his first career complete game shutout against the Samsung Lions on June 2.
In the following seasons in 2011 and 2012, Yang struggled mightily. His ERA spiked to 6.18 in 2011, and he only pitched 41 innings in 2012 due to injury and poor performance. His walk rate remained higher than league average, showing that he had problems with his control.
2013 was a bounce back year for Yang, despite a rib injury costing him almost two months to rehab. He went 9-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 19 games. He posted respectable numbers in numerous pitching categories, including ERA, K/BB rate, for the first time in three years. In 2014, he showed that he was fully back, recording 16 wins with a 4.25 ERA and 139 strikeouts, ranking first among South Korean pitchers in wins and strikeouts. This led to Yang winning the inaugural “Choi Dong-won Award” and being named to the All-Star team.
Yang’s 2014 Strikeout reel
Yang has a “solid Major League fastball” at 89-92 mph (sat 90 mph in 2014). Reports of 92-96 are grossly exaggerated. The 2014 season was the hardest Yang has consistently thrown in his entire career. He also features a Major League average curveball around 72-75 mph that is almost straight 12-6. His slider is 80-82 mph and does not have much tilt. Yang tends to get on the side of this pitch and since he is on the shorter side his slider tends to stay on 1 plane. His changeup is inconsistent and even when he is throwing it well, it lacks the deception necessary to be a consistent swing and miss pitch.
One Major League scout spoke of Yang with some reservations “There is no doubt that Yang has good enough raw stuff to pitch in the Major Leagues, but his command may become a big issue. In 2014, AJ Burnett, CJ Wilson, Zack Wheeler, and Francisco Liriano were the only Major League pitchers to have more walks than Yang. All of those pitchers have well above average Major League stuff, and all but Liriano threw more innings than Yang. It is also important to note that former Major League pitchers Jae-kuk Ryu, Dustin Nippert, J.D. Martin, Andy Van Hekken, Rick VandenHurk, and Andrew Albers had a higher K/BB ratio in Korea than Yang did 2014.”
He went on to say “Yang has good balance at the top of his delivery with long and slow ‘Asian style’ rocker step. He has a very long stride that can be inconsistent in length. The long stride causes him to land flat footed or on his heels. This major delivery flaw causes him to lose leverage on an already short body for a pitcher. That loss of leverage makes his front side inconsistent and leads to command issues. When Yang stays tall and consistently stays on top of the ball, he has a chance to have success in the ML. However, his command issues and inability to consistently work ahead of hitters could be his demise. In 2011, Yang had a minor elbow procedure and did not regain his form that season. In 2012, he only threw 41 innings. In 2013, he was limited to just 19 starts. The 2014 season has been Yang’s healthiest season since 2010. That could mean he has turned the corner or may be due for another setback. His frame does not appear to be the most durable and that will definitely be a major question mark for Yang. At his best Yang could be seen as a ‘mini Hyun-Jin Ryu. However, this is not very likely because Yang lacks the size and consistency that Ryu had shown in Korea and continues to show in the Major Leagues. There is no doubt that Yang is good enough to pitch as a back of the rotation starter or a spot starter in the major leagues.
Photo Credit: OSEN
Reference: baseballreference.com, MyKBO.net, Koreabaseball.com, globalpost.com, yonhapnews.co.kr, Youtube: astennutjodalv