By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) — He was hitting .400 — that mythical and hallowed mark in baseball — about a month ago to lead the South Korean league, but KT Wiz slugger Kang Baek-ho is now trying to hold on just to win his first career batting title.
A lot of players in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) would love to have the season that Kang has put together. In his fourth season, the 22-year-old tops the league with a .364 batting average, a .458 on-base percentage and 146 hits. He ranks second with a .556 slugging percentage and third with 90 RBIs.
That Kang is still among the league leaders in these categories despite a slow September tells you just how ridiculous his MVP-worthy campaign has been so far.
In 17 games this month, Kang is batting .281/.351/.422, by far his least productive month this year. Kang batted .418 for May, but the monthly average steadily dropped to .377 in June, .333 in July and .318 in August.
Kang led the batting race for 144 days before Lee Jung-hoo of the Kiwoom Heroes overtook him Tuesday, when a 2-for-4 day took him to .365. Kang, who went 2-for-5 that day, fell to .364. Kang regained his lead Wednesday by going 1-for-3 and staying at .364. Lee was hitless in two at-bats and fell to .363.
Kang holds precarious leads in other categories. Hong Chang-ki of the LG Twins trails Kang by one-thousandth of a point in on-base percentage. Jose Pirela of the Samsung Lions sits five hits behind Kang.
With the Wiz headed for their first regular season crown — they hold a 5.5-game lead over the Lions with 32 games left — Kang is a strong MVP candidate as the best hitter on the league’s best club.
If Kang loses his grip on these batting categories, though, the MVP race will get more interesting.
But in an era when athletes in team sports openly talk about their pursuit of individual success without fear of being labeled selfish, Kang has been rather refreshing in his consistent prioritization of team goals.
“Obviously, as a hitter, I’d love to win the batting title, but team success is more important for me,” Kang said. “Considering how much I’ve been struggling lately, I think I still have a ways to go. I think I’ll only be able to push for individual glory once I develop further as a ball player. Right now, I’d just love to win a championship.”