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Quiet veteran making noise with hot bat

All Headlines 10:57 April 30, 2018

SEOUL, April 30 (Yonhap) -- That KT Wiz veteran outfielder Yoo Han-joon has been one of the most dominant hitters so far this Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) season is evidenced by some gaudy stats.

But try to digest this number. If a club built a lineup of nine Yoo Han-joons, that team would score nearly 17 runs per game.

Yoo leads the KBO in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, with a slashing line of .447/.491/.757. He is also tops in hits with 46.

And in a more advanced category called runs created per 27 outs (RC/27), Yoo is also leading all hitters there with 16.47, followed by Jamie Romak of the SK Wyverns at 15.84.

RC/27 is an estimation of how many runs a lineup of nine of the same player would score a per game, hence 27 outs. Taking into account hits, sacrifice hits and walks, among others, RC/27 is considered an accurate measure of a player's offensive contribution.

In this file photo from June 16, 2017, Yoo Han-joon of the KT Wiz hits a two-run home run against the Hanwha Eagles in the bottom of the seventh inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, 45 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

And thanks in large part to Yoo's bat, the Wiz, a fourth-year franchise, are harboring dreams of their first-ever playoff berth.

Through Sunday's action, the Wiz ranked fourth at 15-16. The top-five teams reach the postseason in the 10-club KBO, and the Wiz finished dead last in each of the three previous seasons. After 31 games a year ago, they were 13-18, good for only ninth place.

The Wiz have been one of the most productive offensive clubs so far in 2018. They're in the top three in team batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, doubles and home runs.

Yoo has only drawn nine walks in 113 plate appearances, but he has such a high on-base percentage because he's only struck out nine times.

In sum, Yoo has done everything a team would want from a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, and then some. He has nine homers and 29 RBIs and ranks fourth and third in those categories, respectively.

True to form, the quiet and unassuming 36-year-old attributed his early success to luck.

"It's still early in the season, and I think people are making too much of my numbers," he said. "I've just been fortunate."

But more so than luck, Yoo has made some mechanical changes. He said he couldn't be too specific about what they are, only revealing that he has made some minor tweaks.

A real turning point in Yoo's career came much earlier. Before the 2014 season, while still with the Nexen Heroes, Yoo added some muscle to his 186-centimeter frame and started hitting for more power. After hitting a combined 31 homers in previous seven seasons, Yoo exploded for 20 home runs in 2014 and 23 more in 2015. Yoo set a new career high with 91 RBIs in 2014 and then broke that the next season with 116.

He parlayed those strong years into a four-year, 6 billion won (US$5.6 million) free agent deal with the Wiz before the 2016 season. Yoo's power numbers have taken a dip -- 14 dingers in 2016 and 13 last year -- but he has batted at least .300 in each of those two seasons.

And in 2018, the additions of former big leaguer Hwang Jae-gyun and hot-shot rookie Kang Baek-ho have lifted some pressure off Yoo's shoulders. And the veteran has responded with a red-hot start.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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