“They know it’s a fastball, but they can’t hit it.”
KT closer Kim Jae-yoon, 33, pitched two perfect innings with two strikeouts against Hanwha in Daejeon on April 19, leading his team to a 5-4 win in extra innings. He threw 28 pitches, five sliders, one forkball, and 22 fastballs.
In the ninth inning, Han Joo-seok and Nick Williams fouled off Kim Jae-yoon’s fastball to third base. In the 10th inning, “Home Run No. 1” Noh Si-hwan struck out after taking two bad swings at Kim Jae-yoon’s fastball. He was hit by a 149-kilometer high fastball for the final out. The final batter, Kim In-hwan, also struck out after taking three swings at Kim Jae-yoon’s fastball. Kim’s four-pitch outside fastball was a ball, but it was measured at 151.2 kilometers per hour by TrackMac.
The next day, KT manager Lee Kang-cheol said, “The ball was really good,” and added, “It was a ball that they couldn’t hit, even though they knew it was a fastball, but they couldn’t hit it. The fastball was so high that their bats couldn’t come out, and I thought, ‘I can’t hit that ball. I was like, ‘I can’t hit that ball,’ and my arm came out better than usual.”
Lee Kang-cheol, the manager, couldn’t hide his smile as he said, “I don’t know where there is a reliever who is so stable, and I was so grateful that he was able to save two innings.” Against Hanwha on the 20th, Kim Jae-yoon took the mound in the ninth inning and struck out three batters with 10 pitches to preserve KT’s 3-0 victory. Kim has been a big part of KT’s 21-5 record in the second half of the season with an 8-for-10 (.808) winning percentage. He is 1-8 with a 0.64 ERA in 12 games (14 innings) in the second half, locking the back door perfectly.
Drafted by KT with the 13th overall pick in the 2015 rookie draft, Jae-yoon has grown with his new team. He became the closer in 2016, amassing 159 career saves, and was on the mound when KT won its first Korean Series title in 2021. A former catcher, his trademark is a fastball like a rock, and he is having a career-high season this year.
In 42 games this season, he has pitched 47⅔ innings with a 4-2 record, 22 saves, a 1.32 ERA and 42 strikeouts. Third in saves behind SSG’s Seo Jin-yong (32) and Lotte’s Kim Won-joong (23). In addition to his ERA, he has the best WHIP (0.82) and batting average (.181). From his five multi-inning appearances to his reliability and versatility, it’s safe to say he’s the best closer in the game right now.
After this season, Kim will be eligible for free agency for the first time in his career. The KBO’s free agency market this winter will not have as many big-name players as in recent years. On the pitching side, Lim Chan-gyu, Ham Deok-ju (LG), Joo Kwon (KT), and Hong Gun-hee (Doosan) are notable, but the most proven closer is Kim Jae-yoon. Free agent hitters include Yang Seok-hwan (Doosan) and Ahn Chi-hong (Lotte), and Kim Jae-yoon could be in contention for the overall maximum.안전놀이터
Free agent bullpen pitchers in their 30s are a risk, but they have been successful, like Jung Woo-ram and Son Seung-rak. Kim Jae-yoon’s strength is his durability, as he has remained injury-free throughout his career, and his work ethic. “In the offseason, Jae-yoon rarely misses a day and goes to the baseball field to work out,” said Lee Kang-chul. He takes care of himself,” Lee said. KT can’t afford to miss him.