Betting Korean baseball: Get to know the KBO

Apr 22, 2020 |
Betting Korean baseball: Get to know the KBO
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is a 10-team league with plenty of offense, which should appeal to baseball bettors looking to wager on live sports during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Photo By - KBO
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is a 10-team league with plenty of offense, which should appeal to baseball bettors looking to wager on live sports during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Photo By - KBO

The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is gearing up for a 2020 season opener early next month, adding Korean baseball betting to the list of expanding international options at the sportsbook.

With the excitement of baseball expanding thanks to Taiwan’s CPBL, Covers is here to help you navigate the KBO baseball odds for this loud, infectious, bat-flipping and possibly unfamiliar league. Here’s everything you need to know about betting on the Korean baseball league:

What is the KBO?

The KBO is what new baseball strives to be and is as exciting as it is unique. There are no unwritten rules in Korea as players lob the biggest bat-flips without anyone batting an eye. Picture thousands of fans wailing individual player chants, fueled by passion and all sponsored by great food and lots of beer.

Formed in 1982 after baseball was introduced to Koreans by American missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century, baseball has served as a centerpiece in a Korean culture that is infatuated with sports. KBO games drew an average of 10,108 fans per game in 2020 with the L.G. Twins bringing in 13,894 fans per game last season.

The KBO runs a 144-game season with the average length of games sitting at just over three hours. Much like the CPBL, Korean baseball is offense friendly, averaging 9.1 total runs per game in 2019. Totals usually can be found in the 8.5-9.5 range but can also reach upwards of 12.5. 

Players in Korea enjoy the third-highest average salaries in professional baseball next to MLB and NPB. The average player made the equivalent of $120,000 USD in 2019 according to Statista.com

Since 2009, five players have been posted to the MLB from the KBO: Hyang-nam Choi (Cardinals; US$101 post, minor-league contract), Hyun-jin Ryu (Dodgers; US$25 million post and six years at US$36 million), Jung-ho Kang(Pirates; US$5 million post, four years at US$11 million), Byung-ho Park(US$12.8 million post, four years at US$12 million) and most recently the St. Louis Cardinals paid a US$1.6 million posting fee to sign SK’s ace Kwang-hyun Kim for two years at US$11 million.

Each team is allowed to sign three import players with first-year imports making up to $1 million USD while veterans can earn significantly more. Last season, Doosan Bears’ pitcher Josh Lindholm made $1.9 million on his way to capturing the league MVP followed by a three-year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers in December. 

Betting on the KBO

All the baseball betting markets are the same for the KBO as they would be for MLB. The major difference is that game totals are in the 9.5 to 11.5-run range. Over backers will hope to cash in on teams’ “B” bullpens as the leading team can run up a score in a hurry in Korean baseball.

Home teams won at a .546 clip in 2019 which puts their winning percentage a bump higher than the MLB’s which was .530 last year.

If you are tempted to throw down on all five games on any given day in hopes of hitting an all-Over ticket, you might want to think twice. All five games (or four with a rainout) hit the Over just three times last year with the all-Under parlay hitting 10 times. With 134 days of KBO games last year, bettors would need to hit that parlay six times over the year to return a profit — at five games with -110 juice and 9.5-run totals. 

Sticking with sweeps, home teams swept the day eight times (0.55 percent) while away teams failed to win every game on any given game day last year.

Pitching

KBO ERAs ranged from 4.80 (Hanwha Eagles) on the high end to a league-leading 3.48 ERA by the SK Wyverns. It’s a matter of good pitchers being good and bad pitchers helping pad opponents’ stats. 

Import pitchers had an average ERA of 3.27, a WHIP of 1.20, a K/9 of 6.00 and 0.54 HR/9. These contrast the league average ERA of 3.97, a K/9 of 6.56 and a HR/9 of also 0.54. Bettors should not be fading local pitching at will as Kia’s Hyun-jong Yang led the league with a 2.26 ERA over 180.3 innings pitched. Fourteen starting pitchers had sub-4.00 ERAs last year with six of those being local Korean pitchers.

The league, however, will be without three of its best starting pitchers as Kwang-hyun Kim and Josh Lindblom have signed contracts stateside and SK’s Angel Sanchez has moved onto Japan’s NPB.

Totals are a great indicator of the level of starting pitching for a game. If you see a total of 8 or 8.5 runs, you are most likely going to see a pair of top-end starters take the ball. When you see Over/Under totals of 11.5 and up to 12.5 runs, you can expect backend starters that could yield to the bullpen earlier than usual. 

Offense

The KBO averaged 1.4 home runs per game in 2019 which is the exact same rate at which the MLB swatted long balls last year. With teams averaging a combined 18.26 hit per game (MLB 17.29 hits per game), Korean teams keep fans cheering with their offensive prowess. The Kiwoom Heroes had a team OPS of .768 which is higher than the major league average for OPS last season which was .757. There is plenty of offense to go around in the KBO.

Defense 

The KBO can be a circus sometimes but their unearned run percentage wasn’t that far off from MLB in 2019. The 10-team league had an unearned run percentage of 9.68 percent in 2019 while the MLB had a 7.6 percent unearned run percentage. The KBO mark is much better than that of the CPBL mark of 15.26 percent. In short, Korea’s defensive play is more than decent.

Live betting

With such a big variance between high and low-end talent, teams’ bullpens can be a weak point as no lead is ever safe in Korea. The real damage can be done with teams throwing in their “B” bullpen in for mop-up duty. If a team has a comfortable lead, don’t be afraid to hit the Over or the live runline as the leading team tees off on its opponents’ fringe relievers.

Early-season betting

During the first two weeks of last year’s KBO season, the Under was a profitable bet. Teams went 27-42 O/U on totals of 9.5 runs over the first two weeks. Over that same time frame, home teams hit the -1.5 runline just 20 times (29 percent) while away teams won by more than one run in 23 of the 69 games (33 percent) but covered the -1.5  in 82 percent of the away wins.

Other factors impacting KBO betting

Weather

The average temperature in South Korea during May is around 17 degrees Celsius (63 Fahrenheit) hitting 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) and peaking at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) in August. 

This site also has the weather forecast for each stadium.

Empty stadiums

The KBO plans to begin the season playing behind closed doors but eventually increasing spectators as the season progresses. The plan mentions starting with 10-percent ticket sales and increasing that number to 20 or 30 percent, if all goes well. 

Using Taiwan’s CPBL as the only other example, there doesn’t seem to be a big change in the game when played in front of empty seats. The league is also enforcing a strict “no-spitting” policy to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Korean baseball teams

If you’re in the market for a new KBO team, check out this great article by Sung Min Kim. Although the article was written in 2017, it is still a must-read for any new fans to Korean baseball even if the rosters have changed a bit.

Doosan Bears

Home stadium: Jamsil Baseball Stadium (Seoul-Jamsil)

2019 record: 85-55-1 (T-1st)  — 5.11 runs for/g, 3.82 runs against/g

The Doosan Bears finished tied for the best record last season and swept the Korean Series in four games. The Seoul-based team had the second-highest scoring offense in 2019 and was one of only two teams to score more than 700 runs in 2019. Offensively, the team is led by 33-year-old first baseman Jae-il Oh, who slashed .293/.371/.495 and paced the team with 21 home runs and 102 RBI.

The best bet is with the Under when the Bears play at home as the Seoul-Jasmine stadium aided in the least home runs per game at 0.85 which was 1.32 homers less than the KBO’s most generous stadium to HRs. 

SK Wyverns

Home stadium: Munhak Baseball Stadium (Incheon-Munhak)

2019 record: 85-55-1 (T-1st) -  4.55 runs for/g, 3.79 runs against/g

The Wyvern tied for the best regular season record with the Bears last year but were bounced in the semifinals by the Kiwoom Heroes. SK has captured three titles since 2007 and will be a contender again in 2020 with the likes of infielder Jeong Choi and import Jamie Romak, who both tied for second in home runs at 29 in 2019.

Bettors should look to back the Wyvern when they hit the road as SK had the league’s best away record a year ago going 44-28 SU.

Kiwoom Heroes

Home stadium: Gocheok Sky Dome (Seoul-Gocheok)

2019 record: 86-57-1 (3rd) - 5.42 runs for/g, 3.97 runs against/g

If you’re looking for an exciting team, the Heroes have your back. Kiwoom led the league runs scored and has one of the league's most exciting players in Byung-ho Park. Park paced the KBO in home runs (32) and nearly led the league in strikeouts (117).

On the mound, import pitcher Eric Jokisch (Cubs) returns for his second go in Korea after posting numbers that found him near the top in ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched and quality starts. 

Even with the league’s third-lowest payroll at an average salary of $108,000 USD per player, the Heroes still finished with the KBO’s second-best home record at 45-26 SU. 

LG Twins

Home stadium: Jamsil Baseball Stadium (Seoul-Jamsil)

2019 record: 79-64-1 (4th) — 4.45 runs for/g, 4.45 runs against/g

If you hate cheering for the league’s best team, jump on the LG Twins bandwagon. The Twins share a stadium with the Doosan Bears which forms a natural rivalry between the two clubs. This rivalry has helped create one of Korea’s best fan bases as the Twins had the best attendance in 2019 with an impressive 13,894 fans per game (the stadium sits 25,500 people).

A pair of pitching imports was the motor behind the Twins’ winning record a year ago. Casey Kelly (Padres, Braves Giants) and Tyler Wilson (Orioles) both pitched to sub-3.00 ERAs while tossing a combined 364 innings and amassing 28 wins. 

NC Dinos

Home stadium: Changwon NC Park (Changwon)

2019 record: 73-69-2 (5th) — 4.68 runs for/g, 4.38 runs against/g

No team hit more home runs last year than the NC Dinos at 0.88/g. They also have a catcher by the name of Eui-ji Yang, who led the league in batting average and OPS with a robust .354 average and a 1.018 OPS. 

It was with the Dinos that Milwaukee Brewers’ Eric Thames put up ridiculous numbers over his three years in Korea. Additionally, the Dinos have the KBO’s Bartolo Colon in Choi Jun-Seok.

KT Wiz

Home stadium: Suwon Baseball Stadium (Suwon)

2019 record: 71-71-2 (6th) — 4.51 runs for/g, 4.59 runs against/g

The KT Wiz managed a .500 season on the league’s lowest payroll. Compared to the league’s biggest spender, the Wiz (great name) got outspent over two dollars to one compared to the Lotte Giants ($77K to $160K) last year. 

KT also has one of the league’s best prospects in Baek-ho Kang. At 19, he had the league’s second-highest OPS in 2018 and followed up that with finishing fifth in batting average (.336) and fourth in OPS (.915). He is only 20 years old!

Kia Tigers

Home stadium: Gwangju-KIA Champions Field (Gwangju)

2019 record: 62-80-2 (7th) — 4.20 runs for/g, 5.02 runs against/g

After winning the Korean Series in 2017, the KIA Tigers have put up back-to-back losing seasons thanks to a defense and pitching group that allowed over five runs per game. The Tigers were also awful on the road in 2019, posting the league’s worst away record at 23-47 SU. To add to the list of unexciting traits, KIA also swatted the fewest home runs.

Samsung Lions

Home stadium: Daegu Samsung Lions Park (Daegu)

2019 record: 60-83-1 (8th) — 4.32 runs for/g, 5.08 runs against/g

Surprisingly, a company (and its affiliates) that produced around one-fifth of South Korea’s total exports and had revenue that equaled 17 percent of South Korea’s GDP in 2018 had the second-lowest payroll last year. The frugal spending didn’t translate to wins but it did produce a lot of runs, especially at home. 

The Lions hit the second-most taters last year and their home stadium is a launching pad. No other park saw more home runs in 2019 than Daegu (2.17 per game) as teams combined to score over 10 runs a game there.

Hanwha Eagles

Home stadium: Daejeon Hanbat Baseball Stadium (Daejeon-Hanbat)

2019 record: 58-86-0 (9th) — 4.21 runs for/g, 5.12 runs against/g

The Eagles didn’t have a lot going for them in 2019, finishing second last and nearly 30 games below .500. In fact, over the last 11 years, the Eagles have had just one winning season. 

Import outfielder Jared Hoying (Rangers) has put together two solid seasons with the birds, collecting 48 home runs and 45 stolen bases. He joins pitchers Warwick Saupold (Tigers) and Chad Bell (Tigers) as the hired help for 2020. 

Lotte Giants

Home stadium: Sajik Baseball Stadium (Busan-Sajik)

2019 record: 48-93-3 (10th) — 4.01 runs for/g, 5.31 runs against/g

The Giants are coming off a terrible season in which they finished last in runs per game and last in runs against per game - they also had the worst home record at 29-42 SU. What really stings is that the KBO’s worst team has the highest payroll. 

Bettors will look to fade the Twins with the best value being when Lotte plays at home. The Giants went 29-42 SU at home last year and in those 42 losses, the Giants lost by two runs or more in 33 of those 42 losses. Fade away.

KBO Schedule

The KBO has a 144-game schedule with each team playing each other 16 times. Game days are Tuesday to Sunday with each team playing all six days. 

Games during the week all start at 5:30 PM local time (4:30 AM EST) with Saturday games starting at 4 PM (3 AM EST) and Sunday games going even earlier at 1 PM local time (12 midnight EST). It is still very much possible that KBO gets in all 144 games this year, but a slightly abbreviated schedule is also being considered.

The playoffs are unlike any other in top-tier professional baseball with the No.1 seed after the regular season getting a bye until the finals, also known as the Korean Series. That means the best team in Korea will take on the winner after three rounds of playoff baseball as No.4 and No.5 play a best-of-three series with No.4 beginning the series up one game to none. 

The winner of that series takes on the No.3 team in a best-of-five series with the winner climbing the ladder to the No.2 seed in a best-of-five set. Finally, after a possible 14 games and two-plus weeks off, the best team faces whichever club was victorious in the KBO playoff gauntlet. 

KBO players you may know

Each team has two import pitchers rostered as well as one positional player. 

The Lotte Giants brought in pitcher Dan Straily (A’s, Cubs, Astros, Reds, Marlins and Orioles) this year. Straily is the most experienced import in the KBO having tossed over 800 MLB innings and picking up 44 wins in his eight-year big league career. 

Other notable pitchers are NC’s Mike Wright (Orioles, Mariners), Lotte’s Adrian Sampson (TEX), and second-year pitcher Casey Kelly, who posted a 2.55 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP with the Twins last year. Kelly is tied for the highest import pitching contract at $900,000 USD with teammate Tyler Wilson.

Swinging the bats, you will recognize first-year outfielder Aaron Altherr (Phillies), who is getting $800K this year from the NC Dinos, Samsung infielder Tyler Saladino (White Sox, Brewers) and the league’s two highest-paid imports in SK’s Jamie Romak and KT’s Mel Rohas Jr. Both Romak and Rohas Jr. finished in the Top-10 in home runs, RBI and OPS in 2019. 

For the complete list of the KBO’s import player list, team rosters and depth charts, head over to MyKBO.

Where to Find Info?

The best source for English KBO material can be found at MyKBO.net The site is one of - if not the best - source for English baseball material in all of Asia. The MyKBO app is also a must for bettors and fans as it posts starting pitchers and has live pitch-by-pitch updates on all the games.

FAQs

Where can I bet on the KBO?

Due to the lack of other options during the COVID-19 crisis, we’re expecting KBO betting to be available at pretty much all online sportsbooks. Check out our top listings page to choose a trusted sportsbook that is right for you.

What level of baseball is the KBO?

Offensively, the Korean baseball league is somewhere in between Double and Triple-A ball with there being a big difference in talent between the more skilled hitters and the roster fillers.

The pitching is all over the place with solid front-end pitching on most rosters and fourth and fifth starters who you would rather bet against. Bullpens are also unpredictable and a point of frustration for KBO bettors. This makes looking at teams’ starters that much more important when placing a wager and knowing how active a team’s bullpen has been prior to gameday.

How can I watch or stream the KBO?

As we mentioned above, ESPN has been in talks with the KBO for media rights in the United States. But even without that, we still have the ability to watch some live KBO action. It takes a few steps but, like always, MyKBO has us covered.

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