Mariners Analysis: Dae-Ho Lee, South Korea’s Biggest Star
Dae-ho Lee has been ever better than advertised in his debut season with the Mariners.
The Seattle Mariners are no stranger to signing Asian born players, in fact, they are only one and two signees behind the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers respectively for most players from the East to put on an MLB jersey.
Of course Ichiro Susuki is the most celebrated of them all, and he was a Mariner signing- they have just signed the next big star in Dae-ho Lee. The Mariners are number one however when speaking of Korean born players on a squad- they have had three (two former, one present). That current player is Lee, and his numbers as a back-up are already challenging the most impressive statistics from full-time starters set by a Korean national in his inaugural season in American baseball.
Currently, Lee has played in 29 games (starting 16) of the teams’ 47 games, let’s say roughly a half of the teams outings and only a third as a starter in the lineup. The three other Korean native current slugging standouts, Byung-ho Park of the Minnesota Twins, Jung-ho Kang of the Pirates, and former Mariner amateur signing, Shin-Soo Choo (who has spent much of 2016 on the disabled list) all contribute as main staples in their teams’ starting lineups, yet Lee’s stats are quite similar.
Despite getting far fewer chances to shine on the big stage, Lee has come up clutch. Not only having a multi-homer game, but also hitting a walk-off home run back on April 13th against the Texas Rangers. He is the only Korean to have achieved both those stats this season and is the first to do so since Choo did it for the Cincinnati Reds back in 2013- and we’re not even two months into the season.
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What makes Dae-ho even more of a star is his ability to put up big numbers after he gets going in a game. In the 6 games in which he has recorded an RBI, 4 of them where for multiple RBI’s. That is a much greater percentage than any other current Korean national. On the flip side, when he doesn’t hit the ball, it is good that he is not striking out too much, having had only 16 thus far. His time playing in South Korea and Japan surly got him accustomed to reading pitches, allowing his strikeouts to be fairly low.
Lee’s storied career back in his home country and Japan was magnificent. Over 15 years of ball playing experience overseas Lee amassed 323 HRs, 1152 RBIs, and the big fella even hustled out 7 triples and 9 stolen bases in that decade and a half. In both leagues he put up 30+ HR, 80+ RBI years, including a 44 HR, 133 RBI 10th year in the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization). So it would be fair to say that Mike Blowers‘ in-game assessment, “we know he knows how to hit the ball” is spot on.
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He may be just a month shy of 34 years old, but the way he is hitting the ball- which has an ease and fluidity to it- will help him continue to power up and bolster his stats into his 40’s, when he will probably still be competing with the young guns as to who will be the biggest star to come from South Korea.