“He had a really good fastball, so I said, ‘I’ll sign a lot of autographs with your fastball today,’ and he smiled.”
Doosan Bears catcher Ahn Seung-han (31) had a hunch that starting pitcher Kwak Bin (24) was going to be good before the game against the SSG Landers in Jamsil on May 25. When he received a pitch from the bullpen, it was a better pitch than usual, and he wasn’t wrong. Kwak threw eight innings, 102 pitches, four hits, three walks, five strikeouts, and no runs in a 10-1 win. The eight innings was a personal best for Kwak, whose previous best was 7⅓ innings against the LG Twins in Jamsil on April 15.
In reaching the 10-win plateau for the first time in his career, Kwak showed why he is considered a national ace. Kwak will lead the Korean mound alongside Park Se-woong (Lotte Giants), Moon Dong-joo (Hanwha Eagles), and Won Tae-in (Samsung Lions) at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games next month. After struggling to a 1-4 record, 29 innings pitched, and a 4.97 ERA in the first five games of the second half, Kwak-Bin briefly raised some concerns, but he proved them wrong with a strong outing.
Ten wins is the standard for a top-tier starter in the league. Over the past five years, Doosan has consistently developed its first-round picks into aces. Lee Young-ha, the 2016 first-round pick, first realized his potential with 17 wins in 2019, his third year, while Choi Won-jun, the 2017 first-round pick, established himself as a reliable starter with 10 wins in 2020 and 12 wins in 2021. He also earned a Taekwondo mark for his performance. Lee went on to pitch for Korea at the 2019 WBSC Premier12 and Choi at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Kwak Bin, the 2018 first-round pick, struggled for more than three years with elbow surgery and rehabilitation shortly after joining the team, but he took over the baton from Lee and Choi this year, his sixth year in the organization, by winning 10 games for the first time. Since the second half of last year, he has been praised as “no slouch for Ahn Woo-jin (Kiwoom Heroes)” and was selected to represent Korea at the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March, and has been honored twice this year before the Hangzhou Asian Games.
“After nine wins and a few games, I was thinking, ‘I’ll get the win after one game,’ and then I got shaken up by myself. I think (Choi) Won-jun told me that (10 wins) 먹튀검증 would come if my brother did it, so I threw with a relaxed mindset. I had a desire to complete the game, but there was the next game and a crisis in the eighth inning, so from then on, I think I just looked at the batters and threw without a desire to complete the game,” he said of his 10th win.
It was even more significant that SSG’s starting pitcher was Korea’s top left-hander, Kim Kwang-hyun (34). For Kwak-Bin to get past the ninth inning, the offense had to pound him, and they did, scoring a whopping seven runs to take the pressure off Kwak-Bin’s shoulders. Kim Kwang-hyun suffered the loss, allowing seven runs (six earned) on 61 pitches and nine hits in four innings with one walk and one strikeout.
Kwak said, “It was an honor to face the best left-handed pitcher in Korea. I believe it will be an opportunity for me to improve. My older brothers are very good at hitting, so I thought I just needed to do well,” he said with a smile.
Ahn Seung-han gave a thumbs-up to Kwak Bin’s pitch. Kwak’s fastball reached a maximum velocity of 153 kilometers, with an average velocity of 149 kilometers. He utilized a mix of fastballs (45), sliders (26), curves (18), and changeups (13). He was most aggressive in the second half, throwing 66 strikes out of 102 pitches.
Ahn said, “(Kwak) Bin had really good pitches, I don’t know if he had the will to win 10, but he had really good pitches. He pitched really well with the lead, so I’m happy for him. It’s been a while since I’ve pitched with Binh, but we played a couple games together last year. He has a really good fastball. I told him, “I’ll sign a lot of autographs with your fastball, so let’s do that,” and he laughed. As soon as I started the first inning, I thought, “He’s got a really good fastball, so I’m going to get 10 wins today,” and left a message saying, “Congratulations on your 10 wins, don’t be satisfied with 10 wins, I want you to win 20.
Kwak said to Ahn Seung-han, “We played together a few times last year, but (Ahn) Seung-han wants to pitch aggressively. I also want to be aggressive, so it’s a good fit and I’m comfortable with it. I wanted to use a lot of curveballs, and I think he made me throw curveballs because he knows I need to throw curveballs to save pitches. Seung-han is a catcher who gives me confidence. When I get a hit, he blames himself more than I blame myself, which makes me think that I need to throw harder.” He expressed his gratitude.
Kwak Bin is on track for the best season of his career with a 10-6 record, 102 innings pitched, and a 2.74 ERA in 18 games this season. The 10-win season has also helped him with his mental game, which was shaky in the second half.
“I thought I was strong in the second half, but when I faltered in the second half, I thought, ‘Why not?’ My pitching coach told me that my form and delivery were fine, and Coach Lee Young-soo talked to me a lot mentally, so it was good to change my mindset to a positive one. In the second half, I thought it would be nice to pitch with an ERA in the 2-run range, but since when have I been a 2-run pitcher? Even if it goes to the three-run range, I’m just thinking about throwing long innings,” he said, indicating that he will continue to accumulate wins one by one for the rest of the season.
Doosan manager Lee Seung-yeop said, “Congratulations to Kwak-Bin on his first 10 wins. He must have been under a lot of pressure because he hasn’t won recently, but he pitched his best game this season. Thanks to Kwak-bin’s eighth-inning performance, we were able to save our bullpen pitchers who threw a lot in the three-game series in the middle of the week.”
Kwak seemed to be in disbelief that he had reached the 10-win mark and made it to the national team. “The first 10 wins are great,” he said, “but I have a lot of baseball left. I think I got there (10 wins) at the right age. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be in the first team until I was 23. The professional bar is so high,” he laughed.
Regarding the Asian Games, he said, “Even if I throw like this now, the ace is (Park) Se-woong or (Moon) Dong-joo. I’m counting on them. I’ve already told Dong-joo that you should do it. Of course, I have to do well, but we have to do it together, so if we do well, I think good results will come out. (Noh) Sihwan will do it for me,” he said, adding that he will trust his teammates.