“Of course, the goal is to win. I will do my best to get good results without getting injured like last year.”
The resolution of Na Seong-beom (34, KIA Tigers) ahead of the 2023 season was simple. However, KIA’s performance depends on that seemingly ordinary determination.
Na Seong-beom signed a six-year, 15 billion won free agent contract with KIA ahead of the 2022 season. The first year is considered successful. Na Seong-beom, who played in all 144 regular season games, had a batting average of 0.320 (5th in the league), 21 home runs (tied for 9th), 97 RBIs (7th), 92 runs scored (4th), on-base percentage of 0.402 (4th), and slugging percentage of 0.508 (4th). ) was recorded. Except for his home run and RBI, all of them were in the league’s top 5, and he also won his third Golden Glove in 7 years.
He was a top-level player in the league, but it was like a ray of light for KIA. Except for Na Seong-beom, there was no KIA hitter with an OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) exceeding 0.800. Socrates Britto (31), who led the lineup with him with an OPS of 0.848, also had an unexpected injury, but the ups and downs were severe.
The situation is not much different this year. Unlike last year, when they made aggressive investments by recruiting Na Seong-beom and Yang Hyeon-jong (35), this winter had a relatively quiet off-season. Rather, catcher Park Dong-won (33), who hit 18 home runs last year, moved to the LG Twins as a free agent, reducing the weight of the batting line.
It’s not that there aren’t resources to look forward to. There are also Byun Woo-hyeok (23), Joo Hyo-sang (26) and Kim Do-yeong (20), who was recruited through a trade, and Hong Jong-pyo (23), who returned from the Armed Forces Sports Unit (Sangmu). However, Woo-Hyeok Byun with a career batting average of 0.246 and OPS of 0.681 in the first team, and Hyo-Sang Ju with a batting average of 0.203 and OPS of 0.546 are still more variables to prove.
In such a KIA lineup, Na Seong-beom is like a tree root that holds the center in any rain and wind. Na Seong-beom is an influential giant with 233 homers in the KBO League career, but is also a byword for consistency with more than 20 homers throughout his career, except for his debut season and 2019, when he was out of the season due to an unexpected knee injury. His first season at KIA also consistently marked a batting average of 30% every month except for June. It is a bonus that he proved his health by participating in all 144 games. Without Na Seong-beom, it is highly likely that he would not have been able to keep 5th place until the end of the season. “We will do it like last year” is a special reason for KIA.
Here’s another motivation. Last year’s wild card match against KT Wiz was a turning point when a defensive mistake adversely affected the team’s defeat. Before leaving for spring camp last month, Na Seong-beom said, “I made a mistake in baseball last fall, so I became a shameful senior to my juniors. If that opportunity comes again this year, I will make it a game that I can win again. I will make a team that can go to fall baseball first.”