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Two players chase hallowed .400 mark in batting average

2018/06/14 10:57

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SEOUL, June 14 (Yonhap) -- Two All-Stars are in pursuit of the hallowed .400 mark in batting average in South Korean baseball, with the regular season nearing the halfway point.

Never before in the 36-year history of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) have two players batted .400 or higher this deep into a season. Through Wednesday's action, Kia Tigers second baseman An Chi-hong was leading the league with a .404 average, closely followed by Doosan Bears catcher Yang Eui-ji at .400.

Both the Tigers and the Bears have played 64 out of 144 total games this season. An has played in 52 of them and Yang has been in 63.

In this file photo from May 2, 2018, An Chi-hong of the Kia Tigers hits a two-run single against the Lotte Giants in the top of the sixth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap) In this file photo from May 2, 2018, An Chi-hong of the Kia Tigers hits a two-run single against the Lotte Giants in the top of the sixth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Only one hitter in league history has batted .400 in a season. It came in the inaugural season in 1982, when Baek In-chun, the player-manager for the MBC Blue Dragons (currently the LG Twins), batted .412. Teams only played 80 games at the time, and Baek appeared in 72 of them.

Most recently, SK Wyverns catcher Lee Jae-won batted .401 through 71 games in 2014 but ended up at just .337 for the season.

After Baek's record, the second-highest batting average for a season is owned by former Tigers All-Star Lee Jong-beom, who finished with a .393 average in 1994 in 124 games. He maintained a .400 average through 104 games.

Though the KBO has been an offensive league for a few years -- 33 players batted .300 or higher last year and there are 28 such players so far this year -- staying above .400 for a 144-game season may still be difficult for An and Yang.

And the odd scheduling for the 2018 season will likely affect their rhythm. The KBO will go on a hiatus from mid-August to early September to accommodate the Aug. 18-Sept. 2 Asian Games in Indonesia, and An and Yang both made the national team.

An, whose career high batting average is .339 from 2014, has bounced back from an early season injury to steadily climb to above .400. He was batting .373 when he took a pitch to his left hand and suffered a broken finger on April 18. He returned to action on May 1, and his average dipped to .357 on May 19.

But then An went on a 17-for-35 run to close out May hitting .384, and reached .403 on June 5 after a 2-for-3 day against the KT Wiz.

An got to a season-high .415 on Tuesday but went 0-for-5 Wednesday to fall to .404.

In this file photo from June 1, 2018, Yang Eui-ji of the Doosan Bears hits a solo home run against the Kia Tigers in the top of the ninth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap) In this file photo from June 1, 2018, Yang Eui-ji of the Doosan Bears hits a solo home run against the Kia Tigers in the top of the ninth inning of a Korea Baseball Organization regular season game at Gwangju-Kia Champions Field in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Yang, who has missed just one game, has been the steadier of the two. After going 12-for-24 in seven games in March, Yang batted .404 in April. He followed that up with a .381 average in May and is batting an outstanding .432 in 10 games for this month.

He dropped to .394 last Sunday, but then batted 4-for-7 in his next two games to move back to .400.

Yang set his personal best with a .326 average in 2015.

The 31-year-old is widely considered the best two-way catcher in the KBO and is expected to hit the jackpot once he becomes a free agent after this season. The Bears will certainly try to retain Yang but there won't be a shortage of pursuers for his service.

Asked about his robust batting average this season on Wednesday, Yang said he didn't really have an answer.

"I never thought I'd be hitting .400 this late into the season," he said. "Things have been going so well this year, and I am surprised myself. I haven't made any mechanical changes, and if people ask me why I've been hitting so well, I really don't have an explanation."

   jeeho@yna.co.kr

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