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Korea baseball catches on with betting

Bat flips, cheerleaders, fight songs and plenty of offense - I'm on board with the Korean Baseball Organization.

Besides, overall, we have some surprisingly good baseball.

While I may not be excited with most games' first pitches starting at 2:30 a.m. Pacific time, I'm an early riser and have been tuning in midway through games by 4 a.m., with ESPN broadcasting games since Opening Day.

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And aside from the occasional former Major Leaguer popping up on my screen like Doosan Bears infielder and former Los Angeles Angel José Miguel Fernández, who leads the KBO with a .500 batting average, the league is chock full of talent we may not have heard of if not for the global coronavirus pandemic.

Braving the scare, the KBO has provided plenty of excitement with high-scoring games and a bevy of walk-off winners that have given SportsCenter anchors plenty to talk about over the league's first 20 days of action.

The league has also given sportsbooks an added attraction for bettors.

“Until other sports come back, I think Korean Baseball will increase as one of the few (sports being played) on a daily basis," said Jeff Sherman, VP of Risk Management at the Westgate’s SuperBook. "You're getting every day except Sunday, so I just think until you start to see the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball return, I think it will increase as the other sports are increasing, too.”

Sherman said there's been an uptick in ticket count for NASCAR since its return, so there's an assumption there are bettors who don't traditionally bet on racing who are involved in that now. The same can be said for the various soccer leagues around the world.

So it's been no surprise for Sherman, who added there have been well-respected sharps who wager heavy on other sports, now involved in betting Korean baseball.

“We move (the line) accordingly based on their plays in this too," said Sherman, who is offering a 10-cent line on KBO action. "We have to stay within the market or else we're just leaving a scalp out there. If we see something moving enough then we'll go ahead and move it on air. We're doing a combination of things just like we do on any other sport. We're paying attention to the market and we're paying attention to who's betting it.”

It hasn't been difficult to see who the better teams are. The NC Dinos are dominating with a 14-3 mark, but that doesn't mean handicapping the games have been easy. I've given out 11 free plays for Gaming Today and am 5-4 (+60) with two rainouts.

One of the things that make the KBO tough to evaluate is how quick games can change due to the lack of depth in every bullpen. While the league's best players are probably good enough to thrive in America, the bottom tier players are those at the back end of the bullpen.

Of the 27 pitchers listed on the league's official stat page, only 10 had an ERA of less than 3.00. Conversely, the bottom 12 have ERA's higher than 4.00, including former Major Leaguers Raúl Alcántara (4.13), Pinto Ricardo (4.76), Jake Brigham (5.00), David Buchanan (5.40), William Cuevas (5.55) and Tyler Wilson (5.71).

Through the first 20 days of the KBO season, the 10 teams have combined for 923 runs, or an average of 92.3 runs. Per game, that's an average of 10.6 runs. In comparison, over the first 20 days of the 2019 MLB season, all 30 teams combined for 2,393 runs, an average of 79.7 runs to that point. That's also an average of 9.3 runs per game.

It is important to note that every KBO team employs the "Universal Designated Hitter" rule, with one player in each team’s lineup hitting in place of the team’s pitcher.

With less emphasis on a dominating pitching game, we've seen hitters attack much more, and are certainly putting the ball in play and striking out much less than we'd see in MLB action. To wit: batters are striking out once per 5.57 plate appearances in the KBO, compared to 4.36 in MLB last season.

Sherman said he anticipates KBO lines will stay up when Major League Baseball begins, and an evaluation will be made on the amount of action taken at that point.

“If it's shifted away enough that it really isn't worth us putting it up, then we'll just go ahead and get rid of it," he said. "It's really going to be interest-driven, but we're not just gonna yank it the day Major League Baseball comes up.”

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing the 144-game campaign remain on the board, even if it's a wee-hours spotlight. Or at least until I learn all of the fight songs.