“They know it’s a fastball, but they can’t hit it.”

토스카지노 KT closer Kim Jae-yoon, 33, pitched two perfect innings with two strikeouts against Hanwha in Daejeon on 19 April, leading his team to a 5-4 win in extra innings. He threw 28 pitches, five sliders, one forkball and 22 fastballs.

In the ninth inning, Han Joo-seok and Nick Williams fouled off Kim Jae-yoon’s fastball to third base. In the 10th inning, “Home Run No. 1” Noh Si-hwan also struck out after two false swings at Kim Jae-yoon’s fastball. He was hit by a 149km high fastball for the final out. The final batter, Kim In-hwan, also struck out after taking three bad swings at Kim Jae-yoon’s fastball. Kim’s four-pitch outside fastball was a ball, but was measured at 151.2 kilometres per hour by TrackMac.

The next day, KT manager Lee Kang-cheol said of Kim, “The ball was really good,” and added, “It was a ball they couldn’t hit, even though they knew it was a fastball. The fastball was so high that their bats couldn’t come out, and I thought, ‘I can’t hit that ball. ‘ I thought, ‘I can’t hit that ball,’ and my arm came out better than usual.”

Lee couldn’t hide his smile as he said, “I don’t know where there is a reliever who is so stable, and I was so grateful that he was able to save two innings.” Against Hanwha on the 20th, Kim Jae-yoon took the mound in the ninth inning and struck out three batters with 10 pitches to preserve KT’s 3-0 victory. Kim is a big part of the reason KT is 21-5 in the second half of the season with an 8-for-10 (.808) winning percentage. He is 1-8 with a 0.64 ERA in 12 games (14 innings) in the second half, locking the back door perfectly.

Selected by KT with the 13th overall pick in the second special round of the 2015 rookie draft, Kim Jae-yoon has grown with his new team. He became the closer in 2016, amassing 159 career saves, and was on the mound when KT won its first Korean Series title in 2021. A former catcher, his trademark is a rocket-like fastball, and he is having a career-high season this year.

[OSEN=Daejeon, Choi Kyu-han] KT pitcher Kim Jae-yoon and catcher Jang Jang-woo exchange greetings after finishing the game on the mound in the ninth inning. 2023.08.20 / dreamer@osen.co.kr

[OSEN=Jamsil, Dae-sun Lee] KT pitcher Kim Jae-yoon shares the joy of victory with manager Lee Kang-cheol. 2023.08.15 /sunday@osen.co.kr

In 42 games this season, he has pitched 47⅔ innings with a 4-2 record, 22 saves, a 1.32 ERA and 42 strikeouts. Third in saves behind SSG’s Seo Jin-yong (32) and Lotte’s Kim Won-joong (23). His ERA, WHIP (0.82), and batting average (.181) are the best in the league. From his five multi-inning appearances to his reliability and versatility, it’s safe to say he’s the best closer in the game right now.

After this season, Kim will be eligible for free agency for the first time in his career. The KBO’s free agency market this winter will be less crowded than in recent years. On the pitching side, Lim Chan-kyu, Ham Deok-ju (LG), Joo Kwon (KT), and Hong Gun-hee (Doosan) are notable, but the most proven closer is Kim Jae-yoon. Among the free agent hitters are Yang Seok-hwan (Doosan) and Ahn Chi-hong (Lotte), but Kim Jae-yoon could be in contention for the overall maximum.

Free agent bullpen pitchers in their 30s are a risk, but there have been successes like Jung Woo-ram and Son Seung-rak. Kim Jae-yoon’s strength is his durability, as he has been injury-free throughout his career, and his work ethic. “In the off-season, Jae-yoon rarely misses a day,” Lee said, “and he goes to the baseball field and works out. He takes care of himself,” Lee said. He’s a player KT can’t afford to miss.

[OSEN=Suwon, Kyuhan Choi Reporter] KT’s Kim Jae-yoon. 2023.05.24 / dreamer@osen.co.kr

[OSEN=Ji Hyung-jun] KT Kim Jae-yoon.

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