Genius shortstop’ Lee Hak-joo, driven to the edge of a cliff, will he be given a chance to rebound?

There is no place to back down anymore. For ‘genius shortstop’ Lee Hak-joo (33), the 2023 season is virtually his last chance.메이저놀이터

On January 24 of last year, the Lotte Giants handed over pitcher Ha-Neul Choi and the right to pick the 3rd round of the 2023 rookie draft to the Samsung Lions and brought infielder Hak-joo Lee. It was to fill the void created by giving up on renewing the contract with Dixon Machado, who had firmly held the position of shortstop for two seasons (2020-2021). After his debut in the KBO League in 2019, Lee Hak-joo, whose performance has been on the decline every year and even had controversy over his work-esque, but Lotte recruited him in anticipation of a revival.

However, Lee Hak-joo failed to live up to his expectations in his first season at Lotte. His batting average was poor at 0.207 and his OPS was 0.565 (0.263 on-base percentage, 0.302 slugging percentage), the lowest since his debut. He recorded 12 errors, the second most on the team, and showed a disappointing appearance in defense. Lotte tried several players, but could not find a clear starting shortstop, and in the end, the 2022 season shortstop WAR (contribution to victory against substitutes) -1.03, wRC + (adjusted score creation ability) 46.4, all of which were at the bottom of the league.

Lotte, which opened its wallet in the Stove League this time, recruited free agent Noh Jin-hyeok in November of last year and eased the long-standing problem of shortstop. Noh Jin-hyeok played more defensive innings last season as a third baseman (465⅓ innings) than as a shortstop (441⅓ innings) at the NC Dinos, but he is expected to become the undisputed main shortstop at Lotte. The competition for Lotte’s infield backup, which has a solid starting lineup with Ahn Chi-hong at second base and Han Dong-hee at third base, is expected to be fiercer than ever.

Looking at Lotte’s roster for this spring camp, Lee Hak-joo’s position feels even narrower. Park Seung-wook (419⅔ innings), Kim Min-soo, Lee Ho-yeon, Han Tae-yang, and Kim Se-min, who played the most defensive innings last year after Lee Hak-joo (616 innings), have abundant infield resources. Yoon Dong-hee, who is classified as an outfielder, is also a promising player who made a name for herself as a shortstop in high school, so she can join the competition at any time. If Noh Jin-hyeok (born in 1989) and Lee Hak-joo (born in 1990), who are only one year older, do not show a clear advantage in skill, more opportunities will be given to young and promising players.

Among the high school shortstops born in 1990 who were considered the greatest talents of all time, Lee Hak-joo was one of the most talented shortstops. However, while Lee Hak-joo returned home and wandered, unable to overcome the high wall of the major leagues, the gap with his classmates Kim Sang-soo, Ahn Chi-hong, Oh Ji-hwan, and Heo Gyeong-min widened. Attention is focusing on whether Lee Hak-joo, who was driven to the edge of a cliff without being able to establish himself in a new team, will be able to seize a chance to revive through the fierce competition.

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