Not bad for a typical starting pitcher. However, this pitcher went 6-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 17 games before the trade and then went 3-3 with a 6.70 ERA in nine games after the trade. His post-trade record was not good.
He started Game 2 of the Korean Series and gave up four runs with one out, putting his team in a hole. In Game 4, he pitched the ninth inning with a 15-3 lead and gave up one run on two hits and no walks.
It was a dismal performance from Choi Won-tae, the “championship pitcher” that the LG Twins brought in to help them win the championship.
On July 29, LG acquired starting pitcher Choi Won-tae from the Kiwoom Heroes in a three-way trade that sent outfielder Lee Ju-hyung, pitcher Kim Dong-gyu, 먹튀검증 and a first-round pick in the 2024 draft. They gave away three prospects while getting a domestic ace to win the championship.
At the time, LG had a weak domestic starting lineup, so Choi Won-tae was hailed as a “godsend” for the championship.
Choi hasn’t lived up to expectations since his arrival.
Lee Ju-hyung, who went to Kiwoom, exploded with potential as soon as he arrived. In 51 games, he batted .303 (66-for-200) with six home runs and 34 RBIs, making him Kiwoom’s next center fielder after Lee Jung-hoo’s departure.
But was Choi Won-tae really a failure, and did it do nothing to help them win the championship?
The comparison has led some to label Choi Won-tae a “failed” signing.
The answer is no. The signing of Choi Won-tae definitely helped the team win the championship. Even though he didn’t perform well individually, he brought a sense of security to the team and fans. The “Choi Won-Tae effect” was evident throughout the regular season and Korean Series.
When Choi was traded. LG’s starting pitching staff was struggling.
The five-man starting rotation consisted of Casey Kelly, Adam Plutko, Chan-kyu Lim, Jung-yong Lee, and Ji-gang Lee. Lee had been a middle reliever and was suddenly moving into the starting rotation to raise his pitch count, while Lee Ji-gang was doing a good job with four innings of relief. On July 28, the day before the trade was announced, only 2.5 games separated LG from second-place SSG Landers in the standings. There was a lot of anxiety about the starting lineup.
On July 29, the day after the trade was announced, Choi Won-tae made his first appearance in an LG uniform, throwing six innings of two-hit ball with no walks and five strikeouts in a 10-0 victory over Doosan. It was a relief to have a solid four-man rotation of Kelly, Plutko, Choi Won-tae, and Lim Chan-kyu. Choi Won-tae’s win on the mound gave LG a four-game winning streak, and they followed that up with three more wins to extend their winning streak to seven games. They extended their lead over SSG to 5.5 games and began a dominant race for first place.
LG bounced back from a shaky start to climb to the top spot, and although KT threatened LG as the new No. 2, the team sailed to victory. Even though Choi Won-tae had his moments, it didn’t matter to LG, which was already a clear favorite.
The Choi Won-tae effect was evident in the Korean Series.
As LG was closing in on the title, the “worst-case scenario” happened. Plutko, who had been sidelined with a pelvic bone bruise, refused to pitch out of concern for his injury. The regular season was uneventful. They were practically guaranteed to win the title. The Korean Series was the problem. The absence of a foreign pitcher is a major setback in the starting battle. To be eligible to pitch in the Korean Series as a starter, he had to start pitching a month in advance, but Plutko missed the deadline, and while the team was in training camp for the Korean Series, he reached an agreement with the club to return to the United States.
The loss of a de facto ace who had won 11 games in the first half alone. Naturally, the team could be shaken, and fans would be worried.
However, Choi Won-tae had a trump card.
Coach Yeom Kyung-yup confirmed the 1-3 starting lineup of Kelly, Choi Won-tae, and Lim Chan-kyu. Choi Won-tae was placed in the second lineup as a flanker. Choi Won-tae had struggled in the regular season, but there was faith that he would pitch well with more rest. After clinching the regular season title, Won-Tae Choi was pulled from the first team early on October 6, along with Kelly, to recover and prepare for the Korean Series. Won-Tae Choi pitched Game 2 of the Korean Series on November 8, so he had over a month to prepare. There were expectations that he would pitch well enough in a month.
Without Choi, LG would have had to prepare a starting rotation of Kelly, Lim Chan-gyu, Jung-yong, and Kim Yoon-sik. Obviously, they would be inferior to KT’s starting lineup of Cuevas-Benjamin-Go Young-pyo-Eum Sang-baek in terms of starting weight. Fans and players are bound to be anxious. The inclusion of Choi Won-tae in the lineup helped to ease some of the anxiety and prepare for the Korean Series. Won-tae Choi’s poor performance was erased by the ‘beehive bullpen’ and a tremendous batting performance. This was also due to the fact that he prepared hard without any anxiety.
Baseball is a mental game.
No matter how good a pitcher is, he will be hit if he is mentally weak, and no matter how good a hitter is, he will not hit well if he is mentally weak. Unfortunately, Choi Won-tae didn’t actually pitch the way he was expected to pitch, but he did bring a sense of psychological stability to the team. The direct contribution of Choi to LG’s Korean Series victory may be less than 1%. However, his ‘win-inducing effect’ was over 1000%. For the team to win the regular season and go 4-1 in the Korean Series, the signing of Choi Won-tae was a “godsend.