How Does the Korean Baseball Organization Differ From Major League Baseball?

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If a news agency from South Korea is to be believed, broadcast giant ESPN have approached the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) about the possibility of airing live games in the United States. Because South Korea was quick to combat the health crisis that has crippled sports in the US, KBO officials are optimistic that their season may get underway as soon as early May.

ESPN is desperate to find any sporting content they can, so their interest in potentially showing professional baseball games from South Korea is understandable. Sports fans and bettors alike will take just about anything right now. We can only endure so much of Blake Snell or Devin Booker playing sports video games on television as an alternative.

There’s no telling when (or if) Major League Baseball’s 2020 season will begin, so there’s a decent chance the KBO will see a sudden surge in interest from across the pond if they do start playing real games next month. Making those games easily accessible by broadcasting them on a major network like ESPN would help American fans and bettors fully embrace the KBO as a legitimate alternative to MLB. For a while, at least.

What are some of the differences between Major League Baseball and the KBO?

Teams and Schedule

The KBO season is a bit shorter than the American version. The regular season consists of 144 games compared to MLB’s 162. The KBO also has one-third as many teams as MLB. The 10 KBO franchises will play one another 16 times apiece, while not all of MLB’s 30 clubs will square off over the course of a full season.

The 10 KBO clubs are listed below:

  • NC Dinos
  • Kiwoom Heroes
  • Hanwa Eagles
  • SK Wyverns
  • Doosan Bears
  • Kia Tigers
  • KT Wiz
  • Lotte Giants
  • LG Twins
  • Samsung Lions

The KBO teams are not identified based on geographic location. As you can see, the team names actually include the names of their primary sponsors. 3 of the teams (Twins, Bears, Heroes) are based in Seoul.

Playoff Format

Fewer teams qualify for the postseason in Major League Baseball than most other professional sports leagues, but the smaller KBO obviously has a different format entirely. The five teams that finish the regular season with the best records will advance to the playoffs. The team with the best record gets a bye for the first few rounds of the playoffs, which means an automatic ticket to the best-of-seven championship series.

The teams seeded Nos. 4 and 5 will play one another in a best-of-three first round series. However, the No. 5 team automatically starts with a one-game deficit, which means the No. 4 team needs to win just one game in order to move on.

Whichever team advances from that matchup will face the No. 3 team in a best-of-five series. The winner of that will advance to square off against the No. 2 team in another best-of five series before the winner moves on to face the top overall seeded team in the Korean Series.

Rule Differences

In addition to the more abbreviated schedule featuring just 10 teams, the KBO also utilizes a universal designated hitter. In the US, the National League forces pitchers to hit for themselves, while the American League plays with a DH.

You also won’t be seeing any 18-inning marathons in the KBO like you will in the US. Regular season games in South Korea are declared as ties if the score remains knotted after 12 innings. You can also have a tie in the playoffs if the score is still even after 15 innings of play. In the playoffs, the higher seed is credited with a win if the game ends in a tie.

KBO History

The KBO has only existed since 1982, so it obviously has a far more limited history than Major League Baseball, which just celebrated its 150th season last year.

In terms of championships, the Kia Tigers and Samsung Lions are the most successful teams in the history of the KBO. The Tigers have won a total of 11 titles, while the Lions have won the league eight times. Interestingly enough, the Tigers have a perfect 11-0 record in the Korean Series, with their most recent title coming in 2017. The Lions, meanwhile, have won their eight titles while finishing as runners-up another 10 times. The Lions’ 18 appearances in the Korean Series is easily the most of any team in the history of the KBO.

The Doosan Bears have been the most successful club in recent years. The Bears won the championships in 2015, 2016 and 2019, and they were runners-up in both 2017 and 2018. The team has won a total of six titles in 13 Korean Series appearances.

The Kiwoom Heroes and NC Dinos are the only teams to have never won a KBO title across their three appearances in the Series. They have come close, however. The Heroes finished as runners-up in 2014 and 2019, while the Dinos did so in 2016.

KBO Betting Tips

Assuming everything goes according to plan, Americans should have the chance to bet on real KBO action within a matter of weeks as we continue to wait for Major League Baseball to start. If nothing else, the Korean league will give us some much-needed entertainment as we pass the time.

Regular Season Matters

As you can see, the KBO puts a lot more weight in regular season results than Major League Baseball does. The fact that the team with the best overall record gets an automatic bid in the Korean Series is a massive advantage. For example, the Bears finished the regular season as the No. 1 overall seed in two of their three of their championship seasons since 2015.

SK Wyverns were the top overall seed when they won their 2018 title, and the same can be said for the Kia Tigers in 2017. The team that finished with the second-best record typically advances to the Korean Series, as well. As you can see, winning the league pennant is a massive advantage.

The only teams since 2002 to win the league pennant and lose the Korean Series are the 2018 Bears and 2015 Lions.

At the beginning of the postseason, the regular season champion may well have minus-money odds of going on to win the Korean Series.

Three-Way Moneyline Bets

Because regular season and playoff KBO games can end in a tie, betting on a single game is a little different than doing so for a big league game. The games will look same with regard to the runline and the over/under, but the moneyline is a three-way result.

Because MLB’s rulebook doesn’t allow for tie games, you’ll only find moneyline odds on both teams to win. In the KBO, you can wager on either team winning or the game ending in a tie. That aspect makes KBO moneyline betting a little more like wagering on pro soccer.

Of course, the chances of a game ending in a tie are pretty slim. The Lotte Giants led the league in 2019 with a total of three ties across the 144-game season. Just one Bears game ended in a tie. Successfully betting on a tie will be profitable considering the odds will typically be listed at +1000 or longer, but they’re so rare that your chances of actually doing so are miniscule.

Will the KBO Really Start in May?

KBO officials are planning to begin preseason games on April 21 with eyes on starting the regular season in earnest sometime next month. While no firm date has been set, there seems to be plenty of momentum toward getting the season underway.

As we’ve seen, there can still be hurdles. The Chinese Basketball Association, for example, has reportedly pushed the start of their season back to July due to the public health situation. That season has been on hold since January 24, and the league had originally planned to restart games on April 15.

Of course, the situation in China is vastly different than the one in South Korea, especially considering South Korea is quite a bit smaller. With the way South Korea has smartly been able to get out in front of the crisis, there is reason to believe that they will actually start playing games in the near future. Even if there are no fans in the seats, seeing live baseball will offer a glimmer of hope for the future.

Taylor Smith / Author

Taylor is a sports writer based in Southern California. While he primarily specializes in basketball, baseball and football, he will also dabble in things like soccer and politics from time to time. He has lived in just about every corner of the United States at one point or another, and he has been covering sports and sports betting for the better part of a decade. Taylor currently lives in Long Beach with his fiancé and their two cats.