Kang-chul Lee (이강철)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 174 lb.
Kang-chul Lee was a top Korean pitcher of the 1990s.
Lee starred for the South Korean national team in the 1988 Baseball World Cup, going 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA and 16 K in 14 1/3 IP with only two unintentional walks. He finished third in the event in ERA behind future major leaguer Charles Nagy and Fulvio Valle. He remained with Korea for the 1988 Olympics.
Lee turned pro with the 1989 Haitai Tigers, going 15-8 with five saves and a 3.23 ERA, allowing only 153 hits in 195 1/3 innings. He failed to take Rookie of the Year honors despite that fine debut. In 1990, the 23/24-year-old was 16-10 with five saves and a 3.14 ERA. He fanned 185, four behind leader Dong-yol Sun.
Kang-chul had a 15-11, 3.19 record with three saves in '91. He allowed only 158 hits in 214 2/3 innings while whiffing 193, 17 behind leader Son. In 1992, Lee posted a 18-9, 3.44 season. His strikeout total fell to 155, but he led the Korea Baseball Organization for the only time; it was the lowest total to lead the league until 2005. He was one win shy of leader Jin-woo Song.
The Kwangju native fell to 10-10 with a save in 1993 though his ERA fell to 3.04. He gave up just 113 hits in 154 innings. He had a rare losing season, 12-15 with a save and a 3.64 ERA, walking a career-high 122 in 185 2/3 innings, in 1994. He rebounded to 10-10 with a save and a 3.30 ERA in '95. Lee had a 10-9, 2.46 record with a save and 114 hits in 153 2/3 innings in the 1996 season. In the 1996 Korean Series, he had two wins, a save and a 0.56 ERA to help Haitai win it all. He was given the Korean Series Most Valuable Player Award.
In 1997, the veteran right-hander went 11-3 with two saves and a 2.99 ERA, allowing 130 hits in 162 2/3 innings. He won his fifth and final Korean Series pennant with the Tigers. During '98, the Dongguk alumnus was 15-11 with a 3.11 ERA. He had pitched 10 straight seasons with double-digit wins, the KBO record through 2009 (Min-chul Jung was second with eight).
He did not pitch in 1999. Lee spent one season, 2000, with the Samsung Lions and bombed (1-4, 7.30).
Lee then returned to the Tigers, now the KIA Tigers, for 2001. He was 2-3 with a save and a 6.91 ERA, walking 50 in 56 innings; he did not call it quits despite no good seasons in 3 years and the move paid off as he would recover. In 2002, he went 5-2 with 17 saves and a 3.17 ERA in 66 games as an effective reliever for the Tigers.
Lee was 6-4 with nine saves and a 1.98 ERA in 67 games for the 2003 Tigers. He gave up just 42 hits in 68 1/3 innings. He pitched for South Korea in the 2003 Asian Championship, 15 years after he had last represented his homeland on the international stage (for over half that time, pros had not been allowed to play in international tournaments, which were strictly amateur). South Korea only won a Bronze Medal and failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics.
In 2004, the old-timer was 6-2 with 7 saves and a 2.95 ERA in 79 outings. He broke Dong-yol Sun's career KBO strikeout record of 1,698 but only held the mark briefly before being surpassed by Jin-woo Song. In 2005, his final year, Lee was 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA.
Overall, Lee was 152-112 with 53 saves and a 3.29 ERA in 602 KBO games. He had struck out 1,749 in 2,204 2/3 innings while allowing 1,771 hits.
Through 2006, he was among the KBO's all-time leaders in complete games (65, 6th), ERA (18th), games (3rd), innings (2nd to Jin-woo Song), losses (6th), saves (21st), shutouts (18, 5th), strikeouts (2nd to Song) and wins (2nd to Song).
Lee returned to KIA in 2008 as pitching coach; they would win the 2009 Korean Series with a well-balanced rotation he managed.