There is a trend that Brewers’ new Starting Pitcher is following. He is yet another former MLB player who went overseas to hone his abilities. The question now is can his success carry over to the big leagues this time around. The Brewers seem to think so, they gave him a 3-year deal with a little over $9 million guaranteed. The deal maxes out at around $18 million with performance bonuses. The faith in Lindblom seems to be well placed when you look at a couple of players who followed the same path.
Miles Mikolas of the St. Louis Cardinals was not always the All-Star Starter he is today. Back in 2014 he had an ERA over 6 and walked almost 3 batters per 9 innings. He then went to Japan to work on his game. He dominated posting a minuscule ERA in each season. The biggest change was the number of free passes he gave up. He walked 2.8 per 9 in Texas in 2014, in 2015 with Yomiuri he cut that number in half. In 2017 he only walked 1.1 per 9. He was able to do the same with his homerun number as well, cutting these 2 major categories resulted in major improvements in almost every statistical category for Miles. He came back stateside to pitch for the Cardinals on a 2-year deal. He was then an All-Star in 2018 and received an extension. The Brewers were rumored to be in on this major success story of going overseas and having success coming back.
Merrill Kelly was never able to find a place in the Majors so in 2015 he made the switch to the KBO. Kelly’s numbers weren’t nearly as gaudy as what Miles Mikolas was able to do in Japan. Kelly always had his ERA in the range of 3.6 to 4.1. He also gave up over 2 walks per 9 in each of his 4 years. However, he was able to pride himself on keeping the ball in the park. Kelly was also a workhorse in the KBO even eclipsing 200 innings one season. Kelly was finally able to break into the Majors in 2019 signing a 2-year deal with Arizona. He again didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, yet he led the Diamondbacks in innings pitched showing once again he is a workhorse.
Josh Lindblom had multiple KBO stints in his career. After a rocky start to his career in the MLB, he decided to go to Korea, where he began working as a starter. In 2015 with Lotte he pitched well to the tune of 210 innings and an ERA under 4, however, the next season was dreadful. Lindblom lost his command walking nearly 4 batters per 9. This ballooned his ERA over 5.5. Lindblom then came back to the US as a Pittsburgh Pirates organization. His time between AAA and the MLB level didn’t go well again. In 10 1/3 innings with the Pirates, he gave up 9 runs. His time at AAA Indianapolis was better, however, it wasn’t good enough. This prompted him to return to the Lotte Giants that same year. He pitched well in 12 starts. He posted a solid 9.4 K/9 and cut back on the walks he gave up. Then Lindblom changed teams once again moving to the Doosan Bears also of the KBO. Lindblom found his comfort zone here. He posted back-to-back excellent seasons. Having an ERA under 3 both years. He also again cut back on the walks. Posting 2 BB/9 in 2018 and 1.3 BB/9 in 2019. He also gave up low homerun totals both seasons. He gave up less than 1 per 9 both years. Josh won the KBO equivalent to the CY Young both years. Lindblom added a League MVP to those accolades in 2019 as well.
It may be unfair to expect him to be an All-Star right away like Miles Mikolas, but Lindblom’s success overseas means something. He pitched in the same league as Merrill Kelly and saw more success. Not to say this will translate to better MLB numbers than Kelly. However, it most certainly is encouraging. Josh Lindblom may be somewhat unknown to us Brewer fans, but others have taken a similar path as him and saw immediate success. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him keep with this trend.