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Seung-Hwan Oh Needs to Take a Seat

The reliever seems to have lost his closer job, but he needs to be removed from late innings entirely

MLB: New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals have lost 11 games when tied or leading after 8 innings—let that sink in for a minute. Even with a bullpen that could have held leads or allowed an offense to take the lead in 5 of those games, the Cardinals would have an above .500 record and would be in first place. As the team sits now, 4.5 games back in the NL Central, it’s easy to point to St. Louis’ bullpen as perhaps the biggest reason why they are behind Pittsburgh in 4th place than they are to the top of the division. Seung-Hwan Oh has not been has not been able to repeat his brilliant 2016. Some regression was to be expected. Let’s look at the numbers:

Oh Stats

Season K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB FB% O-Contact% Z-Contact% SwStr%
Season K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB FB% O-Contact% Z-Contact% SwStr%
2016 11.64 2.03 0.56 0.270 80.90% 40.00% 6.70% 40.50% 53.60% 73.30% 18.00%
2017 8.34 2.63 1.76 0.317 78.30% 28.90% 12.30% 50.80% 66.70% 79.90% 12.40%

A couple of things jump out to me right away. First, Oh’s strikeouts are down and the ball is being put in play more. Now, hitters are also making more contact both outside and inside of the zone. What is significant is the out-of-zone contact. Oh’s bread and butter was getting hitters to chase a high fastball or swing at a sweeping slider out of the zone, and in 2016 they often missed. In 2017, hitters have been able to make significantly more contact on Oh’s pitches that move out of the zone. Another startling contrast between 2016 and 2017 is the amount of ground balls to fly balls. More balls are being put in the air, and in response, more balls are going out of the ballpark.

So what is the difference between 2016 Oh and 2017 Oh? Location and movement. Oh straight painted last year. Look at the difference between 2016 and 2017:

Seung-Hwan Oh 2016
Seung-Hwan Oh 2017

In 2016, Oh lived off of the outside third of the plate and was able to get hitters to reach just off of the plate with his wicked slider. In 2017, we see that he’s trying to live on the black and too often finding his pitches drifting toward the center of the plate. The crispness of Oh’s pitches are also evident, especially in his trademark slider. Take a look at the horizontal movement between 2016 and 2017:

Oh Slider Usage

Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Pitch Type Count Freq Velo (mph) pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Slider 2016 407 31.40% 86.29 1.18 3.01 -2.76 5.45
Slider 2017 193 26.77% 86.03 0.3 2.94 -2.72 5.46

You can see there how much Oh has had trouble mirroring his slider from last season. No doubt a huge reason for his lack of success. Let’s take a look at the video. Here’s an Oh Slider from 2016.

Now, contrast that to 2017:

A lot of Oh’s sliders this season look like this one—short and hanging. The slider shown in the clip from 2016 shows why batters were having such a hard time picking up on the ball—the slider starts out looking like a fastball and acts like a really good cutter, starting in the strike zone and cutting across the plate to fool the batter into thinking it’s a strike. Notice the location of the 2016 pitch—Molina calls for a pitch outside and Oh absolutely dots the glove. Yadi barely had to move. In the 2017 GIF, we see Molina again set up outside, yet Oh cannot get the ball to travel across the plate and instead ends up throwing a hanging slider on the inside part of the plate.

Until Oh shows a little bit of the 2016 version of himself, Mike Matheny needs to pitch Oh in low-leverage situations. I believe the Cardinals have better options to set up and close out games.