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A bright spot from Opening Day: The MLB debut of Seung-hwan Oh

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals started off their 2016 campaign with a 4-1 loss to Francisco Liriano and the Pirates. While the loss was absolutely disappointing, given the circumstances, it was not necessarily unexpected, so put down the pitch forks as the team still has 161 games left to play. That being said, one of the lone bright spots from yesterday's game was the MLB debut of Seung-hwan Oh, a 33-year-old international free agent signed by the Cardinals over the offseason. Now, it was not a "clean" inning by any means, as he walked two batters, but he flashed the ability to miss bats and consistently lived on or near the corners of the zone—a desirable recipe for continued success.

Oh's Opening Day Line

IP TBF H ER K BB
1.0 5 0 0 2 2

Pitch Statistics as coded by the Automatic MLBAM Gameday Algorithm

Pitch Type Times Thrown Velocity (MPH) Horizontal Break (inches)
Fourseamer 3 92.1 -4.29
Changeup 2 84.7 -6.29
Slider 7 85.3 1.60
Curveball 1 85.6 3.82
Cutter 14 92.1 -3.57

One of the best parts about BrooksBaseball.net is the fact that Harry Pavlidis, the founder of Pitch Info and the director of technology at Baseball Prospectus, manually sorts through the raw data before cleaning up some of the mess often caused by a computer's coding of the different pitches thrown by a given pitcher. Unfortunately, at the time of publishing, Pavlidis had not yet been able to complete this process. Thus, as you can see in the table above, MLBAM's Gameday Algorithm has Oh throwing five different pitches yesterday. While possible, it is unlikely he dug that deep into his repertoire, especially considering his initial inability to find the strike zone during his MLB debut.

Regardless of how many different types of pitches Oh actually threw, the complexity of his repertoire was on display in yesterday's game. The Gameday Algorithm's listing of Oh as throwing five different pitches should be viewed as a sign that the crafty right-handed relief pitcher is able to dial up and dial back on certain pitches, creating more or less movement where he sees fit. Until Pavlidis has more data to work with, I would not be too worried about Oh's initial pitch classifications, either, but if yesterday's location map (see below) is any representation of future performance, Oh will find continued success by living on the corners and setting up his pitches by utilizing different velocities (i.e. sequencing fastball-changeup or going changeup-fastball).

Oh Pitch Location

When considering the Cardinals bullpen in its entirety, Oh clearly does not possess the liveliest arm (that "title" belongs to Trevor Rosenthal), but at the same time, it is not the quietest, either. Sure, his fastball and/or cutter won't blow away too many hitters, but its velocity is more than adequate, especially when he begins commanding it as previously advertised. The following tidbit is not meant to serve as a direct comparison, but as @VanHicklestein noted on Twitter last night, Oh's apparently wily use of his repertoire is similar to what we have grown used to from Adam Wainwright over the years.

It is the complexity of Oh's repertoire that will likely make him an integral member of the bullpen this year. At present, the top of the bullpen remains pretty much the same as it has been for each of the last three seasons with Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist, but there is an understandable drop-off after that. Seth Maness has served as the bullpen number three since 2014, but if he remains as inconsistent as he was last year, the Cardinals would undoubtedly benefit from the insertion of Oh into that number three slot. As the sample size of Oh's PitchF/x data gets bigger, expect deeper dives into his repertoire. In the meantime, let's enjoy one of the lone bright spots from yesterday, with another being Yadier Molina's 2016 debut.

Post-Classifcation Update

Pitch Type Times Thrown Velocity (MPH) Horizontal Break (inches)
Fourseamer 17 91.5 -3.69
Changeup 2 84.1 -6.33
Slider 8 84.7 1.97

Every MLBAM-classified cutter became a fourseamer which is interesting to note considering they had varying, though slight, horizontal breaks. Either Oh was fighting command, which is a definite possibility, or as surmised above, was manipulating the movement of his fastball a little bit, similar to what we have seen from Wainwright over the years. The slider was clearly an effective pitch for Oh (just ask Starling Marte in the highlight video above). While Oh barely threw his most-talked-about pitch, the changeup/splitter, look for it to become a vital part of his repertoire as the season progresses.