Seung-hwan Oh currently sits atop the National League WAR leaders for relief pitchers along with David Phelps. Is that enough to call him the best reliever in the NL?
I expected that Seung-hwan Oh would be towards the top, but number one came as a bit of a surprise. After all, he is third in the pecking order amongst Cardinals’ relievers, but WAR has him as better than all National League relievers not named David Phelps.
To be clear, there are five American League relievers who rate higher, but the advanced metrics certainly agree with what is apparent when we watch Oh in person. WAR isn’t the only statistic that puts Oh among the league leaders, either, as he is first in FIP for National League relief pitchers.
I originally started looking at his statistics because I wanted to see how far behind other rookies he was in terms of WAR, but Corey Seager, Steven Matz are well ahead of him. Instead, I turned my attention to the players that have the same role as Oh, but clearly are not filling it as well.
Part of what puts Oh ahead of the best closers in the National League is that he pitches so much more often. Kenley Jansen is right there in almost all of the rate statistics, but he has pitched nine fewer innings than the Cardinals’ right-hander. Advantage Oh.
Although it is unlikely that he will sustain his current rate, Oh just doesn’t give up many extra base hits or long balls. In his 34 innings, he has only given up one home run and four doubles. When a pitcher has the strikeout and walk rates that Oh has, the only way to score runs off of him is to get those kinds of big hits. Sure, you can scratch out a run here and there but unless you can homer off of him, Oh makes it too tough to string hits together and score runs.
Seung Hwan Oh has not allowed a run on the road in 16.1 innings. Andrew McCutchen's hit was just the 3rd he's allowed on the road.
— Chris Tunno (@TunesSTL) June 11, 2016
In fact, Oh’s statistics are so good that the only reason that David Phelps has a higher WAR is that he is put in higher leverage situations. Oh has a better ERA, FIP, walk rate, and batting average against than Phelps. Although most (objective) observers would give the nod to Jansen, you could make a very good case for Oh as the best reliever in the National League in 2016. If he hasn’t been number one, then he has certainly been top five.
The real, underlying issue with all of this is that “The Final Boss” is not used like a top five reliever in the National League. That is not a knock on Mike Matheny; we’re still at the point where Oh’s leverage index could be more a result of the fact that we had no idea what he would be coming into the year than how he’s currently viewed. The point is that he now needs to be viewed and used as such.
Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist have usually been the ones that the team has turned to in high leverage situations, but Oh has been the better pitcher. Considering that the Cardinals helped to debunk the myth that closers are born and not made, I’m assuming that they favor putting him in tough situations if they believe in his ability.
At this point, it’s hard not to believe in his ability and we have seen him used more in high leverage situations over the past few weeks. Games like June 3 against the Giants, June 10 at the Pirates, and two days ago against the Astros are examples of Matheny putting Oh in for tough outs. The results have been all good, as the righty has not given up an earned run since May 25.
The question facing the Cardinals now is whether to keep him in his current role, as a reliever who can be used in many situations or as a late inning guy. There would be no debate if not for Rosenthal’s struggles, but now there is a difficult choice. Empirical data suggests that the Cardinals could get more out of Oh by just deploying him in the middle innings against the heart of the lineup or when runners are on base, but managers seem to prefer having a strong back of the bullpen.
Either way they choose, the important thing is to recognize how good Oh is, and the team seems to be doing that recently. This is a good trend, and Cardinals fans hope that it is continued as long as The Final Boss produces. When you possess any good player or prospect, it’s important to realize it, and Oh just might be the National League’s best reliever, so he should be used like he is.
Photo Captured by: Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY Sports