After an incredible rookie season, Seung Hwan Oh was all but locked up as the Cardinals closer for 2017. Is this the right move, or should the Cardinals look for help?
Seung Hwan Oh was incredible last season. Without him, the Cardinals would not have even been in a playoff race.
After Trevor Rosenthal’s struggles, the Cardinals needed a new closer, so they naturally turned to their best reliever: Seung Hwan Oh. And while he was a terrific closer, he did perform better as a setup man. This was probably due to the natural wear on a pitcher’s body throughout the season, but is worth noting. Hitters also may have been able to figure him out.
In his first appearance this season, Oh was not impressive, hitting a batter and allowing a game tying home run. So, 2017 is not off to quite the start he had in 2016, when he did not allow a hit until his sixth appearance. Is this a sign of things to come?
Cardinals closers have had short lifespans recently. A few years of excellence, then a rapid descent before being pulled from the position entirely. Rosenthal had his run, Mujica before him, Motte was done in by injuries, and an assortment of Ryan Franklin and others followed this same pattern. All-star level dominance, then a sharp decline.
Should we expect the same from Oh, or will he be able to sustain his performance for a longer time frame?
While a small sample size of only six innings, Oh gave up three runs this spring training. In 2016, he allowed only two in 9 2/3 innings. It is hard to take much information from that, but there was a regression.
MLB.com projects Oh to finish the season with a 3.55 ERA, which is much higher than his 1.92 ERA last season. Already allowing 3 earned runs, after only allowing 17 last season, may signal that he’s on his path there. And if that is the case, who do the Cardinals have behind him?
Trevor Rosenthal may return to his old self, which would be a huge addition to the bullpen. Kevin Siegrist is always good, and even Matt Bowman, Brett Cecil, and Miguel Socolovich could be in the running with strong starts to the season.
None of those names though, outside of Trevor Rosenthal, seem like they really have what it takes to finish a game, and with Rosenthal, who knows what we’ll get this season.
In my earlier post, I mentioned that the Cardinals often look for bullpen help at the deadline, and sign solid, under-the-radar pitchers that can make an impact. This year though, if Oh falters, the team might have to make a run at a major closer to finish games.
So while the upside with Oh is high, although I don’t expect him to perform as well as last season, the Cardinals could be put in a situation with no true closer.
Right now, there are enough bullpen pieces to ensure the Cardinals do not end up like the Giants last season. But, Cardinals closers have not lasted long for a while, and while Oh may be different, the Cardinals should have some backup plans beyond Trevor Rosenthal.
Maybe I’m reading too much into one game, albeit a game in which Oh pitched as poorly as any game he’s pitched in his career. Maybe, Matheny should not have called on him for a five-out save, and maybe Oh will revert back to his 2016 form.
While we can hope for another strong season from Oh, the team should prepare itself in case his Opening Day performance is a sign of things to come, and Rosenthal continues his struggles.
Oh, Rosenthal, Mujica, and Jason Motte all emerged from the Cardinals’ bullpen as closers when their predecessors struggled, each coming from a setup position.
So, who knows if any of these pitchers might elevate themselves to elite status, claim the closer role, and solidify the bullpen, That has happened many times in the past. The Cardinals, though, cannot count on that happening, and cannot count on a full, effective season from Oh.
So, let us hope for the best, but the Cardinals must prepare some contingency plans for a bullpen that, through three games, has looked shaky.
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