Despite the Cardinals’ offseason being too slow for many fans, they did dive into the International market to test the waters with a smaller deal.
This past offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals made an interesting acquisition in signing Seung-hwan Oh to a 1 year deal for $5 million. Oh, 33 years old, spent the last 11 seasons playing in the Korean and then Japanese baseball leagues where he was nicknamed “The Final Boss” because of his efficiency closing out games (automatically coolest nickname in the bigs).
Oh put up impressive stats in Japan, recording 80 saves in two seasons. He dominated hitters, striking out 147 batters in 136 innings while only walking 29. His slider, while inconsistent, sent hitters back to the dugout along with his wipeout splitter.
Like with all international players, there will be many questions if Oh’s dominance overseas will transfer over to the states. There have been many successful Asian pitchers in the MLB like Hiroki Kuroda or more recently, Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanka. On the other hand, many pitchers have not faired as well in the MLB such as Kei Igawa and Akinori Iwamura.
— Jim Hayes (@TheCatOnFox) February 27, 2016
There is no real way of knowing how well these players will excel in the MLB although many will speculate. Oh will not be the closer for the Cardinals nor will he be Mike Matheny’s first choice for the 8th inning role so Oh will have less pressure on him than he’d face closing out games.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Oh, he has four pitches although he is projected to only bring 2 or 3 of them to the states. His fastball sits at 91MPH but has the ability to reach 94-95MPH. Oh will be able to succeed in the MLB by throwing 91 as a reliever if he demonstrates the remarkable control that he pitched with overseas as well as the ability to throw his off speed to make his fastball look faster by comparison.
Oh’s slider is his put away pitch. At times, the pitch is filthy and could be one of the best in the majors. It is tight with late movement that can fool any major league hitter. On the down side, Oh isn’t consistent with it. He often gets on the side of the ball and throws more of a slow curve than a sharp slider.
Just like every Asian pitcher, Oh also throws a splitter. Scouts predict that this could be Oh’s third pitch if he perfects it. Again, Oh has trouble with the consistency of this pitch. Sometimes it is filthy and makes hitters swing and miss but other times he has no control of it and it sits high in the strike zone.
Oh also threw a curveball in Japan but if he throws it in the majors he will have major problems. His curveball is more of a training curveball that 13 year olds throw in the little league world series than an MLB pitch. Cardinals pitching coach, Derek Lilliquist, will advise Oh against throwing this pitch and focus on developing his slider and his splitter.
In the Japanese league, Oh was able to get away with making mistakes but in the MLB, every mistake he makes will be punished. For Oh to have success at the big league level, he must show that he can consistently throw his splitter and slider in and out of the strike zone with movement and command. Even at the age of 33, Oh has a lot of upside and if he can put it together in the 2016 MLB season, the Cardinals could have a very valuable late inning arm.