The St. Louis Cardinals’ search for a closing pitcher is a direct result of their decision not to extend the contract of Seung-Hwan Oh, who saved a total of 39 games for St. Louis between the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
In Oh’s rookie season in Major League Baseball, he was easily the Cardinals’ most dominant relief pitcher, posting a 1.92 earned run average and 0.92 WHIP in 76 appearances and striking out 103 batters in 79 and 2/3 innings. He began the season as a set-up reliever, but took over the ninth inning role in the summer when Trevor Rosenthal faltered.
In 2017, Oh was the closer who faltered over the summer. After a rough start to the season, Oh bounced back in May, converting six of seven save opportunities with a 1.38 ERA, however, he walked eight batters in 13 innings. In June, Oh began to unravel. He only blew one save, but allowed seven runs and three home runs in 11 inning pitched.
The Cardinals used a committee approach to the closer’s role for the remainder of the season. Oh got some opportunities, but he wasn’t the same guy that manager Mike Matheny always wanted to hand the ball to in a critical situation, as he was in 2016.
What’s interesting about the Cardinals’ search for a closer this offseason is they have said numerous times they’re looking for a guy with experience, who has a track record of success in the ninth inning of ballgames.
How does 396 career saves sound? Would a pitcher with that kind of success fit the Cardinals’ bill?
That pitcher, of course, is Seung-Hwan Oh. 357 of his career saves came in the Korean and Japanese professional baseball leagues. Of course, the major leagues is different than Oh’s career in Asia, but he does have a track record of success in the ninth inning.
“The Final Boss”, or “Stone Buddha” has the makeup to pitch in the ninth inning, there’s no doubt about it. Of course, what matters now for Oh is Major League Baseball and he’s coming off of a difficult season where he went 1-6 with a 4.10 ERA, but what if his sophomore season in the MLB was simply a fluke?
Oh is 35 and will turn 36 in July. Perhaps another part of the Cardinals’ reasoning in letting Oh walk is they want a younger arm to be their closer who figures to be there for longer. But they haven’t been able to land a closer yet, and Oh is one of the most accomplished in his career at the position who is left on the market. Addison Reed and Greg Holland are the only other high-profile closers who remain free agents.
Oh seemed to have good chemistry with Yadier Molina and the staff as a whole. His teammates seemed to enjoy his and his translator, Eugene Koo’s, company. Now, the chances that the Cardinals’ search for a closer end with a Seung-Hwan Oh are admittedly low. But don’t be completely shocked if the Cardinals’ final decision when it comes to a closer is the Final Boss.