Stone Buddha, The Final Boss

This past Sunday, the Toronto Blue Jays announced the signing of Seung-hwan Oh to a major league contract, likely signifying the end of their offseason moves. Reports are that he will be paid $1.75 million for 2018, with $1.5 million in possible incentives, and a $250K buyout for a 2019 option that will vest automatically for $2 million at 70 appearances. So basically $2 million guaranteed for 2018, and if he’s good enough to justify pitching in 70 games then that means keeping him for a tidy $2 million for next year will be pretty decent too. A depth signing for $2 million is not bad at all, but there’s a lot to like with Oh.

Oh was a dominant closer in his native Korea for nine seasons with the Samsung Lions, before crossing over to the NPB for another two with the Hanshin Tigers, posting an impressive 1.81 ERA and 10.7 K/9 over 11 professional seasons in Asia. He then came over to the big leagues with the St Louis Cardinals, debuting with an excellent 2016 season before a very meh 2017 season. Which then leads him here with the Toronto Blue Jays on a bargain deal, keeping his streak of playing for baseball clubs named after fearsome animals alive.

His history of emotionless domination on the mound closing out baseball games also earned him some all-time top notch nicknames, including “Final Boss” in Korea and “Stone Buddha” in Japan. I can’t wait for all the terrible headline puns to come as well. So there’s a lot to like about him.

He is also a 35 year-old pitcher who is coming off his worst professional season. He actually had a deal with the Texas Rangers lined up in early February for $2.75 million guaranteed, until a failed physical nixed the deal. Reportedly the Rangers didn’t like what they saw in an MRI of his arm. Oh, who has already had Tommy John surgery in 2001 while in college, and lost the majority of two seasons in the KBO shoulder and elbow injuries, is certainly no spring chicken.

Oh had a great MLB debut in 2016, eventually winning the closer job for a pretty good 86-win Cardinals team. He put up a 1.92 ERA while striking out 103 over 79.2 innings, good for almost 3 wins (2.6 fWAR and 2.8 bWAR) out of the bullpen. But then 2017 happened, and he stunk. His ERA ballooned up to 4.10, he allowed a ton more fly balls (GB% dropped from 40% to 28.7% and HR/9 tripled from 0.56 to 1.52), he stopped striking guys out (K/9 dropped from 11.64 to 8.19, swinging strike % from 18% to 12.9%) , and he was removed as a closer to become just one of many mediocre low leverage mini-bosses in the Cardinal bullpen.

But keeping in line with the rest of the Jays’ moves this offseason to raise the floor of the roster with small, cheap moves with upside (and to collect St Louis castoffs), there’s some optimism with this signing as well.

Between 2016 and 2017, his pitch velocities and walk numbers remained the same (BB% 5.8% to 5.7%). So there’s no obvious signs of aging in that area at least. And he actually allowed more soft contact (15.3% to 22.4%) and less hard contact (34.2% to 28.1%)…even though his BABIP went up 50 points (.270 to .319) so there’s some weirdness to his 2017 season. FanGraphs has a great article that I stole most of this from, about how Oh inadvertently changed his mechanics, causing a lower release point that prevented him from getting on top of his pitches, thus reducing the movement of his splitter and slider.

And indeed, when we look at these two frames of Oh’s release point on two random pitches from the 2016 and 2017 season…

…you can clearly see no discernible difference, because we are not professional baseball scouts and I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I actually may have even mixed up which one was from which year, I have no idea. Honestly…these might even be from the same year, who fucking knows.

But for $2 million and change, it’s a nice, low risk move to shore up some depth for what might be a surprisingly good Blue Jays bullpen. And there’s a non-zero chance this might turn out to be a pretty good move if Oh regains some of his 2016 form. Or he completely falls apart because maybe two decades of contorting his arm due to inhuman rotational speeds have just caught up to his 35 year-old tragically human body. Which is basically something you can say about almost any signing, so you have to wonder…why did I even bother saying it?

This isn’t even my final form!



Destined to fight the world's evil, The WAMBAG endures massive battles involving impossible stunts, races on horse-pulled carriages, and the desecration of enchanting medieval castles (all done with dizzying computer graphics). Not only does the eye candy keep on coming, the tongue-in-cheek writing and deep Transylvanian accents perfect the film with a dose of dark humor.



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