Toronto Blue Jays Look to Bolster Bullpen by Signing Seung-hwan Oh

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 23: Reliever Seung-Hwan Oh
ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 23: Reliever Seung-Hwan Oh /

With a few available spots in their bullpen, the Toronto Blue Jays looked to the free agent market for help and signed reliever Seung-hwan Oh.

Late Sunday night, the Toronto Blue Jays agreed to terms with free agent relief pitcher Seung-hwan Oh, signing him to a one year, $2 million contract with a 2019 vesting option.

Nicknamed “The Final Boss” from his days in Korea, Oh originally signed with the St. Louis Cardinals two years ago, and had a fantastic rookie season at age 33. In 2016, he posted a 1.92 ERA, 2.6 fWAR, and 11.64 K/9. He looked very much like a relief ace.

His second season with the Cardinals in 2017, however, was not quite as good. He had a 4.10 ERA (4.44 FIP) and 0.1 fWAR, while seeing a decline in practically every category, including K/9, HR/9, and SwStr% (12.9% in 2017, a significant drop from 18.0% in 2016).

Making matters more complicated, the free agent 35-year old had originally agreed to sign with the Texas Rangers on Feb. 6. However, the deal fell through when the Rangers were turned off by the results of his physical which showed inflammation in his throwing elbow.

As a result, Oh decided to head back into free agency instead of re-working the deal like the Rangers wanted to. The deal with the Rangers was set to be a one-year contract for $2.75 million, with a team option worth $4.5 million in 2019.

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The question now becomes, assuming Oh passes his physical for the Blue Jays, what can we expect from him in 2018? There was a sizable drop-off in his performance from 2016 to 2017. However, that was not related to velocity, as his average fastball speed remained the same both seasons (93 mph), so that is a good sign.

On the flip side, he was getting a lot fewer swings and misses on his off-speed stuff, and his huge decrease in GB% (40.0% to 28.7%) lead to more fly balls, and subsequently more home runs allowed. The good new is, he gave up more soft contact and less hard contact in 2017 than he did in his elite 2016 season.

Tough to say what to expect from Oh in 2018. However, these types of low risk, high reward signings certainly will not hurt the team’s chances of building a strong bullpen for this coming season.

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If Oh comes anywhere near his 2016 performance, then the Toronto Blue Jays got a huge bargain and a reliever near to closer Roberto Osuna‘s level. Worst case, if he flames out again, the team took a low-cost gamble on a reliever who had some history of success in the recent past. As mentioned previously, this is a good approach to take with a position as volatile as the bullpen.