Investigating Seung-hwan Oh and Tony Barnette
Kenta Maeda is not the only NPB import crossed the ocean this winter. As you may have noticed, there are a pair of relievers pitched in Japan in 2015 who will likely to see playing time in the big leagues for the first time this coming season. Although neither of them is Japanese.
Seung-hwan Oh (pronounced soon-one), whom the Cardinals signed last week, racked up 277 saves for the Samsung Lions in his 9-year KBO career before converting 80 more in 2 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers. The 32-year old right-hander has established himself as a bona fide #ProvenCloser, and even earned the nickname “The Final Boss” in his 11 years in East Asia.
Let’s dig deeper into his numbers. In 2014, his first year the NPB, Oh surrendered a minuscule .217/.276/.272 opposing line, gave up five home runs, struck out 81, while walking just 13 against 258 batsmen in 66.2 innings. His 1.76 ERA and 2.14 FIP were the best marks among qualified relievers in the Central League.
Despite the league’s run environment tending to more pitcher-friendly (4.22 runs per game in 2014 to 3.42 in 2015), his numbers got a little worsened last season, to a .243/.292/.354, opposing slash line, 2.73 ERA, and an almost identical 2.74 FIP. One can guess that one of the factors of his less-spectacular 2015 numbers is BABIP increment, from .231 in 2014 to .304 in 2015. Though he still put up a respectable 66/16 K/BB while allowing six long balls in 69.1 innings.
Over his two NPB campaigns, The Final Boss displayed what seems to be fairly normalized platoon splits, posting a 32.6 K%, 4.9 BB% while giving up five homers in 267 match-ups against same-handed batters and 21.4 K%, 5.7 BB%, 6 homers allowed in 280 plate appearances against opposite-handed batters.
And here’s what his stuff looks like:
Like most relievers, Oh throws a fastball that sits in low-90s more than two-thirds of the time, 70.1% in 2014 and 69.1% in 2015. He also throws a cutter, which he threw 17.1% of the time last season, splitter (7.1%), shuuto (3.8%), and slider (2.9%), with a fair amount of swing-and-miss ability on each pitch. His bread-and-butter “stone fastball” missed bats at a 13.8% rate in 2015.
But despite his pedigree, Oh falls in the middle of the pack in the Cardinals bullpen. Even if Trevor Rosenthal misses a significant amount of time, the likes of Kevin Siegrist and former closer Jordan Walden are ahead of him. With the length of his contract and the fact that he turns 34 in July, he’s not worth investing in dynasty leagues, unless your league stocks more than 100 relievers. Even if he ends up in a closer role, in which case things have gone horribly wrong for the Cardinals, you should be able to pick up the Korean right-hander from the waiver wire.
Another former NPB closer looking to get the first taste of the big leagues in 2016 is Tony Barnette, who was the Central League’s co-saves leader along with the aforementioned Oh in 2015.
As I detailed in my post for Shutdown Inning, the former Arizona State Sun Devil possesses a large arsenal for a reliever. As I mentioned in the article, Barnette should be able to stick in a big league bullpen, with the ability to handle a seventh inning role. But considering the depth of the Rangers’ bullpen, the 32-year old will likely to mop up for at least the first several months of 2016.
Neither Oh nor Barnette will be an impact player right off the catapult, or more than likely, never. But keep and eye on them for just in case.