The Texas Rangers entered the offseason focused on upgrading their pitching. After signing multiple starters this offseason for the back end of its rotation, Texas addressed its bullpen on Tuesday. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reports the team is in agreement on a deal with relief pitcher Seung Hwan Oh. FanRag Sports' Robert Murray reported Oh will make $2.75 million in 2018 and the team carries a $4.5 million club option for 2019.
Oh, who came over from Korea before the 2016 season, followed up a brilliant '16 campaign with a down season last year in St. Louis. Across 59 1/3 innings for the Cardinals, Oh posted a 4.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP and 1.52 HR/9 in 60 appearances.
It represented a dramatic drop for what we saw from Oh in his first season playing in the United States. As a 33-year-old rookie, Oh performed like one of the best relievers in baseball with an 11.64 K/9, 1.92 ERA, 2.13 FIP and a 0.56 HR/9 across 79 2/3 innings.
St. Louis handed him the closer role last season, but things started ugly right out of the gate. In April, his K/9 fell to 7.5 and he allowed six earned runs and two home runs in only 12 innings. Then the calendar turned to May and he seemed back in his '16 form with just two runs allowed in 13 innings, but Oh's command disappeared with eight walks in that time frame and a worrisome .286 BABIP.
Sure enough, the concerns over his command in May and overall struggles translated to further issues in June. Across 11 innings, Oh surrendered three home runs and allowed seven runs. He finished the month with a 5.72 ERA and lost his control over the closer's gig. The rest of the season saw continued issues for Oh and he could never seem to regain the sharp form from the previous year.
In terms of where everything went wrong for the 35-year-old came down to a sharp decline in his ability to miss bats and leaving far too many pitches in the zone for harder contact. Oh saw rises in zone percentage (49.7 percent to 54.8 percent), zone-contact rate (71.9 percent to 79.2 percent) and significant drops in his swinging-strike rate (18 percent to 12.9 percent) and strikeout percentage (32.9 percent to 20.5 percent).
As a result of opponents seeing more pitches in the zone and generating greater contact, Oh's fly ball percentage rose from 40.5 percent to 49.5 percent last season and his ground ball rate plummeted from 40 percent to 28.7 percent.
Now in Texas, Oh will need to try and find his way back to reducing his fly ball rates and generate more ground balls. Because if the issue persists, American League ballparks will not be nearly as forgiving to Oh.
Given the current situation at the back end of Texas' bullpen with Matt Bush recovering from shoulder surgery, while 26-year-old Alex Claudio an arm on the rise but unable to miss a significant number of bats, Oh will have the chance at the closer's role in Texas. For a team that should win 70-plus games, that is attractive enough to grab the attention of fantasy owners in deep leagues.
In terms of landing spot, this works out from a fantasy perspective. Texas represented one of the teams with a strong enough need that would allow Oh a shot at the closer's role. We've now seen two versions of Oh and the truth of who he is, at least for this season, might be somewhere a little in between. If he can sit around the high-3s for an ERA, he could secure the closer's role long enough to finish around 28-32 saves.