The first names that come to mind when say the words dynasty league and closer are Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Zach Britton. After that opinion vary as you’ll see by our closer rankings which come out Sunday.
The one person that is suspiciously absent from the top-10 is a name we wouldn’t normally associate with dynasty leagues or even consider among the top/elite closers. However, after looking at the numbers for Seung Hwan Oh, and where he is being ranking overall, it appears he is being highly underrated.
Among relief pitchers Oh had one of the best contact rates in the league in 2016. The top-10 contact leaders represent the who’s who of closers.
|Seung Hwan Oh||65.7||53.0||66.5||18.0|
Oh ranks 8th out of 135 relief pitchers. Of those top-10, only Aroldis Chapman has a higher swing rate. In fact, only six relief pitchers have a higher swing rate overall, the others being Kenley Jansen, Nick Vincent, Roberto Osuna, Shawn Kelley and Liam Hendricks. So everyone and their grandmother is swinging at Oh, but not much contact is being made.
I’ve also highlighted two other columns from his plate discipline profile. From that group of 10 above, Oh has the second best first pitch strike percentage. Just like with the contact and swing rate, Oh ranks in the top-10 for this category too. Of the players mentioned under swing rate, Osuna, Vincent and Jansen are the only ones ranked ahead of Oh for F-Strike%. It is a similar story with the swinging strikeout rate. Oh has not only the fifth best SwStr% of the names in the chart above, but among all relievers. He also ranks 13th for K% (32.9) and 15 in K/9 (11.64).
Now this swing and miss stuff did not come out of nowhere. From 2015 to 2015 Oh had a K/9 of 10.75 and a H/9 of 5.61 (6.20 in 2016). I know, that was in the KBO and two years in Japan. However, the Japanese league is a step above the KBO and he held his own there, so maybe it is no surprise that his numbers carried over.
In addition to the low hits, Oh has also made a career of being stingy with the walks. Last year he put up a 5.6 walk percentage (2.03 BB/9). The BB/9 ranked 22nd among relievers, but when you filter out the non-closers Oh was ranked 6th. Just like with the strikeouts this is nothing new; Oh put up a 2.07 BB/9 from 2005 to 2015.
This brings us to his WHIP. Last year it was 0.92; that is 11th overall among relievers and 6th among closers. In the 11 years prior to joining the majors Oh had a career WHIP of 0.85. He dealt with injuries from 2009 t0 2010 where we saw elevated walk and hit totals. Remove those two years and you’re looking at a 9 year WHIP total of 0.81.
I know there are some that will point to Oh’s 40.5 FB%, 34.2% hard hit rate and 6.7 percent HR/FB ratio and say there was a lot of luck involved. I won’t deny there was some, but not as much as you may think. Oh’s IFFB% was 10.7 % which lowers the number of fly balls that leave the infield to 29.8%. That’s still not go in comparison to the field, but it isn’t a deal breaker.
In comparison, Kenley Jansen had a 54.6% fly ball rate with a 32.8% hard hit rate, and Craig Kimbrel had a 48% fly ball rate with a 33% hard hit rate, and both had a HR/FB ratio below average. The Key here is to have swing and miss stuff and low contact – something that Oh excels at. Even if the home runs do come up some, the lack of free passes limit the damage so it will not damage the ERA as much.
Last year Oh had a 1.92 ERA; that ranked 9th among relievers and 6th among closers. He finished behind Britton, Miller, Chapman, Melancon and Jansen – coincidentally the same five men he finished behind for WHIP. His ERA prior to joining the majors was 1.81. Other than his injured years from 2009 to 2010 he had just one year with an ERA above 2.00. Again, you can say it was overseas and not in the majors, but that kind of consistency year to year has to be taken into account.
One of the biggest things going against Oh is his age. He will be 34 to start the season, well past the point of getting anything of decent trade value in return – speaking in general terms of course; the older the player the lower the appeal. But I think with closers we need to turn a blind eye when it comes to age. Closers, on a whole, have a limited shelf-life, and many don’t make it past that five year mark of dominance before getting injured or showing signs of regression.
Take Craig Kimbrel. Five years ago he was the end-all, be-all of closers; nobody held a candle to him. Here we are five years later and he is at the back-end of the top-10. Still good mind you, but not the lights out player we once knew. Joe Nathan is a good example of a player aging gracefully. He remained dominant through age 39 before the wheels came off, and he didn’t lose any velocity on his fastball until age 38. Koji Uehara is another one, who at age 40 was still going strong (when healthy) and still showing the same velocity that he did when he debuted in 2009. And like Kimbrel, he enjoyed five years at the top, albeit under the radar due to his age.
Seung Hwan Oh may be older, but he is at the top of his game and far from dead. I fully admit I was not high on him when I did my originally rankings. Like many of you I had the same age prejudice, giving younger unproven players like Ken Giles and Edwin Diaz the benefit of the doubt, and even ranked David Robertson ahead of him for his consistency. I would rank him five spots higher than where you’ll see him on Sunday, maybe more.
You may be able to get Oh for below market value given his age and owners reluctance to keep older players. If his current owner is looking to move him I recommend you buy – especially if your team is built to win now.
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