Seung-Hwan Oh is a right-handed relief pitcher for the Samsung Lions of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Oh is currently playing in his ninth season. He has been one of the most dominant and consistent closers in the league since his debut in 2005. The Lions are currently playing in the Korean Series against the Doosan Bears for the KBO Championship. It is reported that Oh may attempt to come to MLB this off-season. In South Korea, a player must have completed nine seasons in the KBO to gain international free agency status. Although Oh is about to complete his ninth year, he did not pitch the minimum number of innings required in 2010 due to injury. Because of this, 2010 did not count as a completed KBO season, making him one year away from international free agency. If he wishes to come to MLB this off-season, he must do so through the Posting System.
Career in South Korea
Oh was born on July 15, 1982 (Age: 31) in Jeongeup, South Korea. He stands 5’10” tall and weighs 205 lbs. He is a hard thrower known for his consistency and stone faced demeanor on the mound. Originally a pitcher at Kyung-Gi High School in Seoul, Oh converted to the outfield after suffering a series of elbow injuries in 1999. Upon graduation from high school, Oh was not selected in the 2001 KBO draft and elected to attend Dankook University. Oh’s coach at Dankook had seen him play as a pitcher while he was in high school and encouraged him to return to the position in college, offering him a scholarship. Oh had Tommy John surgery in 2001 to repair his previously injured elbow. This caused him to sit out through the 2002 season to rehabilitate. He returned to baseball his junior year in 2003, becoming a relief pitcher for Dankook, but threw a limited number of innings. Oh had a standout senior season in 2004, winning several collegiate pitching awards and working as the closer for team South Korea at the 2004 World University Baseball Championship.
Oh was selected by the Samsung Lions in the second round of the 2005 KBO draft. He has spent his entire KBO career (2005-Present) with the Lions. His numerous awards during his KBO career include:
- Rookie of the Year (2005)
- Five-time Relief Man award winner (2006-08, 2011-12)
- Seven-time All-Star (2005-08, 2011-13)
- Two-time Korean Series MVP (2005, 2011)
As he emerged as one of the top closers in the KBO, Oh was selected to join the South Korean national team. His international experience includes pitching at the 2006 Asian Games, 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and World Baseball Classic in 2006, 2009, and 2013
Below are Oh’s career statistics in the KBO (courtesy of MyKBO.net):
- 2005: 10-1, 1.18 ERA, 61 G, 99 IP, 16 SV, 115 K, 0.667 WHIP
- 2006: 4-3, 1.59 ERA, 63 G, 79.1 IP, 47 SV, 109 K, 0.693 WHIP
- 2007: 4-4, 1.40 ERA, 60 G, 64.1 IP, 40 SV, 69 K, 0.902 WHIP
- 2008: 1-1, 1.40 ERA, 57 G, 57.2 IP, 39 SV, 51 K, 0.850 WHIP
- 2009: 2-2, 4.83 ERA, 35 G, 31.2 IP, 19 SV, 51 K, 1.421 WHIP
- 2010: 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 16 G, 14 IP, 4 SV, 19 K, 1.286 WHIP
- 2011: 1-0, 0.63 ERA, 54 G, 57 IP, 47 SV, 76 K, 0.667 WHIP
- 2012: 2-1, 1.94 ERA, 50 G, 55.2 IP, 37 SV 81 K, 0.826 WHIP
- 2013: 4-1, 1.74 ERA, 48 G, 51.2 IP, 28 SV, 54 K, 0.832 WHIP
- Career: 28-13, 1.69 ERA, 444 G, 510.1 IP, 277 SV, 625 K, 0.819 WHIP
Oh’s consistency and dominance are evident while examining his career statistics. In all the years he has been healthy, (Oh battled a shoulder injury for most of 2009 and 2010) he posted an ERA under 2.00. His 47 saves in 2006 and 2011 are the KBO single-season record. He also became the fastest player in the world to reach 200 career saves, needing just 333 games to do so. This beat the previous record of 359 games held by Jonathan Papelbon of MLB. During his career, Oh has also helped the Samsung Lions to four Korean Series titles (2005-06, 2011-12), as well as a victory over the NPB champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the 2011 Asia Series. There were concerns following his shoulder injury in 2009, and surgery to remove bone spurs in 2010, that he would be unable to return to his high level of play. However, these concerns were quickly alleviated. Starting with his remarkable 2011 campaign, Oh has returned from injury as good as ever. He has dominated KBO hitters during the past three seasons and returned to his position as the league’s top closer.
Oh’s pitching repertoire includes a four-seam fastball which averages between 92-94 mph and tops out at 97 mph. It is his signature pitch, and has earned the nickname “stone fastball” due to its hard rising movement. He compliments the fastball with a slider thrown between 80-89 mph, while also mixing in the occasional slow curveball thrown between 71-79 mph. His combination of pitches has made him one of the most effective strikeout pitchers in the KBO (career 11.02 K/9 ratio).
Interest from MLB Teams
Reports have indicated that the New York Yankees have scouted Oh and may seek to sign him if he is posted this off-season. The Yankees are currently looking to add late inning relievers after the retirement of legendary closer Mariano Rivera and likely departures of Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan. At the moment there are no reports of other MLB teams with an interest in Oh.
In terms of contract value, the market for Oh may be similar to those of Japanese relievers Kyuji Fujikawa (Chicago Cubs) and Kazuhiro Sasaki (Seattle Mariners). Like Oh, Fujikawa and Sasaki were 31 years old and coming off of long, dominant careers in their domestic league (NPB). Both, like Oh, were high-strikeout, low-ERA closers. Fujikawa signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract with the Cubs in 2012 and Sasaki signed an initial two-year, $8 million contract with the Mariners in 2000. Both of their contracts included club options for a third year.
It should be noted that Fujikawa and Sasaki were free agents and therefore there was no posting fee involved. A team interested in signing Oh must also budget the necessary funds to earn his negotiating rights through the Posting System. This cost could drive down the size of his eventual contract with an MLB team.
At the moment Oh’s focus remains in the KBO, as he and the Samsung Lions play in their third consecutive Korean Series. On November 1st, his attention will likely turn to his future and he may begin the process of navigating the Posting System to try and make it to MLB. If he does, then the KBO’s best closer, dominant and at the top of his game, will get the chance to test his pitching prowess against the best competition in the world.
Photo Credit: OSEN
References: baseball-reference.com, ESPN.com, NYpost.com, irfast.blogspot.com, MyKBO.net, RiverAveBlues.com, SeattleTimes.com, BleacherReport.com