The sluggishness of the greatest relief pitcher in Korean baseball history
In July of last year, Samsung suffered a fatal blow. The club fell into the pit of the first 13 consecutive losses in its 40-year history, and manager Heo Sam-young took off his clothes. The player who stood out the most during that period was Oh Seung-hwan. He repeated shocking sluggishness, such as walking three batters in a row and hitting a home run in a row for the first time in 17 years. Average ERA of 12.79 in 7 games for the month of July. The Korean baseball world was at a loss for words at the shocking sluggish performance with only 4 blown saves and 2 losses without a single save. Anyone can be sluggish, but Oh Seung-hwan’s ‘long-term sluggishness’ has never been seen, and it is difficult to imagine.
To put Oh Seung-hwan in one word, he is ‘the second most dominant pitcher in Korean baseball history after Seon Dong-yeol’. Among pitchers who have thrown more than 500 innings in his career, he is second only to Seon Dong-yeol in most indicators of power, such as earned run average and WHIP (on-base allowed per inning). Since the mid-1990s, when the classification of pitchers’ positions began, no pitcher has been more dominant than Oh Seung-hwan. In other words, Oh Seung-hwan is the greatest relief pitcher in Korean baseball history.
Another reason Seunghwan Oh is phenomenal is durability. According to a study in the sports medicine world, the variable most correlated with pitchers’ injuries is pitching speed. In short, the faster you throw the ball, the more likely you are to get hurt. No wonder. Throwing a ball over 150 km per hour is because ‘overload’ is inevitable for the body. Unlike starting pitchers who conserve and share power during long innings, relievers are people who need to use explosive power in a short period of time. You must overwhelm the batter by throwing all the balls at your ‘top speed’. That’s why most (overhand fastball) relief pitchers have early injuries and decline, and their primes are short-lived. Like Oh Seung-hwan, there are very few players who can last 18 seasons as a top-notch reliever after his debut. Oh Seung-hwan recorded 492 saves in Korea, Japan and the United States. Only Mariano Rivera (652) and Trevor Hoffman (601) have more saves than that in world baseball history. All of them are legends who defied the ‘law of nature’ and kept their place as closers even after they turned 40.
That Oh Seung-hwan was shaken.
In fact, Seung-hwan Oh’s sluggish performance showed little signs from the beginning of the season. A decrease in restraint is a typical example. In April of last year, the average speed of Oh Seung-hwan’s fastball was 142.7 km. It was the slowest since his return to Korea in 2020. Compared to 146.1 km in June 2020, the first month of his return, it is a whopping 3.4 km decrease. He seemed to rebound briefly in May, but fell back to 142 km in June and July. 안전놀이터
Last year’s average speed in the fastball league was 144.1 km. Oh Seung-hwan’s ‘stone fastball’, which dominated an era and terrified batters around the world, has now become a ball that is slower than the league average. He had lost his most powerful weapon, so a rebound seemed difficult.
However, Oh Seung-hwan found a solution like a lie. From August, he went back to being the impregnable ‘end plate captain’ we knew.
However, if you look closely, Oh Seung-hwan after August is a pitcher quite different from the Oh Seung-hwan we know.
Oh Seung-hwan’s trademark is ‘stone fastball’. It was a ‘rising fastball’ that seemed to float in the eyes of the hitter, as the width of the fall during flight was reduced due to the strong backspin. So, when a batter swings to hit Oh Seung-hwan’s ball, there are usually two outcomes.
1. Missing swing
2. Floating ball that is caught after hitting the top of the bat
So, Oh Seung-hwan was a representative floating ball pitcher in Korean baseball. From 2011 to 2013, when Seung-hwan Oh led the Samsung dynasty before advancing into Japan in the ‘second heyday’, there were only two pitchers who induced more fly balls versus ground balls than Seung-hwan Oh.
However, the ‘floating ball pitcher’ has to bear the ‘home run risk’. This is because, unlike ground balls, some of the fly balls go over the fence. Pitchers who use ‘home run factories’ as home runs, such as Daegu Civic Stadium and Samsung Lions Park, should be more careful about home runs. If you are a pitcher with tremendous speed and movement like Oh Seung-hwan in his heyday, there is no need to worry. But now that both speed and movement are below league average, it’s a different story. The floating ball can go over at any time, and it actually started to go over. Until July of last year, Seung-Hwan Oh allowed 6 homers. It was more than the previous two seasons combined (five).
However, Oh Seung-hwan was no longer a ‘flying pitcher’ after August of last year.