Seunghwan Oh’s strong season with the Toronto Blue Jays has been pretty easy to miss.
The team is out of contention, he’s played a low-key role in middle relief, and the Korean right-hander has done little to draw attention to himself on or off the field.
Despite the lack of fanfare, he’s been excellent, posting a 2.74 ERA and 3.07 FIP in 46 innings with a stellar 54 strikeouts against just 10 walks. Those numbers alone are impressive, but what he’s done since is even better. Since June 7 — admittedly an arbitrary beginning point after two rough outings — he’s put up a 0.95 ERA and 1.53 FIP in 19 innings, allowing just one walk and one home run while striking out 25.
Oh is getting stronger as the season goes on, not a common quality among 36-year-olds. One of the more obvious reasons is a fastball that has added a little juice since his early-season work:
Perhaps as a result, the pitch has also been used more frequently.
As explanations for greater pitching success go, “more and faster fastballs” is pretty good, but there is another interesting wrinkle to the story. Oh has also changed his approach with his heater, climbing the ladder far more in recent weeks and the average elevation of his fastball has increased considerably.
Here’s the heatmap for the pitch from the beginning of the season to early June:
Here’s what it looks like since then:
It’s not like Oh went from a guy pounding the bottom of the zone looking for grounders to a guy living exclusively at the top, but the change is significant. By elevating his fastballs more effectively, the veteran reliever has forced hitters to get under balls making the fly balls against him less dangerous. That shows up in his HR/fly ball and popup rates.
Even though Oh doesn’t have elite velocity he’s still very effective working the upper edge of the zone. Much like Marco Estrada or Tyler Clippard, the right-hander is able to climb the ladder despite a lack of top-notch gas.
Sometimes that means painting the precise apex of the zone like he did to freeze Jose Altuve for a game-ending strikeout in Houston.
Sometimes that means going way up like he did to punch out Andrelton Simmons on one of just 16 Ks he’s taken all year.
Whichever way you slice it, Oh has used a copious dose of the high heat to make himself a better pitcher as the year has gone on. It’s a little change, far too small to shift the Blue Jays fortunes in 2018.
It is, however, enough to possibly help them in the future as Oh’s value as a trade chip continues to rise. He was already an appealing arm thanks in large part to his minuscule $1.725 million price tag this season and $2.5 million option for 2019. Now, he looks even better.
The 36-year-old isn’t going to return a massive haul, but his stock is on an upswing for the Blue Jays at the perfect time.
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