Usually when deciding full-year awards such as The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Cardinals Relief Pitcher of the Year, I do not settle on a winner until I look at the candidates’ stats through and through. A story can be built as one evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each player over the course of the season.
That is what happened in this category in 2014, when set-up man Pat Neshek was the surprise winner of our Relief Pitcher of the Year award.
For our choice as 2016 St. Louis Cardinals Reliever of the Year, however, none of that is necessary.
The winner, hands down, is Seung-hwan Oh.
Leadership across MLB
Technically a rookie in Major League Baseball at the age of 34 despite breaking into the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) back in 2005, Oh was nothing short of a lifesaver for the 2016 Cardinals.
The right-hander forged an ERA of 1.92 to go with a 6-3 record, 19 saves in 22 opportunities and a strikeouts per nine innings mark of 11.6. Among the 43 National League relievers with at least two saves, only Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon had lower ERAs than Oh.
Despite 357 career saves over nine seasons in Korea and two more while pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan, the ease or difficulty of Oh’s transition to the US was unclear last winter.
In January, the Cardinals signed Oh to a two-year contract, with the second year vesting when he made his 30th appearance this season. In the deal, Oh did not receive closer’s money, with a base salary of $2.5 million this season and $2.75 million next.
Things changed when prior closer Trevor Rosenthal lost his mojo and then went on the disabled list. Oh took over as St. Louis’ ninth-inning man on June 26 and did not look back.
With dual nicknames of The Final Boss and Stone Buddha, Oh was often praised on team game broadcasts for his tenaciousness, said to want to take the ball every single day. In fact, he appeared in a team-high 76 games for pitchers this season, just six off a share of the National League lead. Other than a late-season hamstring injury, Oh proved durable.
Among Cardinals relievers, Oh led the way in ERA, fielding independent pitching (FIP), wins above replacement (WAR), saves and save success rate. In his first half role as setup man, Oh logged 14 holds.
Getting that first out is crucial for relievers and Oh’s 71 percent success rate is two points higher than the bullpen average. The only area in which he did not shine was the rare case in which he inherited runners on base. Nine of 19 came in to score, with the 47 percent rate third-highest among Cardinals relievers, behind only Dean Kiekhefer and Seth Maness.
|Zach Duke (+CWS)*||1.93||2.85||0.5||2/5||40||26||81/54||67||53/13||25|
|Mike Mayers #||15.75||0/0||0||3/2||67||0/0|
|Michael Wacha #||15.88||0/0||0||3/2||67||0/0|
|Luke Weaver #||67.50||0/0||0||1/0||0||2/1||50|
|* StL ERA/FIP, full|
|yr for other stats|
|# as reliever|
Team followers already knew that Zach Duke was a strong performer, both before and after his trade to St. Louis. Unfortunately, it appears the lefty will miss the entire 2017 schedule.
Rule 5 addition Matt Bowman amassed the second-most WAR among Cardinals relievers at 0.7. Who would have guessed that in April? At that point, the more prevalent question was whether the rookie could stick on the roster or would be returned to the Mets. By the end of the season, Bowman had earned his way into more meaningful innings.
Past year stalwarts Maness and Kevin Siegrist struggled with bouts of injury and ineffectiveness, logging WARs of just 0.1 each. The lefty Siegrist had a solid ERA, but his FIP tells a much different story.
Veteran Jonathan Broxton was far too ordinary for a pitcher with his resume and experience. When asked to pitch in crucial situations, the result was often disappointing. Same for Rosenthal, who also had injury issues. Another well-traveled pitcher, Jerome Williams, has the distinction of being the only Cardinals reliever with a negative WAR, -0.2.
Tyler Lyons may be the early front-runner to replace Duke in 2017, but there are pluses and minuses in his 2016 performance. Lyons’ ERA was solid, but his FIP was well over a run higher. The lefty was good at stranding inherited runners, but overall, his 0.0 WAR indicates a replacement-level pitching performance that leaves some doubt going forward.
Leading the unheralded (and likely underutilized) is Miguel Socolovich. Though kept in Memphis much of the season, the right-hander usually delivered when called upon. Albeit in somewhat limited action, Socolovich led the Cardinals bullpen in both first batter retired (80%) and fewest inherited runners scoring (9%). Based on his FIP, Socolovich’s 2.00 ERA is low, yet his WAR of 0.1 indicates a similar level of contribution as Siegrist, Maness and Broxton in far fewer innings pitched.
Kiekhefer and Sam Tuivailala rode the Memphis shuttle far more often than Socolovich during 2016, but in looking at their results, one has to wonder why. It is difficult to project either playing a major role in the 2017 bullpen.
Prior TCN St. Louis Relievers of the Year
So much for bullpen stability. Oh is this award’s seventh different honoree in the last seven years.
|TCN Reliever of the Year|
Click here to review the prior decade’s annual award winners in all categories.
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. The series will conclude with our selections as St. Louis Starting Pitcher, Player and Rookie of the Year, followed by a season recap.
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