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Cardinals Removing Oh as Closer Could Save His Season (and theirs)

Oh delivers a pitch

This week Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, made a move that he had been considering for a little while. A move that fans had been bouncing off of bar room walls for a month or more. This idea was to swap the roles of Seung-hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal. The move will not only have a huge impact on the St. Louis Cardinals season, but it will completely alter Oh’s performance going forward. For the better.

Closing Time

Now, the traditional “closer” role is one for debate. The argument is that saving your best reliever for the 9th is a bad move as the game’s most pivotal moment may occur in any inning. In a perfect world you have a rock solid closer to handle the pressure of the 9th and polish off a win, and a relief ace to deploy in any big situation. See: Cody Allen and Andrew Miller in Cleveland. That is the model the Cardinals attempted to follow this year, but performance has derailed it. It’s not the end of the world, though.

Outside of a really tough June, Rosenthal has been incredible this year, striking out 47 in 29.2 IP. I believe he will be bouncing back quickly. Oh, on the other hand, has been shaky since Day 1 of 2017. But now that Cecil is looking like the pitcher they had hoped for, Bowman has established himself, and Lyon’s is free from the shackles of long-relief, the team can afford to hold Rosie for the 9th. Lest we forget this man ran up 93 saves in 2014-15.

Where Oh Finds His Heaven

Now removed from the closer’s role, Oh should be a dominant 7/8th inning force for the Birds, if used properly. The driving force behind Oh’s poor season is his inability to get left-handed hitters out. Last year LH had just a .176 BA against Oh, but whichever pitch was effective against them last year has failed him this year. In fact, lefties are crushing him to the tune of a .353 average and 1.038 OPS. That is a far cry from the paltry .197 and .529 marks that RH have against him in the same categories. At least this year, Oh is a righty specialist. Whereas Rosenthal has opponent batting averages of .196 vs RH and .241 vs LH, fantastic numbers and a fit as the closer, considering the nature of the role is to disregard matchups. Equally dominant against RH and better vs LH makes him the far safer option for the 9th.

So Matheny needs to deploy Oh when big RH bats are due up, such as Kris Bryant or Ryan Braun. It may mean he only pitches to 1 or 2 batters, but that’s fine. Pair him with Cecil (trending up) or Tyler Lyons (.226 BA vs LH) and you have the potential to shut down the 7th or 8th inning. Think Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski down the stretch in 2011. Used correctly, Oh can be an absolute weapon in the late innings moving forward.

The Impression That I Get

With the change at the back end, the bullpen can immediately become more sturdy. In addition to the guys I’ve already mentioned, Matt Bowman has had a good year and is effective vs both LH and RH. Sam Tuivailala (2.65 ERA, .222 BAA, 8 K/9) has earned looks as a 7th inning guy. I also believe that Wacha will be transplanted to the bullpen sooner or later and he has the makings of a very good reliever. Deploy the matchups correctly and the bullpen could suddenly become the strength of this team. Maybe swapping Oh and Rosie is the first step towards salvaging a playoff run in a division that is still (somehow) within reach.

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Rusty Groppel
I'm a diehard Cardinals fan that feels privileged to write about his favorite team in this corner of cyberspace. I'm also the bass player for the best damn band in the 618, Tanglefoot. Check us out some time.
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