He has earned the nickname "Dol-bucheo" (Stone Buddha) for being unshaken and displaying a stone face under pressure. Others call him "Kkeut-pan Wang," or "Final Boss." He is one of the greatest closers in the history of the Korean Baseball Organization, and he wants to come to America.
Korean closer Seung-Hwan Oh has told his agents that he would like to pitch in Major League Baseball starting in the 2016 season. Oh has a career 1.81 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings over 646 1/3 innings while converting 357 saves, most recently with the Hanshin Tigers of the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB), the premier Japanese baseball circuit.
Oh, who will be 34 next July, held the all-time record for saves in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) before moving to the Japanese League, where he notched 39 saves with a 1.76 ERA in 64 games with the Tigers. He won the best closer title for the NPB's Central League in 2014, according to Korea JoongAng Daily. This season, he had 41 saves with a 2.73 ERA in 63 games.
With so few closers available on the free agent market this offseason around the major leagues, there is sure to be some interested in Oh, whose contract with Hanshin has expired, making him an unrestricted free agent not subject to the posting system.
There has been some talk of Oh coming to the United States in each of the past two seasons, but that never materialized. He would have had to go through the posting system, where clubs submit sealed bids just for the right to negotiate a contract with the player. Oh has been scouted by major league clubs and has pitched for Korea in the World Baseball Classics in both 2009 and 2012, when the team finished second and third, respectively.
According to a profile on the Global Sporting Integration website, which was written two years ago before his move to Japan, Oh featured a fastball that sits in the 92-94 mile-per-hour range, and touching 97 miles per hour on occasion. His four-seam "stone" fastball has a hard, rising action. He has a slider in the 80s and a slow curve in the 70s. He is 5'10" and weighs 205 pounds.
Oh's awards earned in Korea 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)
The list of Korean players who have made it in the major leagues is much smaller than the list of Japanese players, but Oh has erased any doubts about his ability to excel against advanced competition in the NPB and on the world stage at the WBC. Three other players, all closers, played in the major leagues after playing in both Korea and Japan. Koo Dae-Sung, signed with the New York Mets in 2005, Lee Sang-Hoon went to the Boston Red Sox in 2000, and Samsung Lions closer Lim Chang-Yong was with the Chicago Cubs briefly in 2013.
Oh has not been injury free in his career. He had Tommy John surgery as an amateur in 2001, and he battled shoulder issues through the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He had a second elbow surgery in 2010, but returned in time to help his team to the playoffs.
When healthy, Oh has been truly dominant. He played for the Samsung Lions in Korea, posting a 1.69 ERA and 277 saves in 444 games over nine seasons before moving to NPB in 2014. He signed a two year, 990 million yen contract with the Hanshin Tigers (value in U.S. dollars is about $8.3 million for the two seasons).