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Seunghwan Oh bolstered a struggling bullpen down the stretch

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Jeff Bridich’s prized pickup performs pleasantly in purple pinstripes

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You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

★ ★ ★

No. 13, Seunghwan Oh (0.8 rWAR)

It’s no stretch to call the trade that brought Seunghwan Oh to the Rockies Jeff Bridich’s best move of the year. In terms of rWAR, Oh was the best performer out of anyone who wasn’t on the Rockies’ 2018 Opening Day roster. In order to acquire Oh, Bridich sent Forrest Wall, Chad Spanberger, and a player to be named later (later named Bryan Baker) to the Blue Jays on July 26th. Oh only appeared in 25 games, but nearly every single appearance was critical to push Colorado into the playoffs.

By mid-July, the so-called Rockies “super bullpen” was in shambles. The Rockies had the 3rd-highest bullpen ERA in the major leagues (5.20, only ahead of Kansas City and Cleveland), and start after start, the relief corps was causing heartburn and heartache for the starters. In the first half, the only two Rockies pitchers (min. 5 IP) with an ERA below 3 were Scott Oberg and Adam Ottavino. Wade Davis had compiled 27 of his eventual 43 saves, but he only ever appeared in the 9th or later; getting the lead to him on days with either Oberg or Ottavino unavailable was a tall task. With the offense consistently underperforming, the ability of the bullpen to preserve a lead was tested night after night, and Bud Black had few options he could trust.

Enter “The Stone Buddha.” As soon as he and his translator Eugene Koo made their way to Denver, Oh was thrust into the spotlight. The Rockies used Oh frequently. With the exception of a 9-day break in September when Oh suffered from some hamstring tightness, he pitched on no more than 4 days of rest after the trade. Bud Black went to Oh nearly exclusively in the 7th and 8th innings, as a penultimate or ante-penultimate boss. In conjunction with Oberg and Ottavino, the Rockies’ bullpen turned into an outstanding force against opposing offenses down the stretch: Their reliever ERA improved to 3.76 in the second half, 10th-best in the majors.

Oh allowed only 6 earned runs in his 25 appearances with Colorado, and his ERA of 2.53 was only behind Oberg and Kyle Freeland for best in the Rockies’ second half. Oh had a WHIP of 1.03 in a Rockies uniform, and dispatched most of the batters he faced with ease. While he was responsible for three blown saves among those 25 appearances, he also earned eight holds and one save. Overall, he was a reliable option while the team had the lead.

After the end of the season, Oh said in an interview with the Yonhap News Agency that he was interested in returning to Korea. Oh talked about the difficulty of living in a foreign country, and his desire to return to the KBO while he “still [has] energy to help the team and pitch in front of home fans.” After his 73 combined appearances with Toronto and Colorado, his $2.5 million option vested, and the Rockies will be responsible for deciding whether or not to let him return to Korea in 2019. Jeff Bridich claims that Oh was referring to post-2019 plans in his comments to Yonhap, and expects the reliever to be back in purple pinstripes next season.

When he returns to the Rockies in 2019, his role in the bullpen may become even more important. While Oberg will also be back, Ottavino is most likely moving on after the Rockies decided not to extend to him a qualifying offer. Oh is the obvious choice to become the new setup man in Denver, and with Bridich promising to focus on the offense this offseason, fans will hope that the other bullpen arms such as Bryan Shaw, Mike Dunn and Jake McGee can rebound from a forgettable 2018.