Jays From the Couch makes the (early) case that Roberto Osuna is a strong candidate for the AL Reliever of the Year Award.
In 2014, MLB scrapped the monthly Delivery Man of the Month and Delivery Man of the Year awards for a single award for each league at the end of the season. The respective Trevor Hoffman (NL) and Mariano Rivera awards are given out at the end of each year to the best reliever in each league, voted on by a panel of ex-MLB closers from the 1970s to the 2010s. The panel is composed of namesakes Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, and filled out by Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, John Franco and Billy Wagner. Certainly an impressive group containing some of the best closers the game has ever seen.
Each member ranks the top three relievers (usually closers, of course) in each league. A weighting system churns out a winner in each league, and that player goes down in history as the award winner for their league that season. The system isn’t based on deep analysis, unless the voters choose to use one, so it’s mostly an eye test validated by saves totals, ERA, WHIP and strikeout totals. Over the past three seasons, the committee has selected Greg Holland (2014), Andrew Miller (2015) and Zach Britton (2016) as the AL award winners. Their seasons are below, and quite impressive:
2014, Greg Holland: 46 SV, 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 90 K, 62 1/3 IP, 274 ERA+
2015, Andrew Miller: 36 SV, 2.04 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 100 K, 61 2/3 IP, 200 ERA+
2016, Zach Britton: 47 SV, 0.54 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 74 K, 67 IP, 827 ERA+
Holland and Miller won on a combination of save totals and ERA, with Miller getting a big boost in 2015 with an impressive 100 strikeouts in just 61 1/3 IP. Britton’s season from 2016 was simply a freakish and seemingly impossible season in which the lefty slammed the door 47 times and did so posting a 0.54 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and a downright fictitious ERA+ of 827.
You might be wondering why a Blue Jays blog is posting about a division rival and a pair of pitchers who aided in the playoff demises of the Blue Jays over the past couple years. For one, it’s good to know your enemy. But in another, more accurate sense, it’s because this author believes that, as early in 2017 as it may be, the Blue Jays might just have a contender for this award in-house in 2017, and that player is 21-year old* Mexican hardballer Roberto Osuna.
Osuna has been very good in his limited MLB career, posting 56 saves over his first two season with a 2.63 ERA. He’s struck out 157 in 143 2/3 IP for a K/9 of 9.8 – and he’s done it all while being under the age of 22. That K/9 also jumped up in 2016 as well to a hefty 10.0 while walking just 1.9/9 IP.
|162 Game Avg.||2.63||68||27||70||50||21||20||8||15||76||2||4||160||3.11||0.926||6.5||1.0||1.9||9.8||5.23|
It would be a daunting task for Osuna to challenge the likes of Zach Britton and Andrew Miller for the best relief arm for an entire 162 game schedule. While he had 11 fewer saves than Britton in 2016, that’s mostly due to the characteristics of the respective teams and not individual achievement, so it’s a bit unfair to hold that against Osuna. But how to bring down that ERA, which is surely why the voters selected Britton over the almost equally tremendous season of Andrew Miller?
Osuna’s biggest issue is his home run rate. By allowing nine dingers in 2016, he ended up relenting 23 earned runs, 19 more than Britton’s 2016. Again, Britton’s 2016 was a (well-earned) freak of baseball nature. Of those nine home runs, though, the majority (5) came on Osuna’s slider with three more coming off the four-seam fastball.
Chart via BaseballSavant.com
I wouldn’t dare tell Osuna to stop throwing the four-seam fastball less, but he might benefit from mixing in some more pitches. Of particular interest is the rarity in which Osuna and catcher, Russell Martin, have utilized the change-up, a pitch which has been a bit slow for Osuna to develop. In 2016, the change-up induced 11 whiffs in 83 chances (13%) while producing an opponent BAA of 0.056. His slider can still produce plenty of swing-and-miss (25% whiff rate), but it can also get tagged on occasion, as we see from the home run totals. Of course, if you don’t spot a change-up in an 0-2 count, this happens.
Without good secondary pitches, MLB relievers can get found out in a big way real quickly. Luckily for Osuna, who doesn’t have much movement on a hard four-seam fastball, he can balance the country hardball with a very good slider. However, even two pitches isn’t quite enough, and having an effective change-up in your back pocket can be a valuable weapon in taking on MLB hitters.
Osuna is still incredibly young, especially for an MLB closer. His struggles at this level have been minimal at best, but there’s still some facets of his game that could use some polishing. One of those facets with working a more robust change-up into his arsenal. The foundation for the pitch is already there, but the confidence needs to be there on his part, and proper utilization will have to come from Martin’s pitch-calling in 2017.
Even then, many stars will have to align for Osuna to walk away with the 2017 Mariano Rivera Award. Britton will have to come down to earth, and from what I’ve heard – no one has seen him lately. The same with Miller, who threw a tremendous 82 innings in 2016 including the playoffs. Not to mention fending off other young closer typed like Edwin Diaz and bounce-back seasons from the likes of David Robertson, Craig Kimbrel and Sean Doolittle. And, of course, baseball would need to start. Can it be done? Absolutely. Is it likely? Well, it might just be a whole lot likelier than many would expect.
*It’s probably worth mentioning that Osuna will turn 22 on February 7th, 2017, shortly before pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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