Jays From the Couch brings you the Player Highlights & Lowlights from the 2017 season. This time, closer, Roberto Osuna
The Toronto Blue Jays probably could have used some more wins this season. Another 10 would have given them one more win than the 2nd Wild Card Twins and their third straight playoff appearance. It just so happens that Roberto Osuna blew 10 saves this season. That is an over simplified way of looking at things, obviously. We can’t rest the blame of a disappointing season on one player, particularly one who appeared in just 66 innings. Besides, the club didn’t end up losing all 10 of those games with blown saves anyway. Osuna doesn’t deserve all the blame, especially when you consider that, in many ways, he had a better season this year, setting himself up for a nice pay day in arbitration.
Roberto Osuna fell one save shy of 40, besting his 2016 total by 3 and bringing his career total to 95. Despite the blown saves, he managed to put up 2.9 fWAR thanks to a 1.74 FIP (the lowest of his career) and a 2.57 xFIP (also the lowest of his career).
Osuna managed to increase his strike out rate and decrease his walk rate. He struck out batters at a rate of 33.3%, which beat his previous best by nearly 5%. As well, he managed to bring his walk rate down to 3.6%. As well, we saw nearly a 50% dip in HR/FB rate to 5.8%.
Looking at his peripheral stats, you would think he had a much better season than he actually did. That might be true if you consider that he saw a WHIP dip in 2017. It dropped slightly to 0.86 this season thanks to fewer walks (he walked just 9 batters all year) and hits (he gave up 46, 9 fewer than last season). Obviously, for a reliever (or any pitcher for that matter), giving up fewer hits and walks is a sign of effectiveness. And, the saves total of 39 would suggest that Osuna was, in fact, effective.
Despite collecting 39 saves, there are those who would argue that Roberto Osuna had a disappointing season. The 10 blown saves would be the first piece of evidence. But, if you look a bit deeper, there are some metrics that help explain the disappointment. For example, when a reliever comes into the game, especially late, he needs to stop people from scoring. After a LOB% of 82.5% in 2016, Osuna saw his rate drop to 59.5%, which is downright ugly.
More than the metrics, though, with Osuna, there was even more reason to be concerned over his pitch usage and velocity. First of all, Osuna decided to work the cutter into his repertoire. While he threw it just 4.1% of the time last year (after not throwing it at all previously), he worked it in to the tune of 25.5% for a significant jump. The results of this increased usage weren’t exactly friendly to Osuna. While it may have had a positive value as an individual pitch, it also resulted in his fastball being less effective. It should be noted that in August, Osuna started to restore the fastball/cutter balance to a level that more resembles 2016. Though, he still used the cutter quite a lot.
The above charts from Brooks Baseball provide info on Osuna’s offerings. The top image shows the results for his 2016 offerings while the bottom shows 2017. The first thing you’ll notice is the dramatic drop in fastball usage, which also had less horizontal movement. And, what alarmed a great number of people the most was the drop in fastball velocity. While 95 mph is still nice, it was nearly 2 mph less than last season. In fact, with the exception of his change up, every pitch saw decreased velocity in 2017.
The above usage resulted in a dropped first strike rate, increased contact in the zone, and overall decrease of occasions in the strike zone. It was a weird season for Osuna since he had some good metrics, but the results weren’t quite what we are used to seeing.
There have been some people calling for the Blue Jays to trade Roberto Osuna this offseason. That would be a major mistake. There was a time when the save stat and the role of the closer seemed overblown. But, since Osuna has stepped into that role for Toronto, he has proven the importance of having a shut down presence late in the game.
His 95 saves and overall effectiveness over the last couple years means that he will see a rather large raise in arbitration this winter. After making the league minimum every year, it wouldn’t surprise to see Osuna making upwards of $6M next year. He is going to start being very expensive, but his save totals every year explain that. The arbitration process cares not for peripheral stats. Nor does it go into his pitch usage or dip in velocity.
Looking ahead to the 2018 season, Osuna will be 23, which is something that we often forget; he is still very young. He can’t be blamed for working on mixing up his offerings like he did with his delivery timing. That said, a pause in the wind up is not as impactful as throwing cutters when your best pitch is the 4 seamer. He’s tried the ‘cutter experiment’ and hopefully he has learned from it.
Osuna will have all offseason to rest and Spring Training to work with pitching coach, Pete Walker, to establish a more effective plan. It is hard to imagine a guy with 39 saves having a “bounce back season”. But, if he can figure out the right mix of pitches and whatnot, we could be looking at an even better season in 2018 for Roberto Osuna.
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