Jays From the Couch looks at Roberto Osuna’s place among Toronto Blue Jays’ closers
In my last comparison, I highlighted the best single season by a Toronto pitcher. I was going to move to a hitting comparison and similar article but thought in the light of Roberto Osuna’s monumental, dare I say centennial, feat on Tuesday night in Baltimore. A game in which the Blue Jays not only won…but may have finally shown everyone in baseball the present AND the future of Blue Jays pitching. Sure Aaron Sanchez tossed a gem carrying a no hitter into the 8th, but we are here to celebrate Roberto Osuna, now the youngest EVER to get to 100 MLB saves. He may be the youngest but where does that put him among Jays relievers ever?
Since we are on Roberto, we might as well start with him. 2017 was his best season to date with 39 saves, but came up short of Duane Ward‘s record setting mark in 1993 of 45…the club’s 2nd Worlds Series year of course. Now something you need to take into consideration here is that Osuna also had a league high 10 blown saves in 2017. A mark that left him short of the record (where he would have only needed 6 to tie, 7 to win) and possibly a mark that would have kept Toronto in the pennant race a little longer. But, hold on, that was then and this is now. With the Jays hot start to 2018, Osuna has put himself 2nd in the league with 5 saves…through only 12 games!
That pace, although lofty, would put Roberto Osuna on track for 67 saves…insane. A mark that would destroy Ward’s 1993 record along with Francisco Rodriguez‘ MLB mark of 62 in 2008 with the Angels. Rodriguez, the same player Osuna passed on Tuesday to become the quickest to 100. With 67 this year, it may likely put him as the quickest to 200…and possibly in the MVP conversation as well.
I touched on the fact that Roberto could have set the Jays record for saves last season had it not been for his 10 blown saves, but his career longevity may come thanks to John Gibbons and the Jays pitching coaches. In 1993, as mentioned, Duane Ward had 45 saves but also had 70 finished games. Meaning, there was another 25 games that Ward came in without a save opportunity because the game was out of reach in either direction…maybe wearing on his arm. To note, Roberto only had 58 last year. Take away his saves and his blown saves and you have only 9 remaining games. Proving that Jays brass is only putting him in to shut things down and that is mainly it, showing the desire they have for Roberto Osuna’s and the Blue Jay future as a whole.
On to Duane Ward, I may not need to touch on him much as I have already put a lot of his numbers out there. He pitched for the Jays between 1986 and 1995. Those years were also a time when Tom Henke was closing things out for the Jays as well. Ward was being groomed as Henke’s successor for certain although there were a few times that the Jays rode the hot hand. If they would have overloaded one of these guys, either one could have been in an elite MLB group but instead they go down in Jays history.
This is where I want to move onto the “Terminator” Tom Henke. Looking at records, he set the original mark of saves in a season with 34 in 1987, then later tied that mark in 1992 to bookend a great career and aid the Jays to their first World Series title in 1992. He also had Duane Ward as his set up man who also threw a pedestrian 9.148 K’s/9. A stat that he topped in ’89 and also ’91 with a Jays record 11.068 as I mentioned in the Roger Clemens blurb previously.
Toronto has always had a reputation for closing games though. Sure we had household Canadian names like Tom Henke, Duane Ward and now Roberto Osuna. Many though, forget about Billy Koch in 2002 who broke Tom Henkeâs single season mark with 36, later tied by Osuna in 2016. You may or may not recall Billy Koch from the “Moneyball” 2002 Athletics where he set career highs with 44 saves and 79 games finished. A season where this Blond Soul Patched Fireballer played a large part in Oakland’s run at history and 20 straight wins. Notably, he also had 11 wins for Oakland in 2002. Or how about Kelvim Escobar?
In a time when the Jays were trying to re-invent their brand, where they were not putting an amazing product on the table and the uniforms were not their best. Escobar had been with the Jays since 1997 where he picked up his 2nd highest save total at 14, a mark that he eclipsed with a run at Ward’s record in 2002 and passing Koch as his successor. While in Toronto, he also had stints in the starting rotation where in 1999 he had 14 wins and 2000, 10 with a complete game shutout in each season…so still effective. But that is not where he was meant to be and he proved that with the mark he set in 2002 with 38.
What do all of these numbers mean?
To me, a greater appreciation for a talent like Roberto Osuna. They have threatened to lengthen him out and mold him into a starter, but he is meant to be on the mound for one inning a night. He does have a nasty slider, a hard fastball, and a full arsenal of pitches he is always tweaking. But don’t fix what isn’t broke, and moreover…NEVER let him walk. He will be popular and will draw a lot of attention if he ever hits free agency and that is not a bidding war the Blue Jays want to get into.
Osuna is already one of the elite closers in the league and by the time his career is done, may be one of the best ever. Too early to tell, maybe, but for his and the Jays best chance we need to play to his strengths. We owe it to the fans, to Roberto, because Roberto Osuna is the one who knocks in Toronto.
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