Jays From the Couch reminds you that Toronto Blue Jays closer, Roberto Osuna has been surprisingly good this year
Blue Jays fans love them some Roberto Osuna. His first two MLB seasons coincided with two ALCS trips after all. And somehow, as a 20 and 21 year old, he wasn’t just along for the ride, but one of the main drivers. He entered the league way before most would and wasted no time in becoming a dominant closer, producing the 13th most saves (56) and the 12th most WAR (3.2) among all relievers. His feats were historical. He has the most saves and third most WAR among all relievers aged 21 and under ever.
2017 seemed like it might be a completely different story. There was the very blown save in the WBC, the suspicious spring training and the season-starting DL trip with cervical spasms. Then when he returned, we barely saw him pitch as the Jays never seemed to have a ninth inning lead in April.
Now, with about a quarter of the season in the books, we can definitively say that Roberto is fine. Better than fine. Better than 2015. Better than 2016.
His elevated ERA might seem to contradict my first three paragraphs, but it also contradicts Roberto’s FIP, xFIP and SIERA. Across each of these measures, Roberto is maintaining career bests (so far). Digging deeper helps us understand the gap between his ERA and everything else.
In 2015 and 2016, Roberto was in the opposite situation: his ERA was below his FIP, xFIP and SIERA. The same holds for his wOBA and xwOBA (it is great when completely different stats say the same thing). This season, while maintaining essentially the same wOBA, he has dramatically reduced his xwOBA, implying that while results have been similar, the quality of his process may have improved.
His improved xwOBA comes from improvements both when the ball is put in play and otherwise. Roberto’s strikeout rate is higher than ever, while his walk rate and xwOBA on balls in play are lower than ever. Yet, his wOBA on balls in play is above his 2015/16 levels, which is probably why his strong season has gone a bit under the radar.
A point worth making is that Roberto has been pitching well all season, not just in May. In April, he posted a .271 xwOBA (on par with 2015, better than 2016) that was betrayed by a .318 wOBA. He has been on another in level in May, with his .206 xwOBA ranking 12th among relievers who’ve faced 30+ batters and a .189 wOBA making his quality performances a bit more obvious to the eyeballs.
Taking a bird’s-eye view helps put his 2017 performance in perspective and allows us to compare apples to apples. The graph below overlays his 2017 xwOBA on his 17-game xwOBA rolling average over the last two seasons (he has appeared in 17 games this season). While he has maintained a .239 xwOBA over 17 game stretches before, he has spent the vast majority of his career above that threshold. So, it’s reasonable to say that his 17 relief appearances this year represent one of the best stretches (by xwOBA) of his career.
His strong 2017 also shows up in the kind of plate appearances he’s been allowing batters to have. He’s surrendering a lower proportion of barrels, flares and walks, while generating more poor-contact and strikeouts. On the whole, Roberto is having more positive interactions with hitters and fewer negative ones.
The Jays poor start to 2017 left everyone feeling down and probably dragged down our perception of Roberto Osuna’s pitching performances. When you think about it, a career year from a 21-year-old two-year MLB vet is exactly what you’d hope for. He’s got that rare blend of talent, youth and experience and it’s going to (once again) be a big part of the Blue Jays’ push for a playoff spot this season.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.