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Is Roberto Osuna the Jays’ closer?


Following Monday night’s dominant save by the rookie Roberto Osuna that saw him strike out five of his six batters faced, the closer role was stripped from incumbent Brett Cecil and delivered to… well… no one.

With Osuna’s performance thus far, many fans and potentially even the Jays brass are pondering the possibility of cementing the 20-year-old as the next closer in the Jays infamous bullpen.

The easy answer, at least from this writer’s standpoint, is that Osuna shouldn’t be a closer. Using the most logical way to a run a bullpen, statistically speaking, a team’s best reliever should be the one who’s used in the highest pressure (leverage) situation. This means that, instead of using your ace reliever in a situation where you have three outs to get with as much as a three-run lead, you employ his services when the game is truly on the line and he has the most potential to impact the game.

By all accounts, this all-star reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen is Roberto Osuna.

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In the table above I have listed two statistics, ERA and gmLI which is short for the pitchers’ average leverage index when they enter the game. For a more detailed explanation to what leverage index entails click the link here. Essentially though, it’s a way to quantify how dire or important the situation was in a game depending on the score, number of outs and number of people on base.

In this table, you can see that Osuna had the highest gmLI among the relievers I included. This means that, on average, he has come into the game in higher pressure situations more often than any reliever in the Jays pen, including the former closer, Cecil.

But just because a reliever is thrown in that situation doesn’t mean their successful right? Of course, but Osuna has.

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In the table above you can see the batting averages against the aforementioned relievers based on a given leverage index. Obviously, the higher the leverage, the more pressure there is on the given situation and higher likelihood of the opposing team winning the game.

Again, Osuna dominates his colleagues. Undeniably, Delabar is right there with him but in a much smaller sample size. Delabar has pitched in a high leverage situation only 1.2 innings (seven batters) while Osuna has entered or played during 6.2 innings facing 30 batters.

So why shouldn’t the best reliever be used in the infamous save situation? Because, statistically speaking, that’s not the most important or influential point in the ball game. Again, it is useful to examine win probability or leverage to demonstrate this. For example, if Osuna had come into Monday night’s game with the bases loaded, a one-run lead and nobody out, the potential win probability (chances of his team winning the game) he could add through successfully keeping the opposition off the board is far greater than the value he could add through a standard three-run save situation to start the ninth inning.

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To put this into context, you could compare a potential trade target for the Jays, closer Jonathan Papelbon on his average leverage index. Papelbon’s stands at 1.22 gmLI whereas Osuna’s, as mentioned, sits at 1.40. This means that Osuna is facing tougher competition, leading to a higher value (WAR) despite having a higher ERA. Quite simply, the Jays are utilizing Osuna’s talents much more intelligently than the Philadelphia Phillies (shocker).

What’s this all mean? More or less that manager John Gibbons should continue to use Osuna when the leverage is highest and there is a potential for a high fluctuation to the team’s chances of winning the game while choosing someone else for the closers role; say Steve Delabar.

Using Osuna in a strict closer’s role would waste 21% of his outings to games where the run differential is four or more runs for the simple purpose of getting his work in. Instead, he would be much better suited to be continually brought into pitch with the game on the line.

However, if he is handed the closer’s role, I’m sure he will succeed. Given that teams going into the ninth leading win 95% of the time, I’m fairly certain someone of Osuna’s young talent could handle it. Of course there are those who think it’s too much pressure for the youngster to handle.

To those, it’s evident he’s in the thick with at least one “solidified” closer.