Throughout the stellar play of the Blue Jays after the July 31st trade deadline, one of the shining stars was 20 year old rookie closer Roberto Osuna. Osuna signed with the Blue Jays in 2011 as an international free agent. Before Spring Training this year, Osuna had only pitched 22IP in Single-A Ball. Osuna would make the bullpen out of Spring Training, becoming the youngest pitcher to ever take the mound for the Jays. After the Blue Jays tried Migeul Castro and Brett Cecil in the closer’s role, Osuna would take the job just in time to help his Blue Jays make a run for the AL East.
The closer’s role is arguably one of the most important come playoff time. Although closers might not be used as much, they usually have the fate of the game in their hands. With each win and loss in a playoff series becoming so vital, closers become one of your most valuable assets. In 2001, one of the best World Series of all time, in game seven with the Yankees trying for their fourth World Series in a row, Mariano Rivera would blow a save to the Arizona Diamondback, giving Arizona their first World Series (The Diamondbacks franchise was only four years old).
Ahh, watching the Yankees lose never gets old! Last year, we got to witness one of the best closer playoff performances in years from Greg Holland. Holland led the Royals to the World Series with a 1.13ERA and 6SV throughout the postseason. He would save all four games in the sweep of the Orioles in the ALCS. Dennis Eckersley, one of the greatest closers of all time, would be dominant throughout the 1988 postseason. Entering the Athletics vs Dodgers World Series, the Athletics were considered to be the heavy favourites. In Game 1, the Athletics would hold a one run lead, only needing one out to seal the victory. Hobbling up to plate was the injured Kirk Gibson, who then gave us one of the most famous moments in playoff history.
That walk off win would shift the momentum of the series for the Dodgers who never looked back, taking the series in five game. 1989 would be very different for Eckersley, as he would contribute two saves (half the wins), in the World Series for the Athletics to beat the Giants. In baseball, things can be unpredictable. The Yankees being dethroned by an expansion team, Holland leading the Royals to their first World Series since 1985, and one of the best closers of all time being knocked out of the stadium by an injured pinch hitter. All of these determined in the hands of the closer.
Since Osuna has become the closer, he has dominated the back end of the Jays bullpen, recording a 2.58 ERA and 20SV/23OPP in 69.2IP. Osuna recorded his first save on June 22nd and after that he would record 14 straight without a blown save. The right-hander uses 4 pitches (vFA 95.5, vFC 89.9, vSL 87.9 vCH 82.3) and his two best pitches are his Fastball/Changeup combo. With a 13.2mph variance in the two pitches, it’s easy for Osuna to mix extreme speeds with accurate finesse pitches, leaving nearly every batter on their back knee wondering what they just swung at.
Osuna’s numbers in his first year were good enough to garner him some Rookie of the Year potential. If it wasn’t for Carlos Correa and Miguel Sano, Osuna would defiantly be the heavy favourite to win the award.
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Osuna’s recent play has not been as remarkable as his first half. Since breaking that streak of 14 consecutive saves, Osuna has allowed 8ER of his season total of 20. Osuna’s recent bump in the road might be too small of sample size to judge, but his increased amount of sliders and fewer changeups might be where his issue lies. Although Osuna throws his Slider and Changeup almost at an identical rate (SL% 13.7 & CH% 13.9) and the values are the same (wSL 1.8 7 & wCH 1.6), we have to wonder if the increased amount of Sliders recently has been his problem?
*Graph Showing Roberto Osuna’s increase in Slider and decrease in Changeup usage. X-Axis = IP
*Roberto Osuna Monthly Splits for wOBA & OPS. This clearly shows Sept/Oct Opponents having been hitting harder contact against Osuna.
Lets look at one appearance in particular. His most recent game, on October 3 against the Tampa Bay Rays, where Osuna went 0.2IP, allowing 2ER with a BS. In that game, Osuna only threw his fastball/slider to a wFA -0.8 and a wSL -0.5 and didn’t even attempt to throw a changeup! In Osuna’s last five starts he’s actually only used his Changeup in one game, and he threw it twice. In that specific game against Tampa, Osuna almost matched his Slider frequency with his Fastball, throwing his Slider at 42.3% of pitches and his Fastball at 57.7%.
One could argue that Osuna’s appearance against Tampa was his worst of the season (Tampa Bay scored 644 Runs in 2015 25th in the MLB). Unfortunately I’m not Pete Walker, nor am I catching for Osuna every night, so we don’t know exactly what is going on. But the apparent disappearance in Osuna’s changeup makes you wonder if something is going on with that pitch. Osuna has been stellar all year, and I truly hope that in years to come he remains the Blue Jays closer. I think it’s a position that suits his pitches, insane fastball velocity, and veteran approach on the mound. One of Osuna’s greatest attributes is something that doesn’t really show up on stats sheets – the ability for Osuna to bounce back easily. This comes in addition to his great demeanor when he enters the game. Eckersley and Rivera both had this dead-eyed demeanor on the mound, and even at 20 years old, we watch Osuna like he’s been playing in the show for years now. Even with his worst showing coming in his last game of the year, Osuna’s “on to the next one” approach will help him bounces back for a huge post season.
Stats and Graphs Courtesy of Fangraphs