Blue Jays Keys to Success #3: Close the Deal

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 04: Catcher Russell Martin
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 04: Catcher Russell Martin /

The Blue Jays have had a below-elite save conversion percentage for the last few years.  Closing the deal at a higher level could be key.

This article is the third in a series about areas in which the Jays need to improve to contend in 2018. The first article was about beating the bad teams, and the second was about winning in April.  The focus is not on large targets – like staying healthy, or scoring more runs than the other guys – but rather on smaller areas where the Jays have underperformed in recent years and where improvement could translate into those critical few additional wins.

If you take the top 30 closers (by total saves) from 2015-2017 and sort them by save percentage, Zach Britton is first with a 95.7% conversion rate, and Kelvin Herrera is last with 70.7%.  The average is 85.1% and Roberto Osuna is 14th with 86.2%.  So clearly some closers are better at “closing the deal” than others.  But how much difference does it make?

Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays /

Toronto Blue Jays

Let’s start by (somewhat arbitrarily) defining an elite closer as a top-5.  Over this period, the 5th best save conversion percentage was 92.5% (by Andrew Miller).

And next, let’s define the impact of a blown save.  By definition, a successful save translates to a win probability of 100%.  But a blown save could result in a team win or loss.  Over this three year period, Roberto Osuna has 19 blown saves.  Of these 19 games, the Jays have lost 14, or roughly 74%.  This sounds intuitively reasonable, as a blown save can often result in an immediate loss, and you would expect a team’s record to be below .500 in blown save situations.

In 2017, Osuna had 49 save opportunities.  Of these, he converted 39 and blew 10 saves.  Of the 10 blown saves, the Jays won two games.  So the Jays’ record in Osuna save opportunity games was 41-8.

If a top-5 closer had the same 49 opportunities and converted them at a 92.5% rate, they would have saved 45 games and blown four saves.  Of the four blown saves, using the 74% figure, the team would have won one game.  So the team’s record would have been 46-3 in this scenario.  This is an additional five wins.

This is something of an extreme example, as Osuna’s 10 blown saves in 2017 led the majors.  But suppose we did the same calculation for 2016.  Osuna blew six saves in 42 chances for an 85.7% conversion rate.  The Jays won two of the six games in which the saves were blown, for a record of 38-4 in the 42 Osuna save opportunity games.  Using the same 92.5% and 74% figures, an “elite” closer would have gone 40-2 (rounded) in those 42 games, for an additional two wins.

What does it mean?

Osuna has been elite in many ways over the last three years.  His 3.0 fWAR in 2017 was third in the majors for relief pitchers, behind only Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel.  But even so, a repeat of his 2017 conversion rate would be disastrous for the 2018 Jays.  Even the two win difference between Osuna and elite in 2016 could be difficult for the Jays to overcome in 2018.

The bottom line

Osuna is on the brink of elite-ness as a MLB closer. He has the tools, and when he is “on” he is unstoppable.  But the Jays need him to find the final piece of the puzzle – the consistency that marks the truly special relievers.  That extra couple of wins could well make the difference between baseball and golf in October.

Next: The upside of a motivated and improved Pillar