Blue Jays: Could Roberto Osuna catch Mariano Rivera’s save record?

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 30: Roberto Osuna
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 30: Roberto Osuna /

While it seems like a nearly untouchable feat, as the youngest pitcher to reach 100 saves, does Roberto Osuna have a shot to catch Mariano Rivera’s save record?

The Blue Jays have been very fortunate to have one of the best young closers in baseball since the 2015 season, when Roberto Osuna debuted as a big leaguer.

At just 20 years old, Osuna surprised many folks when he made the team out of spring training, and after a short period trying others in the role, the Blue Jays eventually turned to the talented Mexican right-hander to close out games, something he’s been doing ever since.

At just 23 years and 62 days old, Osuna became the youngest pitcher in baseball history to save 100 games, surpassing the previously held mark by Francisco Rodriguez. It’s no small feat, especially when you consider how many great closers have come and gone throughout the history of the game, even if only a few had a chance to save games so early in their career.

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That Osuna has found success so early is remarkably impressive, both because it’s difficult to pitch at that level while being so young, and because of the added pressure that comes with being a closer. He’s had his bumps in the road like any pitcher might, but this is a young man who was closing out games in the playoffs as a 20 year old rookie, and doing it with poise. That he’s continued to thrive in the role as he’s gotten “older” should come as no surprise.

Because he’s so young and has a bright future ahead of him, it’s fair to wonder what the ceiling for his career accomplishments might be. A friend asked me yesterday if I thought he could have a viable chance to set the save record, given what he just accomplished, and I can honestly save it had never crossed my mind before. I’m not sure why exactly, but it’s probably because Mariano Rivera is such a legend from such a successful time in New York Yankees history, that the idea of posting numbers in his range seems impossible.

But is it?

Let’s have a very simplistic look at how things have gone so far for Osuna is his young career.

2015- Age 20:   20 saves

2016- Age 21:   36 saves

2017- Age 22:   39 saves

2018- Age 23:   5 saves so far

Let’s ignore the 2018 season for obvious reasons, and I’ll even forget the fact that Osuna didn’t get the closer’s job right away in 2015 either. If we’re being very simplistic about this, Osuna has saved 95 games in three seasons (which again, is really impressive). That’s good for an average of 31.67 saves per year, and to make this even more simple, let’s just round up to 32.

At an average of 32 saves per season, and needing 552 saves in order to tie Rivera’s MLB record, he would need to play 17.25 seasons. Obviously it’s not that simple, as he’s bound to have years where he saves more than 32 games (see: the last two years), and it’s high improbable that he’ll keep a consistent pace up throughout the course of a 20 year career. He would also have to stay healthy for his entire career, something that very few pitchers manage to do.

That said, 17 years from now Osuna would be just 40 years old, and while that’s getting up there it’s not out of the realm of possibility he could pitch that long, especially as a reliever. How long he can hold on to a closer’s job would be one of the bigger questions, as well as how closers are used as the game continues to evolve.

We’ve watched team’s start to use “super relievers” like Andrew Miller in spots other than at the end of the game, and you have to wonder if that trend may grow during Osuna’s career. That would obviously have an effect on his numbers, and it’s entirely possible we haven’t seen the end of the changes in the way games are managed in the WAR era. I’m not saying change is bad either, but it definitely could have an effect on Osuna’s chances, as a lot could change in the next couple of decades.

As things currently stand, Osuna is tied for 147th all time in saves, sitting at 100 with Mike Fetters, Joel Hanrahan, and Billy Taylor. For interest’s sake, if he finishes this season with 40 saves he would be tied for 97th all time at 135 saves, a mark currently held by Zach Britton. If he picked up 46 saves, it would tie him for 94th all-time with former Blue Jay, Mike Timlin.

As for whether or not Osuna has a legitimate shot at the all-time mark, why not? I wouldn’t put money on it, as a lot of things could derail him before he saves another 552 games, but as the youngest to reach 100 and plenty of potential to continue to improve, it’s not impossible.

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