Bullpen Banter: Who Is The Best Fit To Close For The Blue Jays?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

It had looked like the Blue Jays’ closing situation was fairly cut and dry, as Roberto Osuna had thrived in the role in 2015. Sure there had been rumblings about the potential of transitioning both Osuna and setup man Aaron Sanchez back into the rotation, but that was simply noise (and the acquisitions of J.A. Happ and Jesse Chavez had cemented that). Then Friday happened and suddenly there is no sure thing…

That’s because Drew Storen, who was pitching like an elite closer in his own right prior to the Nationals’ acquisition of Jonathan Papelbon, is now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays (acquired for Ben Revere). While the move has already caused the chatter of Sanchez returning to starting to pick up, the bigger question is who is the better option in the ninth inning? Is it Storen or is it Osuna? Let’s take a look at each to try and figure it out:

Drew Storen
We all know that the wheels fell of last season after being shifted to the eighth inning, but it’s not like he’s never thrived in the role before. He owns a career 8.65 K/9 and 2.59 BB/9, though he saw his strikeout rate spike to a 10.96 K/9 in ’15 courtesy of a 12.2% SwStr%.

The pitch that saw an increase in swinging strikes was his fourseam fastball (12.78% Whiff%), and he also was using the pitch a bit more (37.44%). To an extent that being his key pitch last season is a bit concerning, as it helped lead to an increased line drive rate and a decreased groundball rate (LD%//GB%):

  • 2011 – 17.2% // 47.3%
  • 2012 – 18.3% // 53.7%
  • 2013 – 19.9% // 40.9%
  • 2014 – 14.6% // 52.5%
  • 2015 – 23.9% // 37.7%

His .301 BABIP wasn’t atrocious, but it’s fair to assume that it could regress should his line drive rate not improve. Considering that he was at 22.9% in the first half (.293 BABIP), it’s fair to say that a regression was likely anyways.

Moving to a ballpark where the home run can hurt you, this isn’t a trend that we should like to see. Throw in the likelihood that the strikeout rate regresses and Storen is looking like a risky proposition.

Roberto Osuna
It’s easy to point towards luck for Osuna as well, as he benefited from a much more questionable .238 BABIP. He also is not a groundball pitcher (34.3%), so we can’t point towards that as his advantage.

However he showed elite control (2.07 BB/9) and also the potential to be a better strikeout pitcher (9.69 K/9 courtesy of a 14.7% SwStr% and 33.8% O-Swing%). While he too had a big Whiff% from his fourseam fastball (14.32%), his changeup (15.79%) and more specifically his slider (26.49%) give him big put away pitches. Considering his minor league 10.9 K/9, mostly as a starter, seeing him post nearly elite strikeout levels is a realistic expectation.

With a 2.9 BB/9 in the minors, as a starter, there’s no question that he offers strong control as well.

Conclusion
The truth is that the decision could go either way, as both pitchers are similar in their skillset. That said, we like the upside that Osuna brings in his strikeout rate while Storen’s transition to the AL East is going to be something to watch. For now we’d lean Osuna for the role, though time will tell what Toronto elects to do.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Brooks Baseball

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