by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
You would think that the Blue Jays’ Roberto Osuna would be viewed as one of the elite closers in the league by now. He won’t turn 23 until February yet has 95 career saves (including 39 last season). Why isn’t he getting the respect? There are a few reasons:
- 10 blown saves in 2017
- Reported anxiety issues
- 3.38 ERA in 2017
While a little concern is fair, especially with the anxiety, viewing him as anything but a Top 5 option would be a mistake. It’s easy to get down on him due to the ERA and blown saves, but those are explained away by a 59.5% strand rate. The fact is that he has the stuff to emerge as the truly elite closer in the game.
Osuna has always shown elite control, with a 1.27 BB/9 in 2017 and 1.69 for his career. He’s also shown strikeout stuff, though he improved on that last season with an 11.67 K/9. Even if you don’t want t to believe he’s that good, he owns a 10.40 K/9 for his career and his 15.4% SwStr% backs up the improved number.
So we have strikeouts and control, which alone could make him special. Last season he started added groundballs as well though.
His groundball rate jumped to 48.0%, with the improvement likely coming due to a change in his repertoire. Osuna began incorporating a cutter last season, throwing it 26.82% of the time. That pitch yielded a groundball rate of 52.78% when it was out in play, justifying the jump (33.2% in 2016).
The improved groundball rate allowed him to keep the ball in the ballpark (0.42 HR/9), and it gives him a scary set of skills.
Last season there were 16 qualified relief pitchers to post a BB/9 under 2.00. Only 7 of those paired it with a strikeout rate of at least 10.00. Of those there were 3 who paired it with a groundball rate of at least 48%. In other words it’s a unique and elite skill set and shows us his true upside.
Don’t make the mistake of looking at the blown saves or the ERA and discounting the potential. Osuna has the stuff to be in the Kenley Jansen tier and he could certainly realize it as soon as 2018.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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