Roberto Osuna vs. Old Blue Jays Closers By Luke Garrison (Wednesday August 1st, 2018)
Original Photos By Zimbio.com and Spokesman.com.
TORONTO—The day has actually arrived.
Roberto Osuna has officially been traded and will become a member of the Houston Astros.
More importantly, the Toronto Blue Jays can move on from him. He was unquestionably young and talented; however, it’s hard to stand by a player amidst domestic violence allegations. Especially when said allegations may very well result in either further suspensions to the player or, at worst, jail time.
The question now becomes, who will take over? Ever since Osuna was initially arrested and given leave from the team, the Jays have been abysmal at closing out games. Tyler Clippard is tied for the league lead in blown saves with six, Ryan Tepera is right behind him with five, and Danny Barnes is 0-for-2.
The harsh reality is that none of the aforementioned hurlers will be able to fill Osuna’s shoes. Newly acquired Ken Giles has the potential; however, we won’t know until we see it. Giles should receive a long look from the Jays’ brass during save situations down the stretch.
But this article really isn’t about that. The question I wish to pose today focuses on Osuna as a Blue Jay. How good was he? And how do his numbers compare to other closers the Jays had in recent history? Is he the best closer to wear a Jays’ uniform in the last 10+ years? The chart below contrasts Osuna’s numbers against the Jays’ main closers from 2006-2009.
The Jays certainly have an interesting history in terms of how they’ve deployed their savesmen.
In both the 2009 and 2011 season, they either had a save-by-committee type strategy (two pitchers sharing the opportunities based on circumstance) or had two separate pitchers take over as closer at different times due to injury and/or inconsistent play.
The beginning of 2006 is quite a throwback. How long has it been since you’ve heard the name ‘B.J. Ryan’ said out loud? Your answer should be “a very very long time” and if it isn’t, you’re probably quite the baseball geek (welcome to the club...).
At first thought, it’s easy to remember the negative parts of Ryan’s career as a Jay. It all started with the lucrative 5-year $47 million contract handed to him by former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi. Yes, you read that right...he got Mariano Rivera money.
In his first season with the Jays, he became the closer and the money almost seemed worth it. It was the season of a lifetime for the Louisiana native as he recorded 38 saves over 72 ⅓ innings of work to go along with a 1.37 ERA, 2.14 FIP, 0.85 WHIP, and a 10.7 K/9.
Ryan then missed all of the 2007 season due to Tommy John surgery but was given a chance to reclaim the ninth-inning throne in 2008. That season wasn’t nearly as special as his workload, along with the rest of his stats, regressed substantially. On the other hand, grabbing 32 saves over 58 IP with an ERA of 2.95 is certainly no easy feat.
In summary, his 2006 season was far more dominant than any single season Osuna has played so far (statistically speaking). Overall, Osuna can still be seen as the better pitcher because he has accomplished similar feats to Ryan at a much younger age.
He also took the reigns as the closer right from the get-go of his career whereas Ryan had many years with the Orioles to adapt to the league; therefore, he was more mature and well-prepared in his first season as the Jays’ closer. Especially since he had been an all-star worthy closer for the Baltimore Orioles the season before.
During Ryan’s absence in 2007, the Jays decided to give youngster Jeremy Accardo a try. This move was quite surprising given that his career ERA was 4.93 entering the season. Luckily, he put together a season that would end up being the only successful one of his career (refer to the chart for the specifics). He had decent numbers coming out of the pen in 2009 (as a reliever, not a closer); however, he also only pitched 28⅔ innings that year. It’s hard to label a season as ‘successful’ when the workload is so small.
When comparing Accardo’s stats to Osuna’s, it becomes clear that Osuna has far better control over his arsenal. Even in his dominant season, Accardo had a 3.2 BB/9 and 7.6 K/9. Seeing as his ERA was 2.14 and his FIP was 3.48, it becomes clear that a solid defence behind him was crucial to his achievements in 2007.
Osuna has never had to rely much on above-average defence to get the job done. He’s averaged a BB/9 of 1.6 and a K/9 of 10.2 throughout his career. These numbers certainly make Accardo’s look paltry in comparison. Jeremy was never a ‘strikeout’ pitcher per say but he still relied far too much on the team behind him to get anything done.
The 2009 season was a strange one to say the least. B.J Ryan was supposed to be the closer again; however, he hit the DL once more.
Enter Scott Downs.
The southpaw was supposed to be the eighth-inning setup man. Suddenly, he’s working the ninth instead. Downs racked up eight saves in the first half of the season before hitting the DL himself in mid-June.
Enter Jason Frasor.
His career ERA going into the season was 4.03 and was accompanied by an atrocious 4.1 BB/9. He had previously been the Jays’ closer in 2004 but didn’t have very good numbers despite recording 17 saves that year.
On the bright side, his ERA was 1.90 on the season at the time of Downs’ injury and he took over ninth-inning duties in stride. He had blown a save against the Yankees during the previous month and even blew his first save opportunity against the Phillies on June 18th. From then on, however, Frasor found his groove.
Downs was activated from the DL on July 8th and Cito Gaston, the Jays manager at the time, declared him the “permanent” closer. B.J. Ryan was also released that day so it became clear that the Jays were trying a new ninth-inning solution.
Looking back, that declaration seems silly since Downs went on to record exactly one more save that season. It actually occurred two days later against the Baltimore Orioles. Later that month, Downs blew two saves in the same week.
The Jays then decided he was better suited to return to eighth-inning duties. Frasor hadn’t pitched overly well during Downs’ injury absence (8 IP, 4.50 ERA) but the two saves he had registered were enough to earn him another shot at closing.
Both of these decisions greatly benefitted the Jays. From August 1st onwards, Frasor went 8-for-9 in save opportunities to go along with a 3.20 ERA and a K/9 of 10.4. Downs went on to record a 3.38 ERA with seven holds over 13.1 innings pitched.
It’s tough to compare either of these pitchers closing abilities to Osuna since there isn’t much of a sample size to go off of; however, both pitched admirably throughout most of the 2009 season. It’s not hard to see why the Jays thought they each deserved a crack at the ninth when the opportunity arose.
Their career numbers would even suggest that either of them could have been used at closer a lot more often going forward. Only Downs got that chance again, albeit a small one, when he amassed nine saves with the Los Angeles Angels in 2012.
But when you contrast the K/9 and BB/9 rates between the three pitchers from their most dominant closing year as a Jay, a developing pattern emerges. Osuna’s elite ability to strike out a lot of batters, while walking very few, comes to the forefront once again.
Both Frasor and Downs had decent K/9 rates (8.7 and 8.3 respectively) in 2009; however, Osuna’s 11.7 rating in 2017 was far superior. Osuna also walked half as many batters (1.3 BB/9) than the other two (both recording a 2.5 BB/9) which isn’t necessarily an indicator of their mediocrity.
Instead, it’s a testament to how well Osuna controls the game when he’s on the mound. His incredible skill will be missed; however, the anxiety and ambiguity that came with his court case will not.
It was time to move on from him and the Blue Jays managed to do so while simultanoeusly netting a decent return.