Blue Jays: For those who think Osuna shouldn’t be the closer, just save it

Photo by Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
By @RyanGrosman
Laced
September 8, 2017

You are only as good as your last performance. Your last game. Your last at-bat. Your last save opportunity.

That’s the nature of Major League Baseball. That’s the nature of all pro sports. That’s the way it’s always been.

Right now, no one knows this more than Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna.

Yes, he’s going through a little bit of a rough patch. Okay, he’s really fucking awful.

But we forget how he grabbed hold of the closer role early in 2015 as a 20-year-old. And that he converted 20 saves while blowing just 3. As a rookie. During a pennant race. Just think about it.

We forget how he’s the youngest pitcher in baseball history to reach 47 career saves.

We forget how he logged 36 saves in 2016 while coughing up just 6.

We forget how well he’s fared in his first 2 MLB postseasons.

Even his 22 save streak just a few months ago is a distant, foggy memory.

No. It’s only about what have you done for us lately. And, yes, lately Osuna has been complete shit. I get it.

As of September 7, he's blown 10 saves. The most in the majors. His last botched save was made even worse by the resulting 19-inning marathon loss to the Red Sox.

But at the same time, he’s second in the AL with 35 saves. Fourth overall. Not too shabby.

Again, yes, right now he can’t save a game to save his life. But this his first real bad stretch of his young career. It was bound to happen at some point. Is he not allowed to struggle like any other player in the league?

There’s no reason to panic or give up on him so fast. I believe he’ll turn it around next season.

There are a number of factors contributing to his recent struggles. Let’s go through some of them.

Heavy workload

Osuna’s had quite the heavy workload these past 3 seasons. Heavy even for a veteran reliever, let alone someone as young as Osuna.

Remember again that Osuna became the full time closer at age 20. That’s a lot to put on his young shoulders…literally.

While everyone was coddling Aaron Sanchez and paying close attention to his innings these past few seasons, Osuna was left to his own devices. Perhaps a little rest here and there would’ve done him so good.

Opportunities up the wazoo

Guess what? Osuna’s had a shit ton of save chances this year – 45 to be exact. There’s only one other closer in all of baseball who’s had more. It’s the Rays’ Alex Colome with 47.

So why all the chances? With the Jays offensive struggles this year, they’ve played in a whole bunch of close games. Very rarely have they pummeled a team.

F’n WBC

The majority of Osuna’s problems this year can be traced back to before the season even began. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the World Baseball Classic.

As soon as I heard Osuna was pitching for Mexico, I said to no one in particular, “There goes the season.”

By pitching for Mexico, his spring training was cut short. He had to ramp everything up super quick, just so he could pitch in a meaningless tournament in March.

When he returned to the Jays, he had neck and back soreness, ultimately causing his velocity to dip. The Jays eventually 10 day DL’d him. His velocity has been pretty up and down ever since.

But perhaps 10 days wasn’t enough. Maybe they brought him back too early. I mean, it wouldn’t be the Jays if they didn’t bring a player back too soon.

I think next year with a full spring training, where he can gradually build up his arm strength, he’ll be back to his 2015-2016 form.

Thank you WBC for fucking up yet another Jays season.

Defensive dip

A pitcher can make good pitches. But if his defence continually fucks up, what difference does it make. The Jays as a whole this year have had piss poor defence. A missed catch here or a botched double play there and a save can easily turn into a loss.

Not getting crushed

Look, Osuna’s not getting destroyed out there. Teams aren’t lighting him up like the 4th of July…er...Canada Day. He’s not giving up long bombs or blasts off the fence. And his season strikeouts are right where they should be. All this is encouraging.

It’s mostly a walk here. A ball through the infield there. And then it’s bye-bye save.

The Martin effect

This might be the only time that Russel Martin’s absence actually hurts the Jays. Osuna needs someone like Russ to keep him in check.

Why? Because Osuna has an arsenal of pitches he likes to throw. Too many, in fact. Sometimes limiting the pitches he throws is actually more effective.

Osuna also likes to shake off pitches. And more often than not, he’ll go away from his bread and butter pitch – the fastball.

Martin is the most familiar with Osuna having caught him the past 3 years. Plus he’s a veteran presence that Osuna is more likely to pay attention to. He does the best job of reining Osuna in.

Closing is fucking hard

This one's pretty self-explanatory.

As you know, each team has 8-9 relievers in the bullpen. But only 1 of those relievers is the closer (unless you’re the Yankees). There’s a reason for that. Not everyone can do it.

Closers have to have a certain mentality. They need to have short memories. They need to succeed when the pressure is at its greatest. When the game literally hangs in the balance.

Osuna possesses all these qualities. And he has the stuff to be a great closer.

Other factors

There are a few other factors that could be contributing to his recent struggles.

There’s the psychological issues that Osuna brought up in June. He told the media he was feeling anxious and not himself outside of baseball. Even if it’s something he’s dealing with off the field, it can still affect him on the field.

The other factor has to do with motivation. It’s really a lack of maturity. It’s something he’ll learn as he progresses in his career.

Rarely do I see Osuna blow a 1 run lead. The saves he tends to blow are the 2-3 run jobbers. When he comes into a 1 run game, it appears he bares down a little bit more and completes the save.

You can also see it when he enters in non-save opportunities, such blowouts or if the Jays are up by 5 or 6 runs. Because there’s no save opp, his concentration tends not to be there. It’s like he needs the pressure in order to stay motivated. The higher the pressure, the better he performs.

Also, 2015 and 2016 were playoff years, which means he was pitching in high-pressure games right up to the end of the season and throughout the playoffs. This year, the Jays have been last in the AL East from day 1 and were never really in the wildcard hunt. There’s no motivation for Osuna in meaningless games.

This isn’t an excuse, of course. It’s something he needs to work on. He has to find ways to ramp it up even with a hefty lead or when the game doesn’t mean much.

So what do the Jays do?

There are a couple options:

1. Keep sending Osuna out there. Maybe he’ll work his way out of it. Maybe he won’t. But it’ll send him the message that the franchise has full confidence in him, which could go a long way.

2. Spread the wealth. Let Osuna keep closing, but give opportunities to other relievers, as well. Maybe even give one of the newbies a chance to close, but only when facing other non-contenders. This will lessen Osuna’s workload while seeing what the other relievers can do.

3. Pitch him in the 7th or 8th inning only. This could help motivate him to get the closer role back while telling him that what he’s doing now is not acceptable. But you also run the risk of crapping all over his confidence.

4. Shut him down for the rest of the season.

In my humble opinion, I’d go with option #2. Communicate clearly to Osuna that he’s still the guy, but lessen his outings for the remainder of season by delving out the save opps.

If next year he has a full, healthy spring training and his fastball velocity is still down. And he continues to struggle well into the season…well, then maybe we have ourselves a problem.

But until then, Osuna’s the closer of this team. And over the past 2.5 seasons, when it’s come to closing out games, he’s put the team on his back. Maybe we should get off his.