Roberto Osuna as an emerging star closer

It’s pretty easy to overlook Roberto Osuna when thinking of the Blue Jays. The big bats draw most of the attention, and then you have the emergence of Aaron Sanchez as an ace for the team and Marcus Stroman’s potential. There’s not a whole lot of chatter about Osuna which is unfair to him as one of the best young closer in the game, as he still hasn’t turned 22 yet. Despite being so young, he’s shown maturity that few late game pitchers possess, and he’s been improving on his already filthy stuff. He’s one of the bright young pitchers in the game.

Immediately with Osuna, you notice the heat he can bring. He routinely sits in the mid-90s and has no problem ramping it up to the upper 90s. And the fastball is where he creates himself as a lights out figure, throwing it over 60% of the time. He gets and insane 11 inches of rise on the pitch, as well as good horizontal movement at about three and a half inches of arm-side run. Here is the fastball in action

Although the camera angle is unfortunately placed where it’s tougher to tell how much the pitch moves horizontally, make sure to check out just how much it rises, as it appears to “pop” and defy gravity. We can see Jose Altuve, perhaps the best contact hitter in the game right now, barely able to fight the pitch off for a foul.

What’s even more insane about his heater is just how many whiffs he’s able to get on it. His career average is 11.8%, while the league average for the pitch is just 6.9%. To put a little perspective on this, he has thrown 1,422 fastballs in his two-year career so far. While the average pitcher would get 98 whiffs on those, Osuna has had 168. That’s no small difference, and considering Osuna is coming out of the pen in short outing situations, every additional whiff brings him a better count and closer to strikeouts.




And while the heater deservedly gets a lot of love, Osuna has also made great strides with his slider last year. While he resorts to his fastball early and when he falls behind in counts, the slider is used heavily in situations where he’s ready to put the batter away. While it gets used 17.3% in general, he takes that usage through the roof when he’s ahead in the count, up to 41% of the time. And when he does use it, he gets guys to flail at nothing. His 25.5% whiff rate on the pitch is one of the best in the league, even for relievers, and well above the league average 15.2% again.

Although Osuna does feature a sinker, cutter and changeup, none get used frequently enough (all under 10%) to be a major staple in his game. But his changeup, the next most used pitch at 7.3%, has interesting potential. As a two pitch pitcher he’s destined to stay in the bullpen, but as he develops his changeup there remains a chance he might get stretched back into a starter, or at least start to move towards the modified bullpen ace role of someone who can go many innings at a time. His changeup gets exactly average whiff rates at 15.0%, but what makes it special is that it’s simply another offering to keep hitters off-guard.

He also could use it to help bust his bad platoon splits, as he let lefties crush him to a .302 wOBA, while righties were held to just a .208 mark. While we expect him to naturally struggle more with lefties, adding a changeup historically busts these splits down, and it’s something that could take Osuna into more innings, or into the firm elite group of closers.

What we’ve seen out of Osuna so far in his career is a high strikeout machine (28.1%) who barely walks anyone (5.4%). Both combined create a recipe for success, and Osuna’s career 2.63 ERA and 3.11 FIP reflect that he’s already tasting some of it. He’s shown that he has the ability to lock down tough situations late in games, and if his changeup develops then we can see him put in the category of Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman potentially. He’s a hot buy, as he only projects to get better in his young career. Get him now while he is still relatively affordable.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.