Needless to say, this season has not gone the way the Toronto Blue Jays wanted it to. The same can be said for All-Star closer Roberto Osuna.
On Tuesday night in Boston, the 22-year old blew his 10th save of the season, the most in the Majors. He’s ominously approaching the single-season record of 14.
Heading into the All-Star break, he was “almost perfect“, converting 22 saves opportunities in a row. He ranks fourth in saves, which might merit some consideration for the top AL reliever award.
However, his numbers since shortly after the All-Star break are, well, troubling.
You can take an analytical approach to what’s ailing Osuna. You might also recall his revelation in June about battling anxiety. Or maybe it’s the fact he’s been missing starting catcher Russell Martin. If you recall some of his most recent blown saves, he hasn’t exactly been the main reason for the loss. I have a very vivid first-hand memory of Raffy Lopez dropping the ball (literally and figuratively) in Chicago.
Despite all that, Osuna is already 4th all-time on the Blue Jays saves list, and if he hadn’t struggled so poorly in the second half of this season, he’d be pushing Billy Koch for third spot. It’s entirely reasonable to think he can pass Duane Ward for second at some point next season.
This is really the first time Osuna has struggled at the major league level. This is the first year he’s been on a team that isn’t playoff-bound. That might be mentally wearing on him.
Some might think that if he isn’t right, it might be best to shut him down for the season, or remove him from the closer role. I don’t think that’s the right idea. If the team was in playoff contention, perhaps a look at some other relievers might be wise, but (unfortunately) the Jays have the luxury of being able to play out the string and let Osuna get himself right in his familiar role. If there are factors outside of baseball contributing to his well-being, the three hours spent in the game can often be the best escape. He may need the distraction of baseball to keep himself balanced. Shutting him down might in fact be the worst thing for him.
There has been chatter among fans about returning Osuna to a starting role, but I think that ship has sailed. I’ve advocated on the podcast many times about keeping Osuna at the back of the bullpen. Having a young, home-grown, inexpensive closer is a wonderful problem to have. Assuming good health, if he averages 30 saves per year (a conservative amount considering he has 35 this year on a bad team, and he’s blown 10 chances), he’d move into top spot in Blue Jays history in five years. A pretty remarkable feat for such a young player.
We have to trust the Blue Jays front office knows what is right for Osuna, as both a person and a player. A sharp, healthy, effective Osuna is a key ingredient for contention in 2018. After this disastrous year, a trip back to the postseason will be badly needed, but that is secondary to this mental and physical well-being of a member of their baseball family.