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It's been a tough year for Roberto Osuna. Ten Blown Saves and all...


Ten blown saves is a lot, but it's not the team record. Joey McLaughlin (11 in 1983) and Duane Ward (12 in 1989) both surpassed that figure. But Osuna, as you might expect, has been used quite differently from those two.

Osuna is a thoroughly modern closer. He is invariably brought in to begin the final inning. There's no one base, his team has a lead, he has three outs to get. That's the Modern Closer situation (remember that phrase, I'll be using it as shorthand!) Of his 45 Save Opportunities, the Modern Closer situation accounts for 40 of them (88.9%). Alas, while he's been perfect in his 5 unconventional Save Opps, it's those standard ones that have been the problem. He's converted just 30 of 40 (75%) Modern Closer situations. With a 1 run lead to perfect, he's converted 10 of 15; with a 2 run lead to protect he's converted 13 of 17; with a 3 run lead to protect he's converted 7 of 8.

Needless to say, that's not how Bobby Cox used Joey McLaughlin in 1983. McLaughlin had what we'd regard as 22 Save Opps, and just 3 of them were Modern Closer, starting the 9th inning with a lead. The team had a 1 run lead on all three occasions. McLaughlin closed the game successfully twice, and Blew the Save once. Of his other 7 saves, 6 times he came on in the 7th or 8th inning; once he came on with 2 out in the 9th, ahead by two runs, but with the bases loaded. McLaughlin also has 2 Holds - he came in the 8th inning with a lead, and passed that lead to another reliever.

Of McLaughlin's 11 Blown Saves, besides the 1 Modern Closer type just mentioned, he had 3 others when he entered in the 9th inning. On all three occasions, the tying run was already on base. Of his other 7 Blown Saves - twice he started the eighth inning clean with a 1 run lead; twice he came on in the eighth inning with the tying run on base; and three times he came on in the seventh inning with the tying run in scoring position. So yes, Joey blew 11 Saves in 1983, but the Degree of Difficulty was somewhat more challenging.

The same Degree of Difficulty caveat applies to the 12 Saves blown by Duane Ward in 1989. For those of you who weren't there, Tom Henke scuffled in April and Jimy Williams decided that he was washed up and banished him to the back of the bullpen in early May, using him only in blowouts (in fairness to Jimy, Henke was 1-3, 11.37 at the time - he'd converted just 2 of 5 Save Opps at this point.) Jimy tried to make Duane Ward into his closer, and while Ward was pitching better than Henke at the time, he wouldn't do very well at actually Closing the Game. By the time Williams was relieved of his duties, Ward had blown 5 of his 6 Save Opps - he'd taken the Loss in four consecutive appearances (Apr 29 through May 6, and the role of Duane Ward in costing Jimy Williams his job is just another thing we can be thankful to him for). When Gaston took over in mid-May, Ward continued as the Closer. Henke was used only in low-pressure situations as he restored his game and his confidence. It was fully six weeks after Gaston took over before he sent Henke out to collect a save (June 23) and Henke pitched brilliantly from that point through the rest of the reason (2-0, 0.93, 18 SVs in 19 SvOpps.)

Ward had already blown 3 Saves in April as Henke's set-up guy. In his six or so weeks as the Closer, Ward had 9 Save Opps and converted just 4 of them (he was 0-2 for Williams, 4-7 for Gaston.)† He was quite a bit better over the final three months of the season, back in his role as Set-Up Guy. He'd blow 4 more Save Opps (while picking up 10 of his 15 Saves.) But the 12 Blown Saves is still the franchise high. Ah, but the Degree of Difficulty? Just 1 of Ward's potential Saves came in a Modern Closer situation (he closed the deal.) In his 12 Blown Saves, the tying run was already in scoring position on 7 occasions. Twice the tying run was merely on base. In his other three Blown Saves, he entered the game to start the inning - twice he had a 1 run lead, once he had a 2-run lead - but he was expected to get 6 outs (twice) or 9 outs (once.) On one occasion Ward entered in the 6th inning, with a 1 run lead and two men on base.

Ward also picked up 5 Holds, and on two of those occasions he also took the Loss - that's right, he got a Hold but ended up the Losing Pitcher. Gosh, some of these rules are weird. (He came in with a lead, recorded some outs, and left with the lead intact but the go-ahead run now on base for the next guy, who promptly Blew the Save.)

Obviously, what was asked of McLaughlin and Ward was an entirely different thing from what's required of Osuna. So let's look at the three Closer seasons with the next highest number of Blown Saves prior to the advent of Osuna. That would be Miguel Batista in 2005 and Tom Henke in 1986 and 1987 each of whom was tagged with 8 Blown Saves during the year in question.

John Gibbons was in his first full season as a major league manager when Miguel Batista was closing games for him in 2005. Batista would save 31 games that year, while blowing 8 of his opportunities. Of those 39 Save Opps, 25 came in Modern Closer situations (64.1%), and Batista cashed in 20 of those (80.0%). That's where we find 5 of his Blown Saves. Of the other 3, twice he came on in the 8th inning with a two-run lead and a man on base; once he came on with a 1 run lead in the 9th with one out and a man in scoring position. Batista recorded an additional 11 saves; in 8 of those games he came on in the eight inning. He started the 8th clean on one occasion, and recorded the final six outs to get the Save. There were already runners on base in his other 10 Saves.

Which is not how Gibbons uses his Closer these days, and it's not how Jimy Williams was using Tom Henke back in the day. 1986 was Williams first year as the manager and it was also Henke's first full season in Toronto. Henke would save 27 games, while blowing 8 Save Opps. He also picked up a completely undeserved Hold when he came on for Jimmy Key and allowed both inherited runners to score while putting three of his own guys on base. Bill Caudill, of all people, had to bail him out.

Just 12 of Henke's 35 Save Opps (34.3%) fall into the Modern Closer category, and he went 11 for 12 (91.7%) in those Save Opps. He once blew a 1 run lead entering the ninth clean once; he once blew a 1 run lead coming on the 7th inning with two men on base. The other 6 Blown Saves all came after coming on in the 8th inning, five times with runners already on base.

Henke was quite a bit better in 1987, and converted 34 of his 42 Save Opps. He once again had a completely undeserved Hold, when he came on to get the Save but needed help (this time from Jeff Musselman) closing it out. Of his 42 Save Opps, just 14 (33.3%) were the Modern Closer situation. Henke was perfect, 14-14, in that situation. Of his 8 Blown Saves, twice he came on to start the 8th inning clean with a 1 run lead. Twice he came on in the 7th inning with 2 men on base, and four times he came on in the 8th inning with men on base.

I wanted to look at a couple of other interesting Closer seasons. In Gibbons' second full year as the manager, his GM went and got him B.J. Ryan to play with, and the large fellow had a terrific season closing games for the 2006 Jays. Ryan saved 38 games in 42 opportunities. Ryan picked up a Hold as well, in a 43rd Save Opp, and there was nothing cheap about his Hold. He came on to get the final out in the 8th inning with the tying run on base and when the Jays scored 8 runs in the 9th, Gibbons had someone else finish the game. Of Ryan's 42 Save Opps, 25 were of the Modern Closer variety (59.5%) - Ryan converted 22 of those Opportunities (88%). Ryan was quite impressive in his 17 unconventional Save Opps, closing the game 16 times (94.1%). In four of those games, he came on only to get the final out with the tying run - no, not on base, not at bat, merely in the on-deck circle - which is about as Cheap a Save Opp as you could ask for. But in the other 12 games, he came on to start the 8th inning clean twice. Ten times he came on in the 8th with runners on base, but generally before the tying run got aboard. Gibbons was bringing him in to pitch to the tying run.

Batista and Ryan were during Gibbons' first tour, and when he returned to the dugout in 2013 he inherited Casey Janssen as his Closer. Janssen had ended up taking the job the year before when newly-acquired Sergio Santos got hurt and Francisco Cordero was Not the Answer. Gibbons did not use Janssen the way he had used Batista and Ryan in his first tour - he used him exactly the same way he uses Osuna now. Janssen had 36 Save Opps in 2013, and 32 of them (88.9%) were Modern Closer situations. Janssen converted 30 of those 32 (93.8%) of those oportunities, and he was perfect in his 4 non-standard Opps (all involved entering in the 9th inning with runners on base - generally once the tying run made it to the on-deck circle, meaning a Save situation had now come up.) Janssen also had 1 of those Cheap Holds where he came on to get the Save, but needed someone else to come on and clean up the mess he'd made. (It was Steve Delabar.)

In the Jays' first championship season, Tom Henke was the closer and he recorded 34 Saves, with 3 Blown Saves and 3 Holds. One of them was a Cheap Hold, when Ward came on to get the final out; two of them came in the season's first week, when Ward was closing and Henke was setting him up (memory fails me, but I have to think Henke was hurt in the spring and Ward was closing while he was out and it continued into the first 10 days of April.) Of Henke's 37 Save Opps, 32 were of the Modern Closer variety (86.3%). He converted 29 of those 32 (90.6%) and doesn't that type of usage seem very modern for 1992? - Cito Gaston, visionary tactician, you're all saying - but the manager was clearly reacting to the fact that he had Duane Ward to take the care of the 8th inning. He didn't need to call on Henke any sooner. Henke was perfect in his 5 non-standard Save Opps, but just twice did Gaston call on him in the 8th inning. Three times brought him in the 9th inning with someone on base.

Duane Ward took over the Closer's job for the 1993 champs, and his usage wasn't quite as modern as Henke's, for the excellent reason that Gaston no longer had someone as good as Duane Ward to take care of the 8th inning. Even so, of Ward's 51 Save Opps, 37 of them (72.5%) were of the Modern Closer variety - which is still more frequent than Gibbons used either Batista or Ryan in that same situation a decade later. Being the 1993 version of Duane Ward, he nailed every last one of them. 37 for 37. In his other 8 saves, he came on in the 8th inning four times and the 9th inning four times. There were runners on base on every one of those occasions - in seven of those games, he inherited 2 or 3 baserunners. Meanwhile, all 6 of Ward's Blown Saves came when he came on in the 8th inning with the tying run in scoring position, five times with just one out. The Degree of Difficulty is about as high as anything we've seen.

The last season I wanted to look at was Kevin Gregg in 2010; partially because it was Gaston's last season almost 20 years after we saw how he handled Henke and Ward, and partially because Gregg seems as ordinary and generic as a modern closer could possibly be. Gregg had 37 Saves, 6 Blown Saves, and 3 Holds. The first Hold is a standard Set-up Guy Hold - Gregg came on in the 7th with a runner aboard to relieve the starter and Frasor pitched the 9th to get the Save. Gregg's other 2 Holds both came when he was sent out to get the Save, created a mess, and someone else had to come on and finish up (Shawn Camp or Jesse Carlson, as it happens.) Of Gregg's 43 Save Opps, 36 were of the Modern Closer variety (83.7%) - a greater percentage than Ward in 1993, not as high as Henke in 1992. Gregg converted 30 of the 36 (83.3%), while passing an additional two on to someone else. He went 7 for 7 in his non-standard Save Opps, five of which involved coming on in the 9th inning once the Save situation had arisen. In just two of his saves was he called on in the 8th inning.

Let's see if I can devise some little Data Tables.

What percentage of their Save Opportunities are of the Modern Closer variety (coming on to start the final inning, three outs to go, no baserunners.)
Pitcher†††    SvOpps† ModClo†† Pct
††† ††† †††
Osuna 2017††† 45††† 40††† .889
Janssen 2013† 36††† 32††† .889
Henke 1992††† 37††† 32††† .865
Gregg 2010††† 43††† 36††† .837
Ward 1993††† 51††† 37††† .725
Batista 2005† 39††† 25††† .641
Ryan 2006††† 42††† 25††† .595
Henke 1986††† 35††† 12††† .343
Henke 1987††† 42††† 14††† .333
McLaughlin 1983† 22††† 3††† .136
Ward 1989††† 26†† † 1††† .038

What percentage of the Modern Closer situations did the guy successfully finish?

Pitcher†††    SvOpps††† Saves† Pct
††† ††† †††
Ward 1993††† 37††† 37††† 1.000
Henke 1987††† 14††† 14††† 1.000
Ward 1989††† 1††† 1††† 1.000
Janssen 2013††† 32††† 30††† .938
Henke 1986††† 12††† 11††† .917
Henke 1992††† 32††† 29††† .906
Ryan 2006††† 25††† 22††† .880
Gregg 2010††† 36††† 30††† .833
Batista 2005††† 25††† 20††† .800
Osuna 2017††† 40††† 30††† .750
McLaughlin 1983††† 3††† 2††† .667

What percentage of non-standard Save Opps did the guy succesfully finish?

Pitcher†††    SvOpps†† Saves††† Pct
††† ††† †††
Gregg 2010†† † 7††† 7††† 1.000
Osuna 2017†† † 5††† 5††† 1.000
Henke 1992†† † 5††† 5††† 1.000
Janssen 2013†† † 4††† 4††† 1.000
Ryan 2006††† 17††† 16††† .941
Batista 2005††† 14††† 11††† .786
Henke 1987††† 28††† 20††† .714
Henke 1986††† 23††† 15††† .652
Ward 1993††† 14††† 8††† .571
Ward 1989††† 26††† 14††† .538
McLaughlin 1983†† 19††† 9††† .474

As for Osuna... I think he's making pitching harder than it needs to be. It took both Henke and Ward a few years to figure out that their two best pitches were so good that they didn't need anything else, and that using anything else was just doing the batter a favour. All Henke really needed was his heater and his forkball; all Ward needed was his heater and his curve (AL hitters called it a slider, Ward and his catchers called it a curveball. He just threw it much, much harder than your standard curve.) Anyway, Henke and Ward were both quite a bit older and far more experienced than Osuna is now before they completely figured it out. And if you're going to lose a year to a Learning Experience, this was a pretty good one to pick.
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Magpie - Friday, September 08 2017 @ 08:12 PM EDT (#348515) #
All this got me looking at the 1989 bullpen, which looks very unusual from a modern perpective. It was, for all intents and purposes, a three-man pen. Ward made 66 appearances, Henke made 64, David Wells made 54; the fourth most-frequently used reliever was Frank Wills, who joined the roster in mid-May and ended up pitching relief just 20 times.

How did that happen? There were always five arms available in the pen, but the identity of the final two guys changed pretty regularly. The fourth man in the pen was either Tony Castillo and Jim Acker, who were traded for each other in August; they were the only other relievers to make more than 10 appearances - Castillo 17 over the first four months, and Acker 14 over the last two.

Todd Stottlemyre started the year as the fifth man in the pen. He made 7 relief appearances, then went into the rotation to replace Musselman, pitched badly, pitched 2 more times out of the pen, went to the minors, and came back as a starter. DeWayne Buice, Xavier Hernandez, and Jose Nunez combined for a grand total of 19 relief appearnces while each taking a turn as the fifth guy in the pen.
China fan - Saturday, September 09 2017 @ 07:28 AM EDT (#348533) #
Magpie, here's a related question:  what does history teach us about the duration of a good closer's peak years?  When does a closer typically enter his decline years?  Osuna is obviously difficult to compare to other closers in Jays history because he is so young, but presumably he cannot remain an elite closer for another 8 or 10 years -- or can he?  My impression is that most closers can remain at their peak for only two or three years before they decline.  If so, Osuna might need to transition to another role (whether it's starter or set-up guy or whatever) within the next year or two.  Does history offer any insights on the sustainability of a closer?
scottt - Saturday, September 09 2017 @ 09:08 AM EDT (#348536) #
You'd have to look at guys who started as closer and remained there.

Rollie Fingers started closing at 22 and did it for 16 years.
Jeff Reardon started at 23 and lasted as long.

There's only 27 pitchers in the 300 save club, so this isn't a common thing, but most closers started much later.

Osuna can dominate with his fastball, but gets hammered when he mixes in a cutter and a change up.
He needs to keep these pitches to one or two per outings and he'll be fine.

He tried to move away from the max effort approach even if it was successful.
I'm guessing he's not 100% and might never be.

I'm more worried about Sanchez.

Magpie - Saturday, September 09 2017 @ 12:14 PM EDT (#348540) #
My impression is that most closers can remain at their peak for only two or three years before they decline.

Without doing anything that might be mistaken as research.... I think what you're saying was very true when relief pitchers first emerged as an essential part of everybody's roster - say in the 1950s. But I think the reason was because no one knew how often people could pitch in that role. And the hard throwers all broke down, without exception, after a couple of years of working 130 or so innings out of the pen. The only ones who lasted were the guys who didn't throw hard - McDaniel , Face, Wilhelm. And it quite literally took a few decades to find those limits (roughly 90-100 IP a season.)

But eventually everybody figured that out. Now, I don't think there's any reason a closer can't have as long a peak and career as anybody else. Some flash brightly for a moment and then they're gone - but that's true of all pitchers. Some last until they're pushing 40.

It's often been observed that modern baseball asks less of starting pitchers than any generation before. It also asks less of relief pitchers - almost no one pitches 90-100 IP out of the pen anymore. They've compensated by filling the roster with relief pitchers. Tom Henke sure doesn't seem like ancient history to me, but as you can see from the data above, in his first two full seasons as the Toronto closer, just one third of his Save Opps were like those of a Modern Closer. For Osuna, and Janssen before him, that type of usage accounts for almost 90% of their Save Opps (and Henke himself was approaching that type of usage by the end of his career.) Hoyt Wilhelm averaged 5.52 outs per save over his career; pitchers like Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez have averaged just under 3.00 outs per save.
Dr B - Saturday, September 09 2017 @ 04:29 PM EDT (#348546) #
Thanks  a lot for the article Magpie. I know it takes quite a lot of time to put these things together.
Four Seamer - Saturday, September 09 2017 @ 05:01 PM EDT (#348547) #
Thanks for this, Magpie. This is very interesting, and fun to be reminded of details I had long forgotten about some of those seasons.
hypobole - Saturday, September 09 2017 @ 06:50 PM EDT (#348553) #
It looks like Tepera, not Osuna, is going to close today's game.
Gerry - Saturday, September 09 2017 @ 10:43 PM EDT (#348555) #
Thanks Magpie. Seeing Miguel Batista and Kevin Gregg with better records than Osuna puts some kind of perspective on things. It doesn't portray Osuna in a positive light.
Glevin - Sunday, September 10 2017 @ 02:09 AM EDT (#348556) #
Fangraphs did an article about reliever aging specifically about Osuna a couple of years ago

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/roberto-osuna-and-the-aging-curve-for-young-relievers/

Relievers still don't have long careers. You look back from say 2007-2010 and the elite young relievers were Broxton, Feliz, Soria, Capps, and Street. You'll get guys like Kimbrel and Jansen who are dominant for long periods but the percentage of even dominant guys who have long careers is very low. If you look at the top-15 WAR for relivers this year (not endorsing this stat. WAR for pitchers isn't great and for relievers it's worse) only a few are players who have a repeated track record of success which goes to the volatile nature of relievers in general.
uglyone - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 10:10 AM EDT (#348589) #
Osuna has a 41fip- and 60xfip-.

He is incredible.

Portraying a 22yr old as on the bad side of an aging curve is hilarious.
bpoz - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 12:45 PM EDT (#348602) #
Osuna has had a whirl wind ML career. He knows how to start. He has a starters selection of pitches. He will make the adjustments. His catcher is V good, so he will get help there.
He could stay at closer, but wiser and trickier with more pitches to choose from. He is very cool and very confident. His confidence may be suffering now, but he will get it back.

We will know next year.
China fan - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 03:00 PM EDT (#348610) #
"...Portraying a 22yr old as on the bad side of an aging curve is hilarious...."

Nobody did that.  But feel free to laugh at the things that you imagined.

A discussion of reliever sustainability is obviously nothing to do with "an aging curve."  Regardless of age, many relievers don't sustain their peak for many years.  Some do.  But nobody said it was a result of "an aging curve." 
PeterG - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 03:47 PM EDT (#348611) #
I have always thought that the failure in the WBC played on his mind in ST and early season. Could the WBC have taken a physical toll as well in that he was prepared to peak too soon. He may be tired and well past his 2nd peak by now. As was suggested, we will know better next year. I tend to think all will be ok. Am much more concerned with Sanchez.
uglyone - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 04:11 PM EDT (#348615) #
the post before me specific2 said aging, actually.
China fan - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 04:28 PM EDT (#348616) #
If you're referring to the Fangraphs article, it certainly never says or implies that Osuna is on the "bad side" of an aging curve. 

Instead it has general analysis of what happens to relievers in general, but no specific predictions about Osuna.  Among its statements:

"Relievers age much more rapidly than starters."

"History shows that time is rarely kind to relievers."

"Relief pitchers can be even more fickle. Good relievers often donít remain that way very long."
uglyone - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 04:34 PM EDT (#348618) #
er, ok i guess. seems a fine distinction. i guess technically the word "curve" wasn't used, even though that is exsctly what we're talking about.

but let me rephrase anyways - bringing up aging in any way shape or form as a bad thing for a 22yr old player is ridiculous.
Mike Green - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 04:51 PM EDT (#348620) #
Osuna isn't with the club tonight.  He is off on paternity leave. 

It would be really nice if the club could just let him take the rest of the season off for the paternity leave.  Three weeks is hardly unreasonable in the circumstances, but it just doesn't happen in-season in baseball.  I remember watching Andres Galarraga in West Palm Beach in spring training in the mid-late 80s flailing hopelessly at pitches (frankly he made 2017 Luke Maile look like 2007 Albert Pujols).  He had a newborn and obviously wasn't sleeping well. 

PeterG - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 05:19 PM EDT (#348621) #
That's a good idea. Would also give more available innings to pitchers on the bubble for off season roster contention.

Perhaps the same could be done for Barnes who has hit a wall imo.
hypobole - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 05:51 PM EDT (#348622) #
I disagree. I don't think it would set a good precedent. Parenthood is important to a lot of players - why shouldn't they get extra time off?
China fan - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 06:15 PM EDT (#348623) #
"....bringing up aging in any way shape or form as a bad thing for a 22yr old player is ridiculous...."

Again, you are imaging some different universe in which "aging" is being discussed.

Nobody here, or on Fangraphs, is discussing the "aging" of Roberto Osuna.

The entire discussion is about how long a reliever can stay at his peak.

You happened to see the word in a hyperlink to a Fangraphs article, and your mind somehow imagined an imaginary discussion.
Hodgie - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 06:48 PM EDT (#348624) #
I disagree. I don't think it would set a good precedent.

I think it would establish a long overdue precedent - if a player needs extra time off for paternity leave they should absolutely have that option. But perhaps that is just the Canadian parent in me talking.

uglyone - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 06:58 PM EDT (#348627) #
jesu cristo, chinaman, the words are right there in the posts.
Parker - Monday, September 11 2017 @ 07:11 PM EDT (#348630) #
"but let me rephrase anyways - bringing up aging in any way shape or form as a bad thing for a 22yr old player is ridiculous."

Not unless they play for an organization other than the Blue Jays, right?
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