Blowing It

Friday, September 08 2017 @ 05:40 PM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

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.