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Ranking the Closers: Does Roberto Osuna put the Astros at risk in the 9th inning of the playoffs?

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Or is he about as trustworthy as any closer?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone else has a nicer toy

No matter what team you’re rooting for, seems like the other team always has a better closer than you do. Not really, of course, but it feels that way. The closer is the cornerback of baseball; you only notice him when he gets burned. He comes in the game with the lead, and, by God, he’s supposed to keep that lead every time. And when he doesn’t, it’s all his fault the team lost.

Why can’t the Astros have a closer like back in the good old days. Billy Wagner never blew a save ever, did he. Oh wait, Billy Wagner blew 69 saves in his career, and lost 40 games. His save conversion rate was 85.9%, meaning he blew about 14% of his save opportunities. Even Mariano Rivera blew about 11% of his save opportunities, and he was the greatest closer of all time.

OK, so no closer is perfect, but surely the Astros go into the playoffs at a serious disadvantage at closer. All those other teams have better closers than we do. You can’t trust Roberto Osuna to hold the other team with a close lead in the ninth. We’ve seen him blow too many games. And even when he does save a game, it seems like he’s just lucky. The Astros never get to have a nice closer.

Here’s how Baseball Pawl viewed Osuna On August 8th of this year.

Except, of course, every other fanbase is probably saying about the same thing about their closer at one time or another. So who’s really got the worst closer? Let’s do a statistical comparison of the likely AL playoff closers plus those of the Dodgers, Braves and Brewers of the NL. And let’s just see if Roberto Osuna really is the least trustworthy closer among the playoff contenders.

Below is a chart with key statistics for the AL contending teams plus the three NL contenders mentioned above.

Key stats for possible playoff closers

pitcher/team saves bl. Saves ERA/rank WHIP/rank SO/BB K% BB% FIP/rank SIERA/rank xwOBA/rank BABIP/rank
pitcher/team saves bl. Saves ERA/rank WHIP/rank SO/BB K% BB% FIP/rank SIERA/rank xwOBA/rank BABIP/rank
A Chapman NYY 37 5 2.32/3rd 1.141/7th 3.20 35.4 11.1 2.42/3rd 3.23/9th .262/6th .291/4th
E Pagan TBR 20 8 2.19/2nd 0.807/2nd 7.00 36.6 5.2 3.26/7th 2.52/2nd .217/1st .218/1st
T Rogers MIN 27 6 2.33/4th 0.990/5th 8.60 32.5 3.8 2.71/4th 2.61/3rd .250/4th .308/5th
B Hand CLE 34 5 3.36/7th 1.260/8th 4.50 33.9 7.5 2.89/5th 3.02/6th .285/9th .362/6th
R Osuna HOU 35 6 2.80/6th 0.885/3rd 5.58 28.2 5.0 3.41/8th 3.30/10th .259/5th .228/2nd
L Hendriks OAK 23 6 1.66/1st 0.971/4th 5.62 37.1 6.6 1.96/2nd 2.65/4th .228/2nd .308/5th
K Jansen LAD 30 8 3.81/9th 1.068/6th 5.00 30.5 6.1 3.57/10th 3.19/8th .264/7th .271/3rd
L Jackson ATL 18 7 3.80/8th 1.413/10th 3.73 32.6 8.7 3.50/9th 2.96/5th .269/8th .374/8th
M Melancon ATL 11 0 3.92/10th 1.390/9th 3.56 24.2 6.8 1.87/1st 3.21/7th .295/10th .364/7th
J Hader MIL 33 6 2.70/5th 0.790/1st 6.79 48.5 7.1 .307/6th 1.75/1st .233/3rd .218/1st

So how’s Osuna doing?

About average among playoff closers, and for those who have had a sense he’s been a little lucky to be even that good, they may have a point.

To start with, he has blown six saves. More than some, less than others. His ERA is 6th among this group, supported by a low WHIP, but his BABIP is second lowest in the group, indicating some batted ball luck. He’s eighth in FIP, tenth in SIERA and middle of the pack in xwWOBA. He is one of only two pitchers in this group with a K% less that 30.

How about the rest?

Taking these statistics as a whole, one would have to rate Emilio Pagan, Liam Hendricks and Josh Hader as among the best in this pack. Pagan is first or second in every category except FIP, which reflects his Achilles heal, the home run ball. He has allowed 1.51/ 9 innings, and a HR/ FB rate at a high 16.2%. His BABIP is low, but his xwOBA and SIERA indicate soft contact, unlike Osuna, so his BABIP is at least partially sustainable.

Despite that, Pagan has the most blown saves, likely from errant home runs.

Liam Hendricks is in the top four in every ranked category and is second only to Josh Hader in K%. Yet he has blown as many saves as Osuna in fewer opportunities.

Hader is Hader, and although his ERA is just slightly better than Osuna’s, he is overpowering in almost every other category, especially K%, striking out almost half the batters he faces. Even more so than Pagan however, Hader has been vicitimized by the home run ball, allowing 1.8/9 innings.

So Osuna is not the best closer in this list, but there are worse ones too. They are likely pretty unhappy right now in Los Angeles with Kenley Jensen, who has blown eight saves and is in the bottom third of almost every category despite a fairly low BABIP of .271.

In Atlanta they use both Luke Jackson and Mark Melancon, both near the bottom of most categories. Jackson has blown seven saves while completing only 18. Miraculously, despite the highest xwOBA in this group, an ERA of over five with the Braves and a WHIP of almost 1.4, Melancon has gotten 10 saves with the Braves without blowing one opportunity.

So Houston, the grass may be just a little greener on the other side, but it’s not worth jumping the fence over. Our guy might blow a game, but their guy might too.

Take solace in that, since August 16th, after Baseball Pawl made his anti-Osuna video, Roberto has settled down nicely, posting a 1.98 ERA and a 2.83 SIERA.

Oh yeah, remember when I said Billy Wagner’s save conversion rate was 85.9%. Osuna’s this year is 85.4%.