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Toronto Blue Jays

Roberto Osuna a bright spot for Jays in a down year

TORONTO, ON - JULY 06: Toronto Blue Jays Pitcher Roberto Osuna (54) looks in for the sign during the regular season MLB game between the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays on July 6, 2017 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

The Toronto Blue Jays are still in the American League East basement and that is not where they were hoping to be at this point in the season. And as the late, great Yogi Berra once said, “It’s getting late early,” so unless a miracle happens, they will not be in contention in 2017.

While the season as a whole has been a disappointment for the team from north of the border, there have been a few bright spots. Among them are starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, All-Star first baseman Justin Smoak and young right-hander Roberto Osuna, the All-Star closer who’s the subject of this piece.

Osuna, who has been resplendent in 2017, throws five pitches but his fastball, slider and newly emerging cutter steal the show. Lately, that cutter, which he started throwing in 2016, has become his No. 1 pitch. Small sample sizes abound since play just resumed after the All-Star break. But out of a total of 49 pitches Osuna has thrown in a game this month, 20 have been cutters. That’s nearly 41 percent. Osuna’s cutter has also gone up from 90 mph to 91. He seems to have abandoned his changeup, which he didn’t throw that much anyway, but it’s really disappeared since April.

What might work best for Osuna is that out of his three best pitches, the cutter and the slider look similar coming out of his hand. Jeff Sullivan went in depth over at Fangraphs on Osuna, his pitches and their movement. The bottom line, according to Sullivan, is that hitters don’t know whether they’re seeing a cutter or a slider until it’s too late for them to react. That “deception” is helping him become one of the best closers in baseball.

Also working for Osuna is the fact that he limits his walks. He has only three after facing 129 batters in 2017. And he’s getting batters to chase his pitches — a sure sign that batters can’t differentiate between the cutter and the slider. According to Fangraphs, his O-Swing is 47.3 percent, meaning batters are going out of the zone to swing at his pitches. He’s also throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone (about 40 percent) but that doesn’t affect him adversely because batters still swing at balls.

Three weeks ago, Osuna revealed that he was dealing with an anxiety issue off the field and wasn’t sure then when he would return to the field. He earned praise in and out of baseball for being so open about an issue few people are willing to discuss. Mental health issues are too often considered a sign of weakness, especially in sports, but the 22-year-old was brave, opening up to reporters about how he was feeling. Osuna came back the next day and hasn’t slowed down since. In fact, his ERA has gone down in every appearance since then and is now a minuscule 2.06.

Not afraid to execute his pitches, Osuna is keeping hitters off balance at the plate and keeping them off the bases while becoming one of the best relievers in the majors. It’s unfortunate that his team isn’t playing up to the same level.

(Numbers are before Friday’s action.)

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