Roberto Osuna has shouldered a heavy burden for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016. One bordering on being too heavy, some worry.
The electric 21-year-old closer appeared in 72 regular season games, pitching 74.0 innings with a 2.68 ERA. That workload is a slight step up from 69.2 innings in 2015 where Osuna made his surprise MLB debut out of spring training.
Within the context of the American League, only seven strict relievers pitched more innings than Roberto Osuna in 2016. It’s a crowded group behind the top three of Erasmo Ramirez, Chris Devenski, and Brad Brach as Ryan Pressly ranks fourth with just 1.1 innings more than Osuna (75.1 IP).
Osuna’s 72 appearances also tie him for fourth in the American League, just three games behind the first-place Bryan Shaw. His number of appearances, including the handful of times the Blue Jays warmed him but did not bring him into the game, is arguably a more important number than his raw innings total. His 1,134 pitches thrown rank him 14th.
The Blue Jays were forced to slightly increase Osuna’s usage down the stretch as other bullpen pieces like Jason Grilli, Joe Biagini, and Joaquin Benoit fell to injury or a brief dip in performance. Brett Cecil hasn’t been tasked with full innings either, further increasing a need. From September 4th to the regular season finale on October 2nd, Osuna was needed 14 times for a total of 16.0 innings.
Most of the workload chatter has centred around starter Aaron Sanchez this season. The young right-hander has gone from Gavin Floyd‘s competition to a starter on an innings limit to a 200-inning pitcher, so there’s certainly a recent precedent for the Blue Jays pushing Osuna as far as they can.
This isn’t done blindly, though. One of the more prominent changes made by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins following their arrival from the Cleveland Indians this past offseason came in the Blue Jays high performance department, which handles everything from sports psychology to player nutrition and the physical recovery process.
The real answers lie inside that department and in Osuna himself. Differing mechanics mean that inning totals and pitch counts can impact pitchers in very unique ways, some worse than others, so if Osuna is able to remain healthy through the remainder of this postseason, his offseason recovery will be telling.
For what it’s worth, there have been no signs of Osuna slowing down when it comes to his velocity. His fastball has remained relatively stable throughout the season while his slider has experienced a slight uptick. Osuna’s month-to-month fastball placement does not suggest he’s “losing” anything, either.
In many cases like Osuna’s, a team doesn’t know for sure until it’s already too late. That could entail both a good or bad result, but for now, Toronto’s closer is living up to some very high demands at a very young age.