Viewing rookie year of Blue Jays’ Osuna through a historical lens

A sneak peak at Roberto Osuna’s rise to the top, coming soon to Sportsnet.ca.

The list of closers who had better debut seasons than Toronto Blue Jays fireballer Roberto Osuna is as short and sweet as a 1-2-3 ninth.

Last year, Osuna became the only 20-year-old in major league history to reach the 20-save mark, hitting the number right on the nose. Only 10 players all-time have bested Osuna’s total in their maiden MLB voyage, starting with the 37 recorded by the Seattle Mariners’ Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2000. Huston Street of the Oakland Athletics is No. 6 on the list thanks to the 23 saves he had as a 21-year-old in 2005. Each of the remaining nine pitchers who topped Osuna was at least 24 years old when he registered his total.


CLOSER TO HOME: Watch Stephen Brunt’s TV special Roberto Osuna: Sinaloa to the Show on Sportsnet, April 2 at 4 p.m., following Red Sox vs. Blue Jays in Montreal


Comparing the freshman campaigns of closers is a bit tricky because many of the pitchers who go on to dominate in that position don’t begin their careers there, including all-time save king Mariano Rivera. That said, if Osuna remains in the ninth-inning role long term, Street—who locked down 40 games for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last year—and his career total of 315 saves would be a nice model to follow. Sasaki, who was 32 when he made the jump to MLB, followed up with seasons of 45 and 37 saves, before things dried up at age 35.

The man who put up the second-most saves as a rookie, like Osuna, plied his trade at the Rogers Centre. Billy Koch exploded on the scene with 31 saves for Toronto in 1999 at age 24 and followed up with seasons of 33 in 2000 and 36 in ’01. Koch crushed it with 44 saves in 2002 as a member of the Oakland A’s, then dropped off the face of the earth.

In terms of Blue Jays who made a comparable impact to Osuna at age 20, there’s essentially no precedent. Victor Cruz, as a reliever of the same age in 1978, posted a 1.71 ERA in 47.1 innings. As a 21-year-old in 1989, outfielder Junior Felix had a 2.5 WAR, while a 22-year-old Dave Stieb, in 1980, had a 4.9 rating during a season in which he went 12-15 with a 3.71 ERA. More recently, third baseman Brett Lawrie was 22 when he notched a 4.5 WAR in 2012.