Storen could allow Blue Jays to be creative with Osuna

Toronto Blue Jays' closer Roberto Osuna works against the Texas Rangers. (Frank Gunn/CP)

When the Toronto Blue Jays acquired reliever Drew Storen from the Washington Nationals Friday, many immediately wondered how the move would affect Aaron Sanchez.

Adding another quality reliever to the back of the bullpen gives the Blue Jays some latitude to experiment with Sanchez in the rotation without leaving themselves vulnerable late in games. He’s not the only one impacted meaningfully, though. Roberto Osuna‘s role remains undetermined, too.

Coming off an excellent rookie season where he seized the closer role, Osuna would seemingly be set to pick up where he left off. Although he has a three-pitch mix that makes the idea of transitioning him to the rotation tempting, last year he set a career-high with 69.1 innings pitched and his previous workload record was the 43.2 innings he threw as a 17-year-old in 2012.

Given that a starting job would require a huge innings increase, there’s seemingly a good chance Osuna will remain a reliever, at least for 2016. Going off that assumption, his role seems clear. He was an excellent closer last year and may be the most talented pitcher in the bullpen, so conventional wisdom would suggest he does the same job again.

But if the Blue Jays are willing to be creative they might find that he could be more valuable in a high-leverage setup role now that they have a viable closing alternative in Storen. Earlier last season Osuna excelled as a “fireman,” coming in when games were in the balance with runners on base or pitching multiple-inning stints as a bridge to the ninth inning as required.

Games aren’t always decided in the ninth, so it’s not a good idea to save your best reliever for that inning if the highest-leverage moment of the game comes in the seventh or eighth. Removing the title of “closer” from Osuna would free him up to be deployed based on need rather than tradition.

It would also allow him to pitch longer outings and more innings. That’s advantageous because the Blue Jays could have their top reliever face more batters, and if he ratchets up his workload in 2016 a transition to the rotation could be easier in the future. Osuna also had no trouble pitching more than an inning last year, dominating in the 14 outings where he got more than three outs.

22.3 15 2 6 22 0.79

These numbers come from too small a sample conclude that Osuna is better in longer outings, but it’s clear that he can handle them.

The same cannot be said for the Storen. The newest Blue Jay has only gone more than one inning twice in the last four years and the last time he did so was in April of 2013. He pitched some longer outings as a rookie, but it’s fair to categorize him as a one-inning guy at this point.

As a result, Storen is best used as a traditional closer coming into a clean ninth inning and getting the final three outs. With 95 career saves under his belt he’s shown the ability to finish games and coming off a season where an evolving slider led to a career-high strikeout rate he has more upside than your average 28-year-old.

Although Osuna is the incumbent and arguably the better pitcher, the difference between him and Storen as a closer is not particularly significant. On the other hand, the disparity between the two as setup men is much larger because of the length the 20-year-old can provide.

Last season 20 pitchers recorded at least 30 saves, but only one reliever, Dellin Betances, pitched over 80 innings. Being a closer is often primarily a matter of opportunity. Becoming a relief ace in the Betances mold takes a rarer talent.

Osuna has already proven himself as a closer. The addition of Storen means the Blue Jays can give him the chance to be something more.

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