Ever since Roberto Osuna stepped onto the big league mound in 2015, he has consistently been included amongst the most elite relief pitchers in all of baseball.
The shy kid from Sinaloa won over Toronto’s heart by surprising everyone through earning a bullpen spot out of Spring Training and quickly securing his spot as the team’s closer. This was after Miguel Castro struggled during his brief tenure in that role.
It certainly looked like, when it was all said and done, Roberto would have his name penciled into the Blue Jays record book as the all-time saves leader, ahead of Blue Jays great Tom Henke, who currently holds the record with 217, a total that is 113 ahead of Osuna’s 104 saves.
Well, that all changed on May 8th, when Osuna was arrested and charged with assault. Little was known at the time of the arrest, but the news shook an entire fan base and organization, knowing that the beloved kid from Sinaloa both committed an assault and had been charged. Now, we still do not know many details, but we do know that he assaulted his girlfriend in some fashion, is not allowed within 100m of a downtown Toronto building, and has been suspended for 75 games by MLB for violating the MLB-MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse Policy. He is also still facing charges in Canada and still has court dates and potential jail time that he must deal with in the future.
As soon as this news broke, I am sure that both Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins knew that Osuna could not suit up in a Blue Jays uniform ever again. Roberto deserves a second chance, he has been suspended and is nearly finished serving his penalty, but that second chance will not come in Toronto, the city that he once called home during baseball season. Often, it is best for both the player and team to move on from one another when a suspension of this nature occurs, it allows the player to start fresh and begin repairing their reputation elsewhere and it helps the team avoid both a potential PR nightmare and backlash from the fan base. The issue of a PR nightmare for the Blue Jays is more significant given that they are owned by a corporate business that must protect its image.
But despite that realization, the front office could not afford to let that information leak, as that would have severely cratered any sort of value that Osuna had. They had to play off the situation as if Osuna was going to return in early August and reclaim his spot in the ninth inning, which right-handers Tyler Clippard and Ryan Tepera have largely occupied during the absence of Osuna, and despite good seasons from both of them, they have been rather ineffective at securing the final three outs of a Blue Jays victory.
On Monday, Osuna was traded to the Houston Astros, with many Blue Jays fans hoping to hear the names Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker in the return package. But rather than getting an elite prospect in return, the Blue Jays got fellow elite relief pitcher Ken Giles and a duo of intriguing pitching prospects in David Paulino and Hector Perez. On the surface, Giles and his 4.99 ERA do not exactly represent what you would expect from a reliever that is considered elite, then combine that with the fact that he was recently demoted to AAA for cursing out his manager on the mound and prior to that, punched himself in the face on national television. It could be easy to already dislike the return that the Blue Jays got for Osuna.But, Osuna also now carries his own baggage, which drastically impacted his value and likely stopped the Blue Jays from acquiring a premium prospect such as Whitley or Tucker. However, underneath that 4.99 ERA, it seems clear that Giles is still an elite relief pitcher who is currently suffering from horrible luck.From 2015-2017 (Giles’ 2018 will be looked at on its own later), here is how the two relief pitchers ranked in terms of qualified relievers.
Innings Pitched: Roberto Osuna (33rd, 223.0 IP) / Ken Giles (24th, 229.0 IP)
Saves: Roberto Osuna (6th, 104 SV) / Ken Giles (17th, 76 SV)
ERA: Roberto Osuna (36th, 2.87 ERA) / Ken Giles (57th, 3.03 ERA
)Strikeout %: Roberto Osuna (34th, 29.1%) / Ken Giles (16th, 31.6%)
Base on Balls %: Roberto Osuna (5th, 4.6%) / Ken Giles (70th, 7.7%)
Fielding Independent Pitching: Roberto Osuna (12th, 2.64 FIP) / Ken Giles (8th, 2.43 FIP)
Wins Above Replacement: Roberto Osuna (6th, 6.6 WAR) / Ken Giles (7th, 6.1 WAR)
As you can see above, in the three-year sample size, the two relievers have pitched nearly an equal number of innings and are not too dissimilar in many facets of their game. Giles is better at overpowering bats and racking up the strikeout totals, but Osuna is harder to reach base against given his elite command. If we were to include Giles’ elite 2014 season, he would climb up the list to 6th in total WAR, behind the “elite five” of baseball – Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Craig Kimbrel.
Now, in 2018, everything appears to have fallen apart for Giles, whether it is through his performance on the field or his behaviour both on and off it. For Giles in 2018, his K% has fallen from 33.6% in 2017 to 24.0% in 2018. But at the same time, his BB% has drastically increased, going from 8.5% in 2017 to just 2.3% in 2018. It appears as though the biggest problem that Giles has faced in 2018 is allowing hard contact, he is currently sporting a career high in hard contact% (36.8%) and a career low in soft contact% (11.6%).
It remains to be seen, but it is possible that a change of scenery for Giles could help him get back to his pre-2018 numbers where he was ranked amongst the most elite relief pitchers in the game. After all, it would not be the first time this season that the Blue Jays have been able to take a veteran reliever and help them make adjustments that allowed them to regain some of their old self, they did it with a trio of winter additions in John Axford, Tyler Clippard, and Seung-hwan Oh. If they are able to get Giles back to his old self, the Blue Jays could very well either have themselves an elite reliever that they could cash in on in the offseason, or they could have one of the best relievers in the game closing out victories for the next two seasons. With the kids nearing their arrival in the minor leagues, victories are something that the organization will be seeing plenty of in the years to come.