The Pittsburgh Pirates are playing Jose Osuna less and less, which can do more damage than good for both the player and the team.
Jose Osuna started off 2017 by hitting .407/.492/.759 in spring training, but he was sent to Indianapolis to start the season. After Starling Marte was suspended 80 games for performance enhancing drugs, Osuna was recalled. He was never a starter for the club after the suspension, which wasn’t his expectation, but now that the Pirates have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs – and in reality it has been since about mid-August that they have been – Jose Osuna is playing less. Below is the breakdown of plate appearances for Osuna:
|Jose Osuna PA
|Non Pitcher PA
|Osuna Pct of PA
Part of being a struggling team – their peak in playoff odds according to Baseball Prospectus occurred on August 10, and it was only 3.5 percent – is playing the young players. But for Jose Osuna, he hasn’t gotten that playing time. In fact, Sean Rodriguez has seen more plate appearances, having 5.1 percent of the Pirates non-pitcher plate appearances in August and September, where Osuna only has 2.91 percent.
Rodriguez getting plate appearances is fine, he’ll be on the team next year making $5.75 million, and he needs reps to help hopefully get the timing back and help the team next year, but he needs fewer reps than Osuna does.
However, John Jaso, who plays the same positions as Osuna, has also gotten more playing time, receiving 4.31 percent of the Pirates non-pitcher plate appearances over the last two months. Jaso is a free agent at the end of the season, and they already have paid him $4 million last year and almost all of his $4 million this year. He is a sunk cost, and with the Pirates playing for the future, there is no longer any positive return the team can get on their investment in him.
Not to say Jaso shouldn’t get his share of at-bats, he has put in the work and accepted a role as a bench player, but he should be more of a pinch hitter than a spot starter, and Jose Osuna should be receiving more of his plate appearances.
Osuna has started at first base against left-handed pitching recently – which creates its own set of problems getting Josh Bell reps as a right-handed hitter – but even then Osuna gets removed once the starter is out of the game. In fact, the last time Jose Osuna played a complete game was August 4th, and that is the only game in which he played a full game since the beginning of August.
Jose Osuna is learning a new position at third base before games and in between games, and he is also playing winter ball this season according to Adam Berry of MLB.com. Learning a new position can take a toll, but learning it will help Osuna get more playing time and help the Pirates depth. Winter ball will help Osuna get more reps, both at the plate and third base, but the problem is still not getting many reps in Major League games, whether the pitcher is right-handed or left-handed. Jose Osuna needs to get plate appearances to help him develop.
Starting Osuna at third base might not be the best answer, he’s never played there before, but when Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte were banged up or on the disabled list, that is when Osuna should have been starting. He would have seen more right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers, but that’s part of his development, and no matter his future role, he will almost certainly always see more right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers.
Osuna’s numbers in the minor league levels have been strong in the past, and at the worst, he seems to be a role player. Entering the season, ZiPS projected a wRC+ of 85 (15 percent below average), and his actual 2017 wRC+ is 85. The way to help improve that mark as he goes forward, as he looks to be an option off the bench, or start in some capacity, for the Pirates in the future years, is to get more reps in a game. The struggles and successes can help Jose Osuna develop into a player that can help the Pirates, denying him the chance to face live Major League pitching cannot.