Pittsburgh Pirates: It’s Time to Move on From Jose Osuna

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 13: Jose Osuna #36 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at bat during the game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 13, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 13: Jose Osuna #36 of the Pittsburgh Pirates at bat during the game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 13, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /
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Jose Osuna has been consistently on the Pittsburgh Pirates bench for the last few years, but his struggles at the Major League level might lead to a DFA soon

Jose Osuna has been one of the corner utility options for the Pittsburgh Pirates the last few years. But he has yet to show really anything to solidify himself as even a bench bat. So far, he has struggled in 2020, and I think it might be time to move on from the 27-year-old.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had signed Osuna way back in December 2009 as an amateur free agent from Venezuela. After two years showing some promise in 2010 and 2011, the Pirates got a long look at the first baseman at the Low-A level in 2012. Through 524 plate appearances, Osuna hit .280/.324/.454 with a .350 wOBA and 111 wRC+. Though he wasn’t a big home run hitter with just 16 long balls, he racked up 36 doubles, and only struck out 15.6% of the time. Low strikeout rates are Osuna’s specialty, as he has a career minor league 15.9% strikeout rate.

Osuna steadily climbed the minor leagues. He never really was some sort of outstanding prospect, but he never really struggled badly, aside from his 2013 season. His best minor league season between 2012 and 2016 was his 2014 campaign. Through 408 plate appearances at the High-A level, Osuna batted for a solid .296/.347/.435 line with a .366 wOBA and 126 wRC+. He also posted a solid 17.6% strikeout rate.

2016 was the first year Osuna made his way onto prospect maps, and was knocking on the door of the Majors. The right handed batter split the year between Double-A and Triple-A. All told, he had a .279/.331/.457 battling line through 517 plate appearances. Osuna had a 109 wRC+ at Double-A, but improved that to a 133 mark when he was promoted to Indianapolis.

Osuna, again, wasn’t a big long ball threat with just 13, but put up an outstanding doubles total of 37. With 80 strikeouts, it was the fifth season in a row where he had less than 100 strikeouts and 400+ plate appearances. All told, having a 15.5% strikeout rate. MLB Pipeline ranked him as the team’s 27th best prospect at the end of the year with 45 grades for his hit, power, and run tool, a 60 arm grade, and 50 fielding grade.

Then in 2017, Osuna made his presence known after an outstanding Grapefruit League performance where he had 22 hits in 65 plate appearances, whacking five home runs, walking 10 times, and striking out just 10 times as well. With such a great spring training, Osuna was called up after the Pittsburgh Pirates gained an extra year of control over him on April 18th.

But the utility man had a really poor rookie season. His first 227 plate appearances of his career yielded a .233/.297/.428 batting line. Osuna did show a little bit of power with a .195 isolated slugging percentage, but it wasn’t anything super notable, especially considering he had an 81 OPS+, 78 wRC+, and .293 wOBA. Not only was he a poor batter, but he also didn’t provide that much value with the leather. Osuna played most of his innings in the corner outfield, and was worth -5 DRS, -3.4 UZR and -4.8 range runs. Though he was better in left field, and put up +2.1 outfield arm runs above average, his bat definitely did not play in left field. He also played 127.1 innings at first base where he had -1 DRS and -0.3 UZR.

Going into 2018, Osuna was recalled and optioned multiple times, and only saw 111 plate appearances and 51 games at the Major League level. This was mainly because the Pittsburgh Pirates were having Osuna learn to play third base at Triple-A. Despite learning a new position, he was having his best offensive season yet in the minors. In 342 plate appearances, Osuna was batting for an outstanding .321/.378/.497 line, and 146 wRC+. But in the very little major league playing time he was given, Osuna only had 24 hits, three home runs, and a 72 wRC+. Not too great of numbers.

In 2019, Osuna started the year off on the injured list, and missed the end of spring training. After a few weeks of rehab, the Pittsburgh Pirates recalled the utility man, and he seemed to be turning a corner. From his first plate appearance in late May up through August, Osuna was hitting .290/.335/.568 with a 124 wRC+ in 177 plate appearances. But then went completely cold in September, and hitting something that really resembled the last two years of his career: a .222/.269/.273 batting line, and sub-80 wRC+.

But, overall, maybe it seemed this was the Osuna we were going to get. His 2019 season’s final line included a .264/.310/.456 batting line, 99 OPS+, 97 wRC+ and .320 wBOA. Notably, he struck out just 16.8% of the time. He wasn’t all that great of an outfielder again with -4 DRS, -4.3 UZR and -1.3 range runs above average, but his work on the infield corners was much better. At third base, he had 0 DRS, 0.9 UZR and 0.3 range runs above average, and at first base he had -1 DRS and 0.2 range runs above average.

But overall, he wasn’t anything more than a replacement level player. fWAR, or FanGraphs WAR, only had him at exactly replacement level, zero. Baseball Reference placed his bWAR at -0.1. Plus, he had a DRA of 94, meaning that regression should have been expected to some degree.

This leads us to 2020. In his first 55 plate appearances of the year, Osuna has just seven hits, and 13 strikeouts. That comes out to a -2 wRC+, meaning he has been 102% worse than the league average batter. In comparrison, 16 different pitchers had at least 50 plate appearances in 2019, and a wRC+ higher than Osuna has now.

Though he’s shown some improvement in the outfield, it’s not like he became a Gold Glove caliber corner outfielder. All told, this brings down Jose Osuna’s career final line to a .239/.278/.420 with 21 home runs, 42 doubles, and a measly 80 wRC+ in 667 plate appearances. Among players since 2017 with at least 600 plate appearances, he ranks as the 47th worst batter per wRC+ out of 373 batters. Even Guillermo Heredia is outhitting Osuna in this time period. Plus he’s one of 14 players to have a fWAR of -1.0 or lower.

He also isn’t that useful as a bench bat either. Osuna has 190 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, but only has a .198/.213/.443 line, making him pretty much a boom-or-bust hitter in that role. He also only hits .220/.256/.445 with runners in scoring position, again making him a boom-or-bust kind of hitter. In terms of high leverage situations, Osuna bats for a .267/.280/.444 line. Better, but nothing irreplaceable.

Osuna doesn’t hit one kind of pitcher better than another either. His lefty/righty splits are almost identical, and in both cases, he has a sub-.700 OPS. While some players have bad batted ball luck, Osuna has only made hard contact throughout his career 32.4% of the time. In comparison, the 2019 league average was 38%. Osuna’s career 88.4 MPH exit velo isn’t anything super impressive either, and is just 0.2 MPH above the league average.

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Aside from one 177 plate appearance stretch, Osuna hasn’t really done anything to justify staying on the major league roster. He could be in DFA limbo at the end of the year to make room for a Rule 5 Draft eligible player the team may want to protect like Braeden Ogle. Although he struggled through 2019 at Triple-A, I would like to see Will Craig at least get the plate appearances they are currently giving Osuna. The same with outfielder Jason Martin.

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