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With free agency looming, Darren O'Day turned in a career best year for the Orioles

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The submariner was at his best for the Orioles in what could be his final season in Charm City.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The casual baseball fan is about to get a smack to the noggin because right-hander Darren O'Day is going to cash in this offseason. But no one in Baltimore will be surprised. The submariner has only gotten better and better during his time in an Orioles uniform, with 2015 being his finest work yet.

Outstanding in orange

Over four years with the Orioles, O'Day has appeared in 273 games, pitched 263.0 innings, struck out 9.7 batters per nine innings while walking 2.1. All of this added up to an ERA of 1.92, a FIP of 3.08 and an ERA+ of 214. According to Baseball Reference, O'Day had a WAR of 9.7 in that time, meaning he has averaged just over 2.4 WAR per season, pretty remarkable for a middle reliever.

This season was the best of his career no matter what way you slice it. He set career bests in ERA (1.52), ERA+ (274), FIP (2.49), strikeouts (82), strikeouts per nine innings (11.3) and WAR (2.8) while setting up for Orioles closer Zach Britton.

Compare that, if you will, to Yankees lefty Andrew Miller, who was named the Reliever of the Year in the American League. Miller had a great year despite some injury woes, but was it markedly better than O'Day? I don't think so. Here are Miller's numbers: 2.04 ERA, 194 ERA+, 2.16 FIP, 100 strikeouts, 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a WAR of 2.2. Obviously, Miller is a closer, he strikes out more guys and he throws way harder than O'Day, but they aren't too far apart in the outcome of their performance. O'Day made $4.25 million this year, while Miller took home $9 million.

O'Day welcomed all challengers to the plate. Righties slashed .192/.236/.256 against him while lefties did a bit better with a line of .210/.293/.333. Meanwhile, his batting average on balls in play shot through the roof in 2015. A season ago, batters managed only a .218 BABIP, but this year that number was up to .278. His career number is .254. Of course, he balanced it out by striking out almost two more batters per nine innings than in 2014 and walking fewer hitters.

Keep it going

If you dive deeper into O'Day's numbers you continue to see the trend of improvement over the years in certain spots. According to FanGraphs, the righty got 14.8 percent of his strikes on swings and misses, which is a 1.7 percent improvement on his previous career high.

However, his usage and velocity of pitches has remained pretty consistent between 2014 and 2015. Basically, he uses his fastball (average speed of 88 mph) about 32 percent of the time, the sinker (87 mph) 23 percent of the time, the slider (80 mph) 44 percent of the time and then throws the change up (80 mph) in their very rarely. O'Day has simply found out what works and hitters are having a tough time solving him.

What the future holds

O'Day will be free to negotiate with teams other than the Orioles in a matter of days. He isn't going to be given a qualifying offer because, despite his fantastic performance, $15.8 million for one year of a relief pitcher is insane. So, it is very likely that the O's are going to be losing one of their most reliable pieces.

Sure, he could re-sign, but it would have to be a pretty team-friendly contract. He just turned 33 years old in October and it is very likely that this will be the last major pay day of his career; better make it count. An increase of his current $4.25 million salary should be easy enough to obtain. Although I have no evidence to suggest this is actually going to happen, I feel as though he could hope for a three-year deal in the realm of $18-21 million. A playoff-ready team who wants to sure-up their bullpen should be knocking down his door.

For his career, O'Day has just 14 saves in the MLB, but he is easily the best relief pitcher on the open market and will  likely be seen as the only real closer option. Going into last winter, Miller had two saves and managed to sign with New York and become their closer for most of the year. Although I tend to be of the opinion that closers are WAY over-hyped, there seems to be many in baseball that still have no problem paying an arm and a leg for a guy to put in for the ninth inning.

Personally, I will be hoping that O'Day does return to Baltimore. I admit that I am biased, but he has been one of my favorites since he came over from Texas in 2011. Who can forget the Solowheel prank? And did you know he actually was cut from his college baseball team as a freshman walk-on? I wrote an article about him for Camden Chat over a year ago. He is full of fun facts. That said, I understand if he goes elsewhere to wrap up his career. The Orioles have more pressing needs than the bullpen and he is likely to be bombarded with offers that trump what the Birds can/will do.

I promised myself I wouldn't cry!!

Thanks for reading! I'm interested to hear what YOU think the outcome will be for Darren O'Day in free agency. Will he return to Baltimore or is he destined for greener pastures? Whatever the case, what kind of a contract to expect for him? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @_TyYoung.