The good Orioles teams during the Buck Showalter/Dan Duquette era have been led by their bullpens. Showalter’s adeptness at not only using his relievers in game, but keeping them fresh and able throughout the season has been a key to the Orioles winning more games than most people ever thought they ever would.
This is combined with Duquette’s ability to constantly shuffle the roster to bring in fresh quality arms for Showalter to deploy.
One of the keys to the bullpen over the last five seasons has been Darren O’Day and he just went down with a shoulder injury. This off the heels of a strained hamstring that kept him out for nearly two months. Not the ideal scenario the Orioles had when they surprisingly resigned O’Day this off season for four years and $31 million.
The injuries are also on top of some poor performance with a 3.95 ERA. However, even while missing the all important O’Day, the Orioles bullpen has still managed a 3.19 ERA, the best in the American league just beating out the Houston Astros.
With O’Day out again the shuffling of the bullpen will begin. Tyler Wilson part time starter and part time reliever is back. When last with the Orioles he pitched four perfect innings and was then optioned to keep the bullpen flexible. It’s a tough life being the 25th man on a Dan Duquette roster.
The bullpen as it stands now is Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart, Tyler Wilson, Vance Worley, and Ubaldo Jimenez. With Brian Matusz’s early season departure the bullpen has lacked a true left handed specialist.
This has put pressure on either inexperienced players—such as Hart or Ashur Tolliver—or on Brad Brach to get out left handed hitters in late game situations. The wear and tear may be showing on Brach as he has a 3.60 ERA in the second half compared to a 0.91 ERA in the first half.
The results have been even worse in August as he has posted a 5.40 ERA to date. Showalter has responded by trying to pitch him less, only 10 innings so far in the second half and he still leads all Orioles’ relievers in innings.
With no left handed pitcher, Brach’s struggles of late, O’Day’s injury, and Givens’ struggles against left handed hitters the Orioles are definitely in need of someone to get left handed hitters out.
Whether that is Donnie Hart or someone picked up during this August waiver period remains to be seen. I have faith that Givens can learn to get left handed batters out, but now is not the time for the Orioles to have that faith. They need a backup plan or a break out.
The Orioles as a pitching staff could use some help against left handed batters. Collectively, left handed hitters have a .344 wOBA against Orioles pitchers this year, that’s the third highest in baseball. For reference, right handed hitters have a .303 wOBA against Orioles pitchers in 2016, which is right around the middle of the pack in baseball.
The right handed heavy rotation for the predominant part of the season has something to do with that. I wanted to see what the bullpen’s numbers were specifically, but I could not readily find that split anywhere online.
Otherwise, the bullpen is definitely weighed down by Jimenez’s presence. He has wobbled back and forth between effective and ineffective in his short and infrequent stints as a reliever in 2016.
Who would have thought that Jimenez would be inconsistent? Worley and Wilson provide decent options for when Showalter needs some innings eaten up, but both have their own warts. The move of Dylan Bundy to the rotation has hurt the bullpen some. He was a lights out reliever before he was a lights out starter.
However, with two option-able spots and a bevy of mediocre options available in the minors Showalter assuredly always has at least a fresh arm to go to, if not always a quality arm to go to.
The bullpen is far from the Orioles main concern (that would be the offense getting back on track and smashing balls into outer space again), but it is not without it’s own issues.
Having the O’Day of years past would make it truly formidable as Givens and Brach would be pushed back into the sixth and seventh innings and could be matched up on particular nights for particular lineups. But, with his injuries to date this year that O’Day has not been around. The struggles against left handed hitters needs to be solved and the sooner the better.
Yet, the ultimate weapon in Zach Britton still exists. His sub 1 ERA, sky high ground ball rate, and perfect record so far in 2016 gives the Orioles the ultimate closer. With him at the back end, the bullpen has a high floor.
The Orioles will need the others to step up in O’Days absence. With September right around the corner and roster expansion along with it, Showalter will have even more toys to play with. For our sake, let’s hope it all works out.