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Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, and left handed hitters

Mychal Givens has struggled against left handed hitters in 2016, but he showed on Saturday night why it doesn’t have to be that way.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The story of Mychal Givens is about as interesting as the pitcher he has become. Givens, drafted in 2009 by the Orioles in the second round as a shortstop. The thought back then even was the Givens could be converted to a pitcher. However, the Orioles gave him a chance to make it as a shortstop. Givens largely struggled in the minor leagues as a hitter and in 2013 the conversion to a relief pitcher began. Givens struggled at first to make the switch, however by 2015 he was mowing down Eastern League hitters in AA Bowie and would get 30 innings with the big league club by the end of then season. Givens was elite last season posting a 1.80 ERA in those 30 innings walking only 5.1 percent of the batters he faced while striking out 32.5 percent.

Fast forward to now and even though he has option, Givens has been a key cog in the Orioles bullpen. He has to be one of a few relief pitchers with options that Dan Duquette has not dared to mess around with. Givens has appeared in 43 games and pitched 50.2 innings and has posted a respectable 3.38 ERA. This year he has walked 12.0 percent of the batters he has faced while striking out 29.2 percent of them. A little off of last year, but again when he is the sixth or seventh inning guy, a valuable weapon.

Givens has given up a few more home runs this year, which was too be expected because his home run rate last year was pretty low. However, the biggest struggle for Givens in 2016 has been left handed hitters. They are hitting .361/.465/.550 with a .433 wOBA against Givens. However, last season, left handed hitters hit .200/.273/.282 good for a .249 wOBA agaisnt Givens.

There are two primary reasons for the struggles in 2016. One, he has given up home runs to left handed hitters this year whereas last season he did not over the course of his 30 innings. And two, he has a .455 BABIP against him versus a .267 BABIP against in 2015. At the very least, Givens has had some pretty bad luck against left handed hitters in 2016 and he fared decently well in 2015.

However, we can go deeper. An at bat from the 4-2 loss to the White Sox on Saturday night reminded me of another Oriole. See if you can figure out which one. My first ever .gif below.

Going against Melky Cabrera, a switch hitter but batting left handed here, Givens finishes him off with a 95 mph up in the zone fastball. The kind of pitch that appears to actually rise on the way to the plate when coming from Givens low right handed arm slot. Obviously, the pitch looks like Darren O’Day’s signature “Jennie Finch” pitch.

O’Day, like Givens, is a side arming right handed pitcher. The type of pitcher that is supposed to struggle against left handed hitters. However, being a right handed specialist does not pay you the big bucks and Darren O’Day has figured out how to get paid. In his career, lefties definitely hit O’day better, but they only have a .230/.297/.409 line. Furthermore, similar to Givens, in the seasons that O’Day has struggled against lefties it has been in years he also had very high BABIPs against lefties. He can get left handed hitters out.

Back to that pitch from Saturday from Givens, my thought was if O’Day can get left handed hitters out, there should be some way that Givens can do it as well. Below are two heat maps. The top one is the percentage of fastballs Darren O’Day throws to left handed hitters. The bottom one is for his slider again to left handed hitters.

As you can see, O’Day uses both of the pitches in a very specific way. He works his slider very low, focusing almost entirely on the outside corner away from a left handed hitter. This backdoor slider allows him to get ahead in the count and get some swings and misses. Then, he mops them up with his fastball which is placed almost entirely in the upper third of the strike zone or up and outside of the strike zone. This is his “rise-ball” that induces so many swings and misses. Now, lets compare that to Givens heat maps. Same thing as above, his fastball then slider versus lefties.

Givens has definitely tried to work his slider low and away to lefties in order to try to get the backdoor strike call. However, he has thrown way more fastballs to lefties and those fastballs have been all over the place. They have focused away, but also in the middle of the plate which is a dangerous area to pitch.

Givens and O’Day will always be linked because they share the same bullpen and have similarly quirky deliveries. However, Givens throws about 10 mph faster than O’Day ever could. A potent weapon with a lot of potential. Givens struggles against lefties in 2016 has probably been caused by mostly bad luck, but still a right handed side armer can be vulnerable to a opposite handed hitter. Yet, if Givens can harness that pitch he struck out Cabrera with on Saturday night, the Orioles may have a future Darren O’Day in their midst.