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The Orioles used Mychal Givens more than ever, and he was better than ever

Despite tiring down the stretch, the Orioles got a spectacular season from right-hander Mychal Givens.

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

On the surface, it’s not surprising to see Mychal Givens’s transition into the team’s most valuable reliever. After all, he was a former second-round pick, touches 99 mph from a sidearm delivery, and has a crisp slider to pair along with it. From a stuff perspective, Givens has everything you’d ever want in a prototypical late-inning reliever.

But then you remember Givens was a struggling shortstop in Delmarva only five years ago, and his ascension to one of the strongest relievers in the American League becomes absolutely remarkable. In the grand scheme of things, the Orioles are probably counting their lucky stars that Givens was never able to hit off-speed pitches in the minors as a middle-infielder.

Since breaking onto the scene as a mid-season call up in 2015, Givens has been a steady presence in the Orioles bullpen. After a stellar few months in 2015, and a solid 2016, the right-hander took another step forward in 2017 as he put together his strongest season to date.

Givens pitched a career high 78.2 innings with a tidy ERA of 2.75- good for an ERA+ of 158. For the third straight year, he struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings pitched, and finished with 88 K’s on the year compared to just 25 walks. Put it all together, and Givens put up a career best 2.3 wins above replacement to rank second on the entire pitching staff behind Dylan Bundy’s 2.7.

Still being gradually worked into a back-end role, Givens entered 2017 having never pitched in the eighth or ninth innings to protect a tie or one-run lead. But, in a year where the Orioles’ bullpen was often dealing with injuries to their two main stalwarts, O’Day and Britton, it was up to Givens and Brad Brach to step up.

After predominantly being used in the 6th and 7th innings in 2016, Givens was essentially shifted back an entire inning this past year and spent most of his time patrolling the 7th and 8th innings in high-leverage situations.

For most of the year at least, Givens was a revelation. He entered the month of August with an ERA of only 1.87 and was coming off of one of the most dominant stretches by an Orioles reliever in recent memory. From late May through July over 25 appearances, Givens pitched 29 innings while surrendering only two earned runs. He struck out 36 and walked only three while holding opposing batters to a slash line of .170/.202/.240.

Givens essentially spent over two months making opposing batters look up to Brandon Fahey’s career numbers. Absolute filth. To put it into perspective, not a single qualified batter in 2017 came within .30 points of any of those numbers.

Unfortunately for Givens, the increased role wasn’t always a positive. With the starting staff doing the bullpen no favors, Givens’s workload bordered on excessive at times and certainly took a toll on his arm. Besides the career high in innings pitched, Givens had 13 appearances on zero days rest after combining for 11 such appearances between 2015 and 2016. To nobody’s real surprise, Givens was noticeably overworked down the stretch.

After his dominant start to the season, Givens was fairly pedestrian over the season’s last two months. His 4.44 ERA after August 1st was certainly out of the norm for the usually dominant reliever, and his increased walk rate over that stretch definitely pointed towards a tired arm in need of rest. Luckily, he now has an entire off season to do just that.

Despite ending the season on a down note, it was still yet another solid year for the converted infielder. Signed through the 2021 season, it will be great to watch Givens’s continued progression as a back-end reliever, and as a pitcher in general.

With many fans, myself included, thinking Givens is eventually destined for the closer role in Baltimore, he’s certainly shown us glimpses as to why. His June and July showcased to everyone the kind of shut down potential his arm has if he can find that consistency over an entire season.