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Brad Brach had his hiccups in a year where he was the primary Orioles closer

The injury to Zach Britton led to Brad Brach filling in as the Orioles closer this season. There were some agonizing blown saves mixed with some success.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

I imagine Brad Brach would love to have another crack at his last appearance of the season. Of course, all pitchers would like to throw out their worst performance of the year when factoring their final numbers. But when it happens in the very last game of a long year, like in Brach’s case, it’s hard to ignore.

Brach certainly didn’t have it that day when the Orioles lost to the Rays, 6-0, and solidified their place in the A.L. East cellar. When Brach entered to start the eighth inning, the Orioles were down by just a run. Seven batters and just one out later, Brach had allowed four hits and two walks and exited with the bases full.

The outing led to Brach being charged with five earned runs in his 0.1 innings pitched, increasing his ERA to 3.18 from what was 2.53 about 20 minutes earlier. His WHIP rose from 1.05 to 1.13.

This ill-fated way to conclude his season was a fitting extension of his second-half fade that caused his overall numbers to take a dip compared to his All-Star 2016 campaign.

On the surface, one area that looked positive was the number of saves. Taking over the closer duties for much of the year while Zach Britton dealt with forearm and knee troubles, Brach was able to lead the team with 18 saves and helped them stay in contention until their September implosion.

Brach did blow six save chances, however, which resulted in the third highest percentage among American League closers with at least 11 saves.

While a 75 percent save success rate isn’t great, there have been plenty of solid late-inning relievers that can’t seem to handle the pressure of closing games at all. Brach’s ability to serve as an adequate closer, in case he’s needed to do so, should not be underestimated.

Nor should his ability to stay healthy and take the ball. He again proved to be a workhorse reliever by pitching 68 innings in 67 appearances, second only to Mychal Givens in relief innings pitched. This was the third straight year Brach has pitched at least 62 innings for the Birds.

Nonetheless, Brach’s numbers tumbled in just about all categories when compared to 2016:

  • ERA: 3.18/2.05
  • WHIP: 1.13/1.04
  • WAR: 1.2/2.6
  • K/9: 9.3/10.5
  • BB/9: 3.4/2.8
  • W-L: 4-5/10-4

Unfortunately, Brach did replicate his 2016 performance in one area – a significant second-half decline. His post-All-Star break ERA was 3.94 compared to 2.58 in the first half. His WHIP really soared, climbing from 0.861 to 1.483.

In 2016, Brach’s splits were 0.91/3.94 ERA and 0.831/1.382 WHIP. It’s not uncommon for Orioles relievers to tire down the stretch, perhaps a continuing result of the horrible starting rotation for the past two seasons.

The good news is Brach’s velocity actually increased for the fifth straight season, increasing to 95 MPH, up from 94.5 in 2016. He is still bringing it with the heater, which is just one of his three major-league pitches – one more than most coming out of the bullpen. Another plus.

Brach is expected to fit right back in as Britton’s setup guy next year, assuming the Orioles take at least one more shot at a championship by retaining the likes of Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Britton before they hit free agency.

But can we expect Brach to return to 2016 form when he was one of the league’s elite relievers? There’s a good chance that was his outlier year, but his velocity is encouraging and even a small improvement in performance would go a long way to stabilizing the Orioles’ 2018 bullpen.