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If Zach Britton is out long, the Orioles should close with Mychal Givens

With Zach Britton’s 2017 injury woes sadly compounding, Mychal Givens looks like the more effective 9th inning option.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately for Zach Britton, whatever mystical juju he was bestowed a season ago has seemingly washed away.

First there was the forearm strain that kept him out for two months, and even before then, he never really looked like the Britton of 2016. Upon his return in early July, Britton was ushered back into higher leverage roles with understandable ease, and as he seemed to get more innings, it appeared he was able to reconfigure the command of his power sinker.

Yesterday’s disastrous 9th inning ended with Britton surrendering two runs on three hits with a walk mixed in. That was enough that he blew his first save in almost two years after shutting the door in 60-consecutive requisite appearances.

Following the game, Britton told MASN’s Steve Melewski that the nagging knee wasn’t of much concern to him, but after a save try in which his sinker didn’t sink and he seemingly couldn’t find the bottom of the zone, you can’t blame yourself for feeling whatever angst you may hold.

“You know, it started creeping back up maybe a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “I’m not really sure. Since it is the back knee it could impact command. You know, I’m over the arm injury and we don’t want that to get effected again.”

For Britton to immediately mention the forearm and that precious left arm of his is exactly spot on. If his left knee, or the back knee in his delivery, is forcing him to soften his push off the rubber, there is certainly cause for concern. If Britton does force his top side to overcompensate for the pain in his knee, there is a heightened chance for injury, with the odds of turning one of baseball’s best pitches into what we saw yesterday.

Depending on what Britton’s MRI shows, the Orioles may have no choice but to shelve Britton yet again, or do so a precaution. If Britton decides to fight through it like he has “since 2014”, then the rest of the point I’ll try to make here is moot. If he is hurt, it’s time the Orioles promote Mychal Givens to the 9th inning.

Yeah, whatever, he gave up a two-run bomb to Joyce yesterday in a game Orioles pitchers not named Dylan Bundy or Miguel Castro caught a case of suckage. Yeah, the Justin Upton grand slam wasn’t much fun either. Even so, Givens is their best option.

I’m a big Brad Brach fan, and he’s shown he’s capable of being an effective closer at times, but in what seems to be a theme for Brach, he’s starting to wear down.

In August, Brach has pitched to a 4.32 ERA and 1.80 WHIP, and what has become a trend, the end of the season is when Brach puts himself in the most trouble.

It’s no surprise for Brach, as it is with any pitcher, that his run allowance strongly coincides with his ability to throw strikes. In his career, Brach’s second-half ERA jumps from 3.26 from a 2.73 first-half mark, having pitched 57.0 fewer late-summer innings. While that isn’t a noticeable leap, I, as someone whose life consists of little more than coming home from work and watching the Orioles rip my heart out, have seen for the past couple of seasons a pitcher whose most interesting innings seem to coincidentally take place later in the year.

This August, Brach has a pitched to a 4.32 ERA in 8.1 innings, with his 1.80 WHIP a sightly bit higher than his career 1.49 WHIP total. While his walk rate has also jumped, so has his BABIP—up to .391 this month from .278 from July. Lately he’s looked off, and with Britton out and O’Day’s own problems pushing him into a less frequent role, the impact of more high leverage requests may finally be catching up to him.

Buck Showalter has been forced to ask a lot from Brach every year he’s been an Oriole. More often than not, he’s been a trooper with stretches of brilliance. As a thank you, maybe it’s time he pitched where he is clearly more suited to be, especially as the availability of wins becomes sparse.

When the baseball gods confront the Orioles, they always act in mysterious ways. One such way was Givens turning around a career on the fringe of existence.

Since Givens has been with the Orioles, everything his play and his peripherals have showed us prove he’s a pitcher capable of a little extra. One of the aspects of last year’s Wild Card game that was understandably tossed to the wind was Givens’ 2.1 innings of scoreless baseball. Coming into a game on the brink of ending sooner than it did, Givens dominated. That was the moment everyone said to the themselves, “whoa”.

Givens has carried that same awe into 2017, as his 2.42 ERA has mostly been tarnished by home runs. But in a lot of other ways, he’s never been better.

His walk rate has been cut in half, where his BABIP has also considerably dropped to a level more indicative of a back-end reliever (.240). Givens’ career trajectory was always going to get more interesting with more innings, and the notion appears true. Having accrued further action in the big leagues, Givens continues to sustain longer periods of dominance. This season, he’s been a just a little bit better in that regard than Brach.

Givens’ plus-workload has also seen his attention to the strike zone fade with innings, but he’s shown even when’s been out of line, the surrendering of runs hasn’t been too big of an issue.

Brach/Givens Plate Discipline 2017

#### O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
#### O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
Brach 30.7 % 70.7 % 50.0 % 63.3 % 81.2 % 75.5 % 48.1 % 61.7 % 12.2 %
Givens 25.2 % 69.3 % 46.8 % 64.4 % 82.0 % 77.1 % 49.1 % 57.3 % 10.7 %

In just about every department, Brach shows the better numbers in numerous areas. For example, he gets more whiffs, less contact and more guys swinging outside of the strike zone. But Givens has continued a more reliable reputation.

According to Baseball Prosepctus’ pitch tunnels, Mychal Givens and Brad Brach aren’t far off in much of their pitch tunnels numbers either. In a fastball-fastball pitch pair, Givens (0.8341) owns a bit more deception on his fastball according to his post-tunnel break, while Brach is slightly less willing to move the fastball around the plate, as told by his 13.1772 plate differential.

In fastball-changeup sequences, their numbers are practically the same too. Both move the changeup around the plate and both have a lot of sink. Even when trying to find discrepancies in their fastball-slider pairs, there really isn’t much to find. Both guys do a lot of things well, and you’d have a lot of ammunition on both sides of the “who do you trust more?” debate.

Like I said, I like Brach, but Givens seems to have a little more oomph. His stuff has been the more consistent, and he’s been less stubborn to finish innings. It’d be one thing if Buck Showalter was a little less conventional with his bullpen, but the man believes in established roles, and the Orioles may be in need of a closer who isn’t Britton.

Mychal Givens has the look of a 9th inning guy, and if Britton is gone yet again, it would be nice to see the Orioles use their next best thing.