The end of an era for the Orioles has meant farewell to star mainstays like Manny Machado and Zach Britton and on Sunday it even meant farewell for a less heralded, but still important, one of “our guys,” with Brad Brach’s trade to the Braves for international bonus slot money.
Brach came to us from San Diego, the result of what may well be the best trade that Dan Duquette has made as an Oriole. The O’s gave up nothing of value in that late November 2013 trade, sending pitcher Devin Jones, who never appeared above Double-A, to the Padres.
In return, the Orioles received Brach, then 27 years old. He was a former 42nd round pick, a round of the draft that doesn’t even exist any more, who had to grind his way up every level of the minors just to get a chance to prove himself in the big leagues, and once he got there, he walked a few too many dudes for the Padres liking.
How many is too many? Brach walked 59 batters in 104.2 innings with the Padres. No wonder they saw him as expendable. Duquette saw an opportunity and took it. This was the start of a beautiful friendship.
Not that you would have known it if you judged Brach solely on his first month in an Orioles uniform. They called him up in May of the 2014 season and after ten games pitched he had a 5.40 ERA, with runs allowed in five of his ten appearances. The tenth game saw him walk five batters in two innings. This earned Brach a two week exile. When he came back, he was a different pitcher, posting a 2.25 ERA for the remainder of the season.
On returning to the Orioles, Brach got the trust of Buck Showalter and started pitching in more high-leverage situations, setting up his place in subsequent seasons in what former Oriole Rick Dempsey liked to call the “BOB” at the end of the O’s bullpen: Brach, O’Day, Britton.
For 2014, Brach was a kind of fireman who might pitch any time - four innings after Chris Tillman gave up eight runs in the first inning; the 9th-11th innings of a tie game in Boston; extra innings on the road. He pitched well and by season’s end he had seven wins. As we know, pitcher wins and losses don’t tell us a lot, but it is striking nonetheless to see a reliever get seven of them. In general, that means he’s holding the line plus his offense is getting clutch hits for him.
By 2016, picking up wins out of nowhere hit a new level, with Brach notching ten on the season. He did this while serving mostly as the eighth inning set-up man, with Darren O’Day missing significant time due to injury. Brach was absolutely filthy, allowing batters to hit just .155/.222/.256 off of him in the first half of the season with a 0.96 ERA.
That was good enough to earn Brach a place on the American League All-Star team, a selection that, although it had its critics like ESPN’s Keith Law, was a heart-warming recognition of a hard worker who had found his way to be one of baseball’s most unlikely best relievers. No one can ever take that All-Star nod away from Brach. He deserved it.
Even after faltering just a bit in the second half, Brach ended the year with a 2.05 ERA and a 1.038 WHIP. Any team would sign up for that from any reliever in every season. The 2016 Orioles were fortunate that they had that fantastic version of Brach to step up in O’Day’s absence and help fuel their eventual wild card berth.
That’s a tough act to follow and indeed, Brach did have a bit of a tougher time filling Britton’s shoes when the former O’s closer was battling forearm problems last season. Of this season that led to his trade to the Braves for just the bonus money, we need say even less.
The three-year stretch from 2014-16, which includes the two playoff teams for which Brach pitched, saw him throw 220.2 innings while posting a 2.61 ERA and a 1.133 WHIP. As the Orioles crash into this rebuild phase, they will cast through a variety of relievers in hopes that maybe a couple of them will be as good as the best of Brad Brach. Guys like that don’t come along every day, or even every 42nd round.
Brach even brought along the off-the-field bonus of having a country singer wife, Jenae Cherry Brach, who wrote a little tune for the Orioles that you probably heard if you went to the stadium in 2016, called “Don’t Miss The Magic.” I’ll be honest, I was tired of the song by the end of the year, but looking back on it, I think it’s incredibly cool that a player’s wife harnessed her creative talents to do something unique for the team. It doesn’t happen every year. It may not happen again.
Brad Brach was traded here. He pitched. He is Birdland.
With Brach’s departure, there are just six players from the AL East-winning 2014 Orioles still left with the team.