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Who should be the Orioles closer next season?

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Mychal Givens is auditioning for next year’s closers role. His mixed bag of a season and other factors call into question whether the job will be his.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Yesterday, Harrison Jozwiak wrote about the success Mychal Givens has had in the Orioles’ closer role. He raises great points, especially about how effective Givens has been in the past month. With that said, Givens’ season as a whole has been very disappointing and the potential of a new regime next year makes it impossible to predict who will be the closer in 2019 and beyond.

When Zach Britton and Brad Brach were traded at the end of August, the O’s lost their two best options to close out games. Darren O’Day would have been the logical choice to step in as closer next season, but he was traded as well. Mychal Givens was the next man up and has been the de facto closer for the Orioles for the past month and one would assume next season.

Since coming up to the majors in 2015, Givens immediately showed a quality that clubs like to see in their closer: the ability to strike batters out. In twenty two games as a rookie, he punched out 11.4 batters per nine innings. That mark rose to 11.6 in 2016, his first full season in the bigs. Through parts of four seasons, he has struck out 10.7 batters per nine innings (the 2018 average is 8.5).

Another admirable quality he’s shown has been the ability to get big outs in big situations. Buck Showalter has frequently called upon him with runners on base to get out of jams and he was the go-to guy when a strikeout was needed. O’s fans may remember Givens’ performance in the 2016 Wild Card Game. I promise this isn’t talking about THAT play.

Givens relieved Chris Tillman with runners at first and third and one out. He induced a double play to preserve the tie game. He then retired the next five batters he faced, with three coming via punch out. It was an impressive performance.

His performance in close games resulted in an inordinate win-loss record. Through 2017, his career record was 18-3, good for an incredible .857 winning percentage. We all know that those stats don’t tell the full story about a pitcher. But it does show that he pitched very well in games that were hanging in the balance. Even the most ardent supporter of analytics have to admit that that means at least something.

Have those qualities resulted in Givens being a successful closer? The sample size is small thus far, but the answer seems to be no. Givens came into this season without a career save. But he was charged with six blown saves prior to this season. He did get a one-off opportunity to convert a save on May 12th and successfully recorded his first save of his career.

Since being thrust into the permanent closer’s role, Givens has recorded five saves and been charged with two blown saves. If we look at the year as a whole, he has six saves and four blown saves. Keep in mind that blown saves can be charged earlier than the ninth inning. If we tally up his career numbers, he has six saves and eleven blown saves. That is a 35% success rate. Not good.

It may not be wise to judge Givens on this year’s performance, as he clearly is not performing to the level we are accustomed to seeing. His ERA’s the previous three seasons were 1.80, 3.13, and 2.75. He accumulated 4.8 WAR over those three seasons. Coming into this season, Givens’ career trajectory was definitely going in the right direction.

This season, Givens has posted a pedestrian ERA of 4.64 and has accumulated just 0.2 WAR. His WHIP is up by a third of a baserunner over last year and his K/9 ratio is at a career low (while still an above average ten). After posting an 18-3 record prior to this season, his record this season stands at 0-7. The reason for this is unclear. His velocity has remained constant and the vertical and horizontal movement on his pitches is essentially the same as last season. O’s fans can hope that it is just an off year and that he’ll return to form next season.

There aren’t many internal options who push Givens for the closer role next season. Fortunately, that isn’t a huge deal for a rebuilding Orioles team. But somebody has to record the final three outs for the games the O’s may win. Tanner Scott has closer stuff (12.8 K/9 this season) but has an ERA of 5.86. Miguel Castro served as the Blue Jays’ closer to begin 2015 and recorded four saves.

However, Castro hasn’t recorded a save since and there’s the possibility that he’ll enter 2019 spring training as a either a candidate for the rotation or, based on his 2018 performance, the minors. Jimmy Yacabonis recorded 42 saves in the minor leagues but the organization seems to view him as a starter and his MLB ERA is 6.05. Cody Carroll’s minor league K/9 is over ten, but he’s never served as a primary closer in the minors. In short, there aren’t any obvious options.

Projecting the closer in future seasons is nearly impossible because closers can come out of nowhere. Jim Johnson and Zach Britton are recent examples of this. (We can only hope that all current starting pitching prospects will pan out and not be relegated to the bullpen.) There is also the possibility that new front office and/or managerial staff will be in place next season. While Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter may see Givens as a closer, the next regime may not.

Mychal Givens has been hot over the past month but has struggled overall this season. He is the best closer option on the team but the next manager and front office may see things differently. We won’t need to agonize over who is closing games for the 2019 Orioles, but this will be an interesting situation to monitor as this season plays out.