The Nationals winning the World Series put the final bow on another difficult season of Orioles fandom. Baltimore’s beltway “rival” let their prize free agent walk, and turned a group of 25 other guys into champions. Baltimore couldn’t pull that off after dealing Manny Machado to the Dodgers in 2018.
Since I’m already bringing up bad memories, think back to the last time the Orioles appeared in a playoff game. The other night, AJ Hinch elected not to turn to the best pitcher on his roster in Gerrit Cole. Buck Showalter did the same thing a few years ago. Remember? How could you forget.
The Orioles were a different team back then. They mad the playoffs, and they had a lock down closer. A far cry from 2019 indeed.
Mychal Givens finished 2016 with an 8-2 record and a 3.13 ERA in 66 relief appearances. He was one of many contributors in a talented bullpen, but was not always called upon in high leverage situations. Flash forward to the start of 2019, and Givens was the only guy the Orioles thought they could count on when the game was on the line.
The 2019 Orioles were never going to win many games, and because of that, there was not going to be a surplus of save opportunities. When the Birds found themselves leading after seven or eight innings, as all clubs do at some point in a 162-game season, they were going to turn to Givens. Just like seemingly everything else last season, that didn’t work out either.
Givens finished 2019 with only 11 saves in 19 opportunities. No matter how bad a team may be, and no matter how few chances a closer may have, a 58 percent save conversion rate just doesn’t cut it. His other numbers, while maybe not as jarring, could certainly use improvement. In 58 games, Givens finished 2-6 with a 4.57 ERA and 1.190 WHIP.
Givens’ performance, while disappointing, did not lead to the demise of the Orioles. He simply played a few wrong notes on a sinking ship. But his mistakes did cost the club. It cost the O’s wins, and perhaps something more “strategically relevant.” It took away one of Baltimore’s few trade chips in 2019.
After that 2016 season, the Orioles thought they had another back-end reliever locked up. Givens lived up to that reputation with an 8-1 record and 2.75 ERA in 69 games the next year. The righty, a second round pick by the Orioles in 2009, appeared to be living up to his potential. But unfortunately for Givens and the Orioles, success does not always last out of the ‘pen.
Givens regressed in 2018, finishing 0-7 with a 3.99 ERA and 1.187 WHIP. He saved nine of the 13 games he was asked to close, and saw a decline in strikeouts for the second consecutive season. In very similar workloads, Givens saw his K’s decline from 96 to 88 to 79 from 2016-2018. He was being asked to pitch in higher leverage situations, and it didn't always work out.
Entering the 2019 season, Givens was a prime choice for a “bounce-back” candidate. He earned the closer role by default, and at 29 years old, would be looked to as a leader in the bullpen. The hope was that Givens could be serviceable in late innings, and hopefully drum up some trade interest for a rebuilding club. Maybe the Orioles were asking too much.
One thing is certain, Givens struggled in the ninth inning. During the 40 games Givens appeared in the ninth, batters hit a whopping .252/.344/.526. When Givens worked the eighth inning, batters slashed .165/.224/.278 over 31 games. Givens did not allow a hit the five times he pitched in the seventh inning.
Pitching in more clutch situations had to take a toll on Givens, but there was another key factor for his late-inning woes. Early in the season, Brandon Hyde asked Givens to record more than three outs on several occasions. It’s not uncommon for closers to work multiple innings from time to time, but not every reliever can handle it. In several cases, Hyde turned to Givens out of pure necessity. Still, it wasn’t working.
From April to the end of July, Givens pitched anywhere from 1/3-to-two innings. Eventually, the Orioles decided to keep the reliever to just one frame. After a blown save on August 11, Givens did not pitch more than one full inning the rest of the season.
Givens immediately rattled off nine consecutive scoreless outings. A few poor outings early in the month inflated his August ERA, but Givens still finished the month with his lowest total (2.70) and a .800 WHIP.
Despite another rocky season, Givens will likely gain another raise in arbitration that pushes him over $3 million a year. The number could drive Baltimore to deal Givens over the offseason, but it shouldn’t. The Orioles need to let Givens build back his trade value (one, and only one, inning at a time) during the first half of the season.
Richard Bleier, Dillon Tate and Hunter Harvey all return to help shoulder the load in the back end of the bullpen. The closer role will be up for grabs in spring training, but do not be surprised if the Orioles close by committee in 2020.
When the O’s have a lead late in the game, they should play matchups. Givens, the other relievers, and the Orioles would all benefit from the right guy pitching in the right spot.
Givens will not be a part of the next winning club in Baltimore. But if the Tampa native can post some quality outings before the trade deadline, he might just fetch a player or two who will be.