There are certain players that pass the eye test. One look, and a scout can tell if the guy has what it takes to be successful at the Major League level. The first time a scout watched Darren O’Day pitch, I doubt his initial reaction was an automatic “Yupp.” In fact, I’d wager it was a lot closer to some sort of “Hmph.”
O’Day was not the first sidewinder to turn a submarine motion into a successful career, but he did it well. O’Day first signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Angels in 2006. Undrafted. And that year the draft was a lot longer than five rounds.
O’Day was eventually selected by the New York Mets in the 2008 Rule-5 draft and claimed off waivers a year later by the Texas Rangers. When the Rangers gave O’Day his first true opportunity, he did not let them down.
The righty pitched to a 2-1 record with a 1.94 ERA and .952 WHIP over 64 games for the Rangers in 2009. He followed up his debut season with an equally impressive 6-2 record, 2.03 ERA and .0887 WHIP as a reliever in 2010. He appeared in 10 post season games before the Rangers eventually fell to San Francisco in the World Series.
A pair of injuries limited O’Day to just 16 appearances in 2011, and his performance did suffer. A torn labrum and an unrelated shoulder injury resulted in just an 0-1 record with a 5.40 ERA and 1.320 WHIP. When Texas found itself in a roster pinch, it deemed the side winder expendable.
A little over a month after the Orioles eliminated the Red Sox on the final day of the season, they claimed O’Day off the waiver wire and stashed him in the bullpen. We all know what happened next.
The Orioles’ momentum carried over to 2012, where they snapped a streak of 14-consecutive losing seasons. O’Day played an enormous factor, eventually settling into the setup role before All-Star closer Jim Johnson. The Jacksonville, Fla., native finished the year with a 7-1 record, 2.28 ERA and .940 WHIP. He tossed two scoreless innings in a Wild Card victory over his former team, and added four more scoreless frames against the Yankees in the ALDS.
O’Day didn’t just show up at the right place at the right time; he played a crucial role on the first winning team Baltimore could boast in over a decade.
O’Day followed with three more years of a sub-3 ERA and a WHIP no greater than 1. He often pitched during the highest leverage situation of the game, and delivered far more times than not. The Baltimore fans quickly embraced the guy with a quirky delivery and an ear-to-ear smile. When the crowd chanted “O’Day, O’Day, O’Day, O’Day,” to the tune of “Ole,” they could cheer knowing three outs were likely on the way.
O’Day used an improved changeup to post career numbers in 2014. His 1.70 ERA and .888 WHIP led to a lot of wins for Baltimore, but his playoff reputation took a bit of a hit. O’Day finished with a 16.20 ERA over three games against the Royals in the American League Championship Series. He took the loss in the first two of an excruciating four-game sweep. The series would go down as the best chance the Orioles had to win a championship in a very long time.
Nevertheless, O’Day bounced back with an All-Star campaign in 2015. Through 68 games, he paired a 1.52 ERA and .934 WHIP with a 6-2 record. The string of successful seasons led Baltimore to offer a four-year, $31 million extension. Unfortunately, O’Day’s good fortune ran out when the money showed up.
A string of injuries kept O’Day off the field for a majority of the 2016 and 2018 seasons. The Orioles eventually included O’Day as a sweetener/salary dump in a deal that sent Kevin Gausman to Atlanta. O’Day is still currently under contract with the Braves.
There will be very few players on this list that flourished from the day they arrived in Baltimore until the day they left. Don’t believe me? Check out Number 48. Still, it is fair to lump in the O’Day extension with the set of decisions that left the Orioles in their current state. But make no mistake about it, Darren O’Day was a winner.
The Solo Wheel aficionado delivered a lot more than a catchy song for fans to sing and a magnificent mustache. He left Baltimore with a WHIP under 1, and handed off several close leads to the two best closers Baltimore has ever had (Johnson and Zach Britton).
O’Day helped bring winning baseball back to Baltimore, and that alone lands him on this list.