In what was the final goodbye of the Andy MacPhail era in Baltimore, the Orioles’ claimed ex-Rangers reliever Darren O’Day off waivers in November of 2011. The move came right on the heels of the change of power from MacPhail to Dan Duquette.
There wasn’t much made of the minor waiver claim at the time, and for good reason. Despite a 2.89 ERA and a solid 0.85 HR/FB ratio from 2008-11, O’Day appeared in only 16 games with the Rangers in 2011, the result of a partially torn labrum in his hip. Baltimore took a chance on the movement-reliant submariner whose solid numbers suggested the O’s could be the beneficiary of low-cost dividends.
The Orioles were right.
In his time in Baltimore, O’Day appeared in no less than 68 games, never posted an ERA higher than 2.28, and in 2015, the Orioles 8th inning man pitched to career-bests in K% (31.9%), ERA (1.52) and K-BB% (25.6%). In his four seasons with the O’s, O’Day cost management a grand total of $11 million, an average annual value of $2.75 million. He became one of the main propellants in Baltimore’s baseball turnaround at clearance prices, the philosophy in which Dan Duquette and his middling budget have aimed to cement.
O’Day, now a free agent, has, and will, continue to bring heavy interest among the bevy of teams in need of late-inning arms. As the Dodgers, Nationals and others are likely to outbid the Orioles for the services of baseball’s best submarining righty, it’s better now than ever for the O’s to look into their current stable and evaluate whether or not any of their horses have the juice to run in the final furlongs.
For the Orioles, Mychal Givens is the obvious answer.
Givens, 25, was called up by the O’s on a few occasions this past summer. He made his major league debut on June 24 against the Red Sox, tossing a 1-2-3 inning that included a strikeout of Mike Napoli. Givens was eventually sent back down to Double-A Bowie, but reemerged in early August. A converted shortstop, Givens took full advantage of his 22-game audition.
In his first 30.0 innings, Givens devoured big league batters, hurling a 1.80 ERA with a 1.73 FIP, 32.5 K%, 5.1 BB%, 0.87 WHIP and 4.5% HR/FB ratio. Givens dominated in his short-lived tenure in Baltimore, and it’s because his stuff is as unique as his arm angle.
It isn’t often a pitcher such as Givens is able to throw a fastball that averages 95.3 MPH, especially with a release point that’s parallel to his hip. Even more importantly, his fastball runs with wicked west-east movement. According to Brooks Baseball’s PITCHf/x, Givens’ -4.3 vertical movement on his four-seam fastball is greater than O’Day’s career -3.6, though his -4.03 horizontal dive doesn’t match O’Day’s -7.46 mark. Still, his natural fastball tail combined with above-average velocity should continue to equate to lesser contact and more strikeouts. Though different in style, the idea is the same.
Then there’s the slider.
Givens has the kind of slider that can be thrown in any count, as the plane in which it rides mixed with the overwhelming deception on the pitch is a caused from an unwavering arm angle that forces massive rotation. Givens’ 85.5 MPH average on his slider comes at nearly a 10 MPH differential to his fastball, a noticeable, effective change in speed. As is seen in the video above, Givens is facing Mookie Betts in a 3-2 count with the tying run on third base. Not only does Givens have the confidence to throw a full-count slider, but the execution is nearly flawless on a pitch that glides the width of home plate. Those are the kind of traits manager Buck Showalter will want in order to preserve Oriole wins in 2016.
Though Givens may not have experience on his resume, he’s shown his natural ability has continually trumped the necessary wisdom on the mound.
His turn from position player to pitcher started in 2013, where he began in Low-A Delmarva. He made the jump to High-A Frederick in 2014, even spending some time at Double-A later that season. His 2015 showing at Double-A Bowie garnered the rare bypass of Triple-A Norfolk altogether.
The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina spoke with Showalter earlier this year in regards to an outing Givens had at Bowie prior to his initial call-up to the Orioles.
“[Allan Mills] said Bruce Banner started the inning, and The Incredible Hulk showed up once somebody got on base. And I knew exactly what he was talking about.”
Mills, Bowie’s pitching coach, has been one of Givens’ biggest fans since his evolution from shortstop to reliever.
“He was able to turn it up a notch. You always hear about people going to another gear or hitting another level, and that happened in that particular outing. I remember him taking it to a whole different level. The guy who entered the inning and the guy who finished the inning was a different guy.”
The later innings are not for the faint of heart. When it comes to being a back-end reliever, the mindset between the ears is one of the most understated aspects of the game of baseball. Some have it, and some don’t. Givens, though small in sample size, has proven the chip on his shoulder is that of a bulldog. Though O’Day has rightfully earned the praise and pending dollars of his many admirers, the Orioles shouldn’t be too concerned in moving on.
Givens looks like a keeper.