Matthew Taylor: Digging deeper into Darren O’Day’s numbers

I wanted to be able to better articulate the value of Orioles All-Star reliever Darren O’Day. In attempting to do so, I developed an appreciation for the late Stu Miller. That’s the sort of thing that can happen when you dig into the numbers late at night. The difference in my understanding of both players was a lesser-mentioned statistic that speaks to the value of relief pitchers.

Ask most O’s fans to talk about O’Day’s value and you’re as likely to hear a chant as you are any kind of statistical breakdown. All together now: “O’Dayyy O’Day O’Day O’Dayyy.”

If not singing, you might instead hear fans share a classic Darren O’Day moment, of which there are many. This season alone he has loaded the bases and escaped unscathed twice, first on May 29 and again on June 20.

The Darren O’Day experience is a visceral one that’s grounded in the one-of-a-kind emotion associated with baseball’s late-inning drama. However, O’Day’s greatness is about much more than a catchy chant or random cherished memories. The numbers are there to back it all up.

As I wrote on Roar from 34 on Thursday, O’Day is chasing his fourth consecutive season with a WHIP of 1.00 or lower, which has never been done by an Orioles relief pitcher. O’Day and Moe Drabowsky are the only guys to do it for three straight seasons. Meanwhile, O’Day is 5-0 out of the pen this season and could chase down former Oriole Grant Jackson’s perfect 8-0 record in relief.

The aforementioned breakdown didn’t satisfy me hours after I pressed publish on that post. With its reliance on WHIP and wins, it felt as quirky as it did meaningful. More satisfying is O’Day’s 98.2 percent strand rate so far in 2015, which aligns with his impressive career left on-base percentage that ranks among the game’s best in recent years.

What ultimately made the difference for me, however, was the stat RE24, which examines a pitcher’s performance against how many runs you would expect to score in a given situation. It is particularly useful for relievers compared to, say, ERA, which would not be affected regardless of whether inherited runners score. You can review a full definition of RE24 on Fan Graphs.

O’Day is second among Orioles relievers with a 9.3 RE24 so far in 2015. Zach Britton leads the way at 12.5 and Chaz Roe is third best out of the bullpen with a 7.8 RE24. Among relievers, Fan Graphs explains, an RE24 of five is considered above average, 10 is great, and 15 is excellent. ... which brings us to Orioles Hall of Famer Stu Miller.

Miller posted a 31.027 RE24 in 1965, which stands as the best single-season total in Orioles history. He appeared in 67 games and had a 14-7 record, a career-best 1.89 ERA, and 24 saves. Those 14 wins are a franchise record for a reliever; overall, only eight O’s relievers have tallied double-digit win totals in a single season. Miller finished seventh in MVP voting in 1965.

Jim Palmer had this to say of Stu Miller: “He was a phenomenon. Out of all the guys I’ve had a chance to see over my career as a reliever ... if you loaded the bases up with nobody out, I’d take Stu Miller because the chance of hitting the ball out of the infield off him were minimal. He was just one of a kind.”

Palmer sang Miller’s praises then. Fans are literally singing O’Day’s praises now. As the numbers confirm, both relievers hit the right note for the Orioles.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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