Can a pitcher with zero career saves be a future closer for the Orioles?
If that pitcher is right-hander Mychal Givens, I believe the answer is yes. He has the velocity, has the stuff, is durable and has the mentality, in my opinion, which might be the hardest of all to find in a late-inning pitcher.
One key trait of any closer is the ability to bounce back after he blows a save. Take a bump in the road and fly past it. Givens seems to be able to shake off tough outings quickly.
Givens had a solid 2016 following his impressive major league debut season when he pitched 30 innings for the Orioles in 2015. And then he was even better last season.
From 2016 to 2017, he went from an 8-2 record, 3.13 ERA and 1.272 WHIP to 8-1 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.042 WHIP. His average against dropped from .220 to .200 and he reduced his walk rate from 4.3 per nine innings, which was much too high, to a more workable 2.9 per nine. Givens led all O’s relievers in wins, games, strikeouts and innings. From May 26-Aug. 2, he pitched to an ERA of 0.60, the best in the majors in that span (minimum 20 games).
For his young big league career, Givens is 18-3 with an ERA of 2.75 in 157 games. His career walk rate is 3.3 per nine innings and he has fanned 10.9 batters for every nine innings.
Givens made a dramatic improvement against left-handed batters last summer. In 2016, he allowed a batting average against of .366 with an OPS of 1.025 when facing lefties. Those numbers were .184 and .619 last year, which is an outstanding improvement. Right-handed batters hit .220 two years ago and .219 last season against the sidearming right-hander.
Givens threw his changeup 9 percent of the time last year, but that went up 23 percent versus lefty batters. He used his slider 20 percent, but that went up to 30 percent against righty batters. He had the pitches to, as Buck Showalter would say, “defend himself” against opposite-handed hitters.
One area on the stat sheet that was an issue for Givens was allowing 36 percent of 47 inherited runners to score. That number was 27 percent for Brad Brach, 22 percent for Richard Bleier, 19 percent for Darren O’Day and 6 percent for Zach Britton. But were he a closer, Givens would probably mostly get clean innings to pitch.
Givens will not even be eligible for arbitration until after the 2018 season and is under club control until after the 2021 season. It the Orioles want to enlist a closer without paying top of the scale for one, Givens is years away from making the big bucks no matter how well he pitches moving forward. His payday will come, as it did for Britton and O’Day, but it’s not anytime soon.
Although it is often overlooked, Givens is a success story for the Orioles’ player development operation. He was drafted in the second round in 2009 as a shortstop who had pitched briefly in high school. They converted him from shortstop to the mound in 2013 at Single-A Delmarva, and by mid-summer 2015, he was called to the Orioles.
Very impressive work by Givens with much help from the minor league staff. Former scouting director Joe Jordan never let anyone forget Givens could pitch and director of player development Brian Graham led and oversaw the transition from short to the mound.
During parts of three minor league seasons on the O’s farm, Givens had four different pitching coaches. All are well regarded and still with the organization and all had a hand in helping the right-hander. Justin Lord was with Givens in 2013 at Delmarva. In 2014, he worked with Keenie Steenstra at Single-A Frederick and Blaine Beatty at Double-A Bowie. In 2015, he was with Alan Mills at Bowie - and Mills is still with Givens in Baltimore as the club’s bullpen coach. Givens seems to rely on Mills heavily and often. It’s a great relationship.
Givens sure seems to have what it takes to be an effective closer, maybe even an All-Star-caliber closer. That is, if the Orioles even make that move. But the last three outs are not for everyone. You don’t know until you find out the only way you can: pitching someone in those spots.
Will Givens eventually make the transition all the way from minor league shortstop to minor league pitcher to late-inning big league arm to closer?
Will Mancini finish second or third?: When the Baseball Writers’ Association of America reveals the final vote tonight for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, we know that the Yankees’ Aaron Judge is going to win. But will the O’s Trey Mancini get second or will it go to Boston’s Andrew Benintend? That is the only drama left in the AL vote, if you can even call it that. It is an all-AL East final three.
In many stat categories, Mancini had an edge on Benintendi this season. Mancini’s slash line was .293/.338/.488 with an OPS of .826. He produced a 2.8 Wins Above Replacement per Baseball-Reference.com. Benintendi’s slash line was .271/.352/.424 with an OPS of .776 and a 2.9 WAR. I presented the case for Mancini to finish second in this entry.