2018 season recap: Givens thrived in closer role

If you just look at a few basic stats, it appears that Orioles reliever Mychal Givens had a much better season in 2017 than he did in 2018. In 2017, he went 8-1 with a 2.75 ERA. This year, he was 0-7 with a 3.99 ERA.

But a look at other stats shows Givens’ last two seasons were more comparable than the above would indicate. And he had a stunningly strong finish to the 2018 season, but it went under the radar as the Orioles were setting a team record for losses and there was rampant speculation about major changes coming. Those changes did come when the contracts of manager Buck Showalter and vice president Dan Duquette were not renewed.

We should also consider that most of Givens’ major league tenure has been spent in a bullpen where he had older players to lean on, including Zach Britton and Darren O’Day. After the July trades, Givens emerged as a young veteran leader of the new-look ‘pen.

Over his last six games of the year, Givens did not allow a run or hit in eight innings, as batters went 0-for-24 against him. He gave up just one run and one hit his last 11 games, a stretch spanning 14 1/3 innings. Opposing batters went 1-for-44 (.023) against him, and that stat did indeed fly under the radar. In his last 22 games starting Aug. 1, Givens pitched to a 2.25 ERA and .111 average against. Over 24 innings, he gave up nine hits and six walks with 21 strikeouts.

Mychal-Givens-throwing-white-sidebar.jpgGivens went 9-for-13 in save chances for the season, but went 8-for-10 after the trades. For a year or two he was looked at as a closer-in-waiting. Then we got to see him as the actual closer.

Givens posted a lower Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) in 2018 at 3.07, down from 3.72 the season before. No doubt, a big improvement in homer rate helped here. He yielded 1.1 homers per nine innings in 2017 and 0.5 this season.

Over the past three seasons, Givens has been throwing his four-seam fastball more and his slider less. Four-seam usage was 63 percent in 2016, 71 percent the next year and 77 percent in 2018. In those three seasons, his slider usage decreased from 30 to 20 to 14 percent. But as he pitched better late in the year, he used the slider more, at 22 percent in August and 17 percent in September.

After the trades of Britton, O’Day and Brad Brach, Givens said he was ready to embrace a bigger leadership role to fill the void left by the big three.

“Being around guys like Darren put me in the best position, (along with) Zach Britton and Brad. I wish the best for them. They’re in a good spot. At the same time, they passed the torch to me, and I’ll try to be a leader now,” Givens said during an August interview.

Givens is valuable to the Orioles. He has three years of team control left, so the team can keep him as a key bullpen piece for that long, at least. That team control also makes him desirable to other teams that might part with something the Orioles like, should the new management team dangle him as trade bait.

The Orioles’ minor league staff, led by director of player development Brian Graham, did a good job in developing a late-inning pitcher here. Givens was drafted in round two in 2009 as a shortstop and played short on the farm for three seasons. The organization slowly broke him in on the mound and now has a mid-90s pitcher who uses a nasty slider at times to get hitters out in key spots.

Givens went 18-3 with a 2.75 ERA from 2015 through 2017. He didn’t win a game in 2018, but his strong finish and willingness to embrace a bigger leadership role re-established him, in case there were any doubters.

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