If he made a list of goals for the 2019 season, avoiding any arbitration hearings would be well down the list for Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. But it’s nice anyway for the first-year GM to avoid hearings and he will accomplish that after reaching agreements with three arbitration-eligible players yesterday.
After going 18-3 with a 2.75 ERA in his first three seasons in the majors, Givens didn’t post numbers quite as a strong last year, but he finished the year on a real roll. For the season, the right-hander went 0-7 with a 3.99 ERA. His walk rate increased from 2.9 to 3.5 per nine innings and his strikeout rate dropped from 10.1 to 9.3. But he posted a solid WHIP at 1.187, allowed just 7.2 hits and 0.5 homers per nine, and posted a .218 batting average against.
Givens produced a very strong finish to the 2018 season. It was one that went under the radar as team losses mounted, as did speculation of coming management changes. But opposing batters got but one hit off Givens in his last 11 games.
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 those 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 a .111 average against. Over 24 innings, he gave up nine hits and six walks with 21 strikeouts.
His slider usage has decreased from 30 percent in 2016, to 20 percent in 2017 and 14 percent last year, when he threw his four-seamer 77 percent of the time. But Givens’ strong finish did include more use of the slider, at 22 percent in August and 17 percent in September.
He is probably the closer of both the present and at least the near future for the Orioles. He went 9-for-13 in save chances, but was better after the July trades, going 8-for-10. This was his first year becoming arbitration-eligible and he is under team control for three more seasons.
Villar played in 54 games as an Oriole after the trade with Milwaukee that brought him to Camden Yards. He hit .258/.336/.392 with four doubles, eight homers, 24 RBIs and an OPS of .729. Villar made about two-thirds of his starts at second base, but could also wind up at shortstop next season.
Villar did add energy to the Orioles lineup and they became a much more active basestealing team with Villar batting at or near the top of the lineup.
The Orioles stole 32 bases in all of 2017 to rank last in the majors. They added Villar and then, in the last two months of the 2018 season, stole 43 bases. Villar had almost half of them, going 21-for-24. Before the All-Star break, the Orioles had 36 steals - which already exceeded their 2017 total - but that rated just 12th-best in the American League. After the break, they stole 45 to rank fifth in the AL. Villar and Cedric Mullins could provide the Orioles offense both speed and base-stealing capability at the top of the lineup.
In an interview late last year, Villar spoke of morphing the Orioles into a “speed team.” He also talked about a success rate of 87.5 percent stealing bases, well up from 74.2 percent in 2017.
“I’m under more control, and I think about who is catching and who is pitching and in what situation we can run,” Villar said. “What count we can run in? Also, what count the pitcher may throw a changeup or breaking ball, making it easier to steal the base than with a fastball.”
Bundy is a pitcher we wrote about recently in this entry, so we’ll write less today. He went 8-16 with a 5.45 ERA in 31 starts. While he set career highs in innings, strikeouts, strikeout rate and starts, he also set career highs in homers allowed with 41 and tied for the major league lead in losses.
He needs a bounceback season in 2019 and might get it simply because he may have hampered by a left ankle injury in the second half of the 2018 season. That injury happened in late June and then he went 2-9 with a 7.61 ERA in 15 starts in July through September. Before that, he was 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA in June and allowed two homers in 27 1/3 innings. In 16 starts from April through June, Bundy was 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA.
Two pitches that betrayed Bundy on the stat sheet were his curveball and changeup. In 2017, he allowed a batting average of .167 and slugging percentage of .381 on his curve. Last season, those numbers were .419 and .645. Off his changeup in 2017, he yielded an average of .229 and slugging of .419. In 2018, those numbers jumped to .361 and .733.