He still has the mid-90s fastball that can touch higher. He can still feature an at times devastating slider and solid changeup. He was still tough on right-handed batters this season and had a very strong stretch of games late in the year.
But the season didn’t end well for O’s reliever Mychal Givens. And in 2019, he posted career worsts in ERA, homers, homer rate and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). In 2019 he had the second-highest walk rate of his five years in the majors.
While O’s fans have seen Givens be mostly good since he first pitched for them in 2015, this past season saw some struggles in the ninth inning and enough inconsistency to take some air out of the talk that he is the team’s closer of the future.
Givens went 2-6 with a 4.57 ERA. Over 63 innings, he gave up 49 hits, including 13 homers, and 26 walks while recording 86 strikeouts. His WHIP was 1.190 and he yielded 7.0 hits per nine innings with 1.9 homers, 3.7 walks and 12.3 strikeouts. His strikeout rate was a career best.
Any struggles he had were not about overuse. He threw 74 2/3 or more innings each season from 2016-2018, and then 63 in 2019.
But he had shaky numbers at home, when pitching against lefty batters and when pitching in the ninth inning. He went 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA on the road, but just 1-4 with a 5.97 ERA and 2.1 homer rate at home. He gave up a slash line and OPS of .179./258/.329/.587 versus right-handed batters. Against lefties, that was .267/.352/.578/.930. In the eighth inning he had a 1.93 ERA and a .502 OPS against. When pitching in the ninth, he had a 6.69 ERA with an .870 OPS against.
This could lead us to think Givens is not closer material, but we probably need to see more to determine that. He looked like a future back-end ace his first three years, from 2015-2017, when he was 18-3 with a 2.75 ERA. The last two seasons he is 2-13 with a 4.25 ERA.
Those earlier years included better and deeper O’s bullpens and Givens was not featured as much. Since the trades of Zack Britton, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach, he’s taken on a bigger role on and off the field.
This past season he looked poised for a big finish. From June 26-Sept. 8 he posted a 2.28 ERA. Over 23 2/3 innings he allowed a .148 batting average. But then he pitched to an ERA of 8.64 after that and gave up some damaging late-inning homers late in the year.
Givens is under team control for two more years. He earned $2.15 million last season and MLBTradeRumors.com projects his 2020 salary at $3.2 million. He could be the subject of trade talks this winter. If he’s in Sarasota next spring, Givens will need to show the Orioles he is more like the pitcher of his first three seasons than the one we’ve seen the past two.