The bullpen is often overlooked when a team is successful, yet quickly blamed when a team fails to secure tight wins. So when a talented reliever comes along, it’s wise to take notice and give him his due. Justin Gorman takes a look at Baltimore Orioles reliever Mychal Givens.
The Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox have been battling for possession of first place in the American League East for most of the first half of 2016. As of June 21, the Orioles hold a one-game lead on the Sox – a level of success that is owed, in no small part, to the fact that Baltimore’s offense is pulverizing the ball to the tune of a major-league leading 107 HRs.
The O’s can also attribute part of their success to their ace, Chris Tillman, who is putting up very strong numbers to begin the year, as well as their absolutely dominant closer, Zach Britton. However, one unsung hero on this Orioles team is setup man Mychal Givens.
Givens was originally drafted by Baltimore in the second round of the 2009 draft as a two-way prospect out of H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, FL. He spent the 2010-2012 seasons trying to find relevance as a middle infielder, but failed to progress past the single-A Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League. His final season as a position player was a constant struggle, as he put up a .243/.330/.306 line in 388 plate appearances, adding 13 stolen bases.
After spending the beginning of the 2013 season converting from shortstop to relief pitcher, Givens debuted with the familiar Shorebirds with, putting up a 4.22 ERA and 1.242 WHIP over 42 2/3 innings of work. The Orioles saw enough during that small sample to promote him to High-A Frederick to begin 2014, and he found his way to Double-A Bowie by the summer.
He began 2015 in Bowie, where he began to flash dominant numbers on his way to taking over the closer’s role – in 57 1/3 innings, Givens posted a 1.73 ERA and 0.942 WHIP, while striking out 79 batters, good for a 12.4 K/9 rate. His success in AA earned him a June 2015 cup of coffee to the big leagues for one lonely appearance, after which he was optioned back to Bowie, where he was named to the Eastern League All-Star game. Givens was recalled to Baltimore on July 31, 2015, where he would remain with seemingly no growing pains as he : Givens struck out 38 batters in 30 IP (11.4 K/9) with a 1.80 ERA and a WHIP of 0.867 WHIP.
Mychal Givens relies on a mid-90s four-seam fastball and a mid-80s slider as his primary two pitches, according to Brooks Baseball, with his four-seamer described as possessing “heavy sinking action, generat[ing] a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ four-seamers.” Sure enough, out of all data for 2016 thus far, Givens ranks 38th out of 224 eligible pitchers (minimum of 200 pitches), generating whiffs on 24.87% of swings with his four-seamer. It is worth noting, his four-seamer is delivered with authority, and at a very high velocity relative to the low arm angle:
His numbers this year have continued to reflect his ability to strike batters out in large volumes – to date, Givens has struck out 45 in 33 1/3 innings (12.2 K/9), with a 2.70 ERA. His WHIP has notably increased to 1.410, in large part due to some lapses in control – he has walked 17 batters (2 intentionally), which equates to a concerning 4.6 BB/9 rate.
Barring some sort of unforeseen injury to or collapse by Britton, Givens will not be seeing many save opportunities in Baltimore anytime soon. That being said, he continues to validate the Orioles’ decision to convert him from a position player to pitcher. At the age of 26, Mychal Givens needs to focus on reducing his walk rate and continue mowing down batters in huge numbers – he has shown that he is very capable of throwing strikes. If he is able to accomplish both of these things, he has the arsenal to become a major-league closer in relatively short order. For now, he solidifies the setup crew ahead of a dominant closer for the first-place Orioles. Considering his circuitous route to the majors, that’s an excellent start to what could be a promising career.
Justin Gorman has written about manager tirades, baseball contracts, an illegal delivery, and the case for expansion.
Follow Justin on Twitter @j1gorman.