Brad Brach - Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher
Image Credit: Keith Allison

Welcome to Overreaction Of The Week, my over the top, uninhibited, Baltimore sports-fan takes on this week’s Orioles activity.

What Happened?

Before the season started, the Baltimore Orioles got some tough news: All Star closer, Zach Britton, tore his achilles tendon and would miss significant time. This was obviously a big blow to the Orioles, Britton was as shut-down as it gets in the ninth inning. The Orioles’ bullpen has been a major strength for several years now, but their true dominance coincided with Britton’s emergence as a front-line closer. Once he went down, without much discussion, the closer job was handed to set-up man, Brad Brach. So far, Brach has two saves and one blown save, and he may have blown another one if he was not the direct beneficiary of the now infamous 1-2-5 double play. He has been a little shaky overall, so is he built to be a closer? If not, who could take the mantle?

My Take

Brach has handled the setup man role admirably and even took over the closer role during Britton’s absence last year. In 2017, he recorded 18 saves, but blew six opportunities. In six appearances so far in 2018, he has consistently gotten himself into and out of trouble. He has only given up two runs, but has given up three hits and issued five walks in 5.2 innings. He is walking batters at a rate that he hasn’t approached since his rookie year in 2011. Allowing that many base runners is not typical of a closer, and more of those runners are likely to score going forward. In addition, Brach’s fastball velocity is down since last year, over 1.5 mph. That’s not a great sign for a guy that’s expected to shut the door whenever needed. It may just be a matter of time until one of the following guys has to step in, but who?

Mychal Givens

Givens has almost everything you want in a closer. He has a power fastball, good slider, and the physical and mental makeup to pitch in big situations on consecutive days. So, what’s the problem? Well, Givens can’t really get lefties out. Over his career, Givens has dominated right handed batters, but lefties have been a different story. His total OPS+ given up to left handed batters is 149, 49 points higher than lefties hit off the average right handed pitcher. That means opposing teams could load up with lefty pinch hitters in the ninth to make Givens’ job very difficult. While he may get there in the future, closing down games is not the place for Givens right now.

Miguel Castro

The Orioles toyed with converting Castro into a starter this offseason. Though that didn’t work out because of his rocky Spring Training, Castro could be a dark horse candidate to take over the closer role. Much like Givens, he has an electric fastball, he’s throwing it an average of 97.1 mph and is getting swinging strikes on 11.7% of them, a career-high for now. He also has the secondary pitches that made the Orioles believe he could be a starter, so they could certainly play as closer stuff. Castro also has bad splits against lefties and does not perform particularly well on the road, which is tough to trust late in the game. I don’t think Castro is the best fit here either. His stuff is good enough to extend for a few innings and provide value in that way and I’m not giving up on the whole starter plan yet.

Darren O’Day

O’Day is the longest tenured pitcher in the Orioles’ bullpen. He has pitched in countless big moments and has been a big reason for the Orioles’ recent success. However, since his All Star season in 2015, he hasn’t been quite the same. He was injured in 2016, but made 64 appearances last season. 2016 and 2017 showed a drastic increase in O’Days walks and runs allowed. He walked a career-high 24 batters, gave up a career-high of 23 earned runs, and even gave up a career-high eigh home runs. An advanced stat I like to look at is the percentage of pitches hit that Baseball Info Solutions considers Hard Hit balls. Though I can’t provide an exact formula and threshold because it’s Baseball Information Solution’s proprietary info, O’Day allowed hard contact on 32.9% and 31.4% of pitches in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Compare that to 20.5% and 17.4% in in 2014 and 2015, the regression is fairly clear. While O’Day is still a serviceable late inning reliever, I’m not sure he’s the guy I want out there in the ninth at this point.

The Overreaction

Hold your horses everyone, Brach is the going to be the guy maybe even after Britton initially returns. Even though his walks are up, so are his strikeouts. Despite the walks, he is striking out 14.29 batters per 9 innings rate. Also, the weather has been very cold, and as it warms up, I expect Brach’s velocity to bounce back. He is leaning a little harder on his turbo change up, as Mike Bordick calls it, and is seeing great success as batters continue to swing and miss. Brach has the most established closer pedigree on the roster, and could be working towards a closer-type contract once his deal in Baltimore is up, or if he’s traded. Orioles fans may need to find some more ways to keep their blood pressure down, because Brad Brach is going to be our closer for the foreseeable future.

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