There’s a pitcher you might not have ever heard of. Or maybe you have heard of him, but you haven’t thought about him much. He did spend a chunk of last year in the major leagues, and now, let me explain him to you, using a series of facts.
The pitcher threw his fastball about as hard as Andrew Miller, and he also threw strikes about as often as Andrew Miller. He worked in the zone about as much as David Price, yet hitters didn’t like to swing at those pitches. He walked batters around the same rate as Corey Kluber, but he struck batters out around the same rate as Jake McGee, because he had a lower contact rate than Jose Fernandez, and a comparable swinging-strike rate to Noah Syndergaard. That’s how you wind up with a K-BB% like Dellin Betances, an ERA- like Zack Greinke, an FIP- better than Aroldis Chapman, and an xFIP- like Kenley Jansen. Last year, 476 pitchers threw at least 25 innings. The mystery pitcher performed as one of the very, very best.
He yielded the 18th-lowest batting average. Also the ninth-lowest OBP, and the 44th-lowest slugging percentage, despite working in the American League and in a hitter-friendly environment. So he gave up the 17th-lowest OPS. All these numbers are based on a pretty small sample. Yet all these numbers are impossibly encouraging.
When I was in Nashville for the winter meetings, I found myself walking around the hotel with a member of a front office, and when we got to talking about the reliever market, he mentioned an Orioles pitcher he likes quite a bit. It’s not that the pitcher is available; it’s that the pitcher is underrated, because at present, the pitcher is under-known. The Orioles, for their part, know all about him. The Orioles’ whole organization probably loves him. You know their bullpen for containing Zach Britton and Darren O’Day. You should get ready to know it for also including Mychal Givens.
There are reasons why Givens doesn’t have any hype. He was never a big prospect, and he has just 22 games under his belt. He pitched for a .500 ballclub, and he worked mostly in the middle innings. Middle-inning relievers don’t generate hype. Even Kelvin Herrera was fairly unknown until he got in front of the postseason spotlight, and Herrera’s fastball can tickle triple digits.
But I’ve already told you about Givens’ statistics. Every single indicator points in a positive direction. He’s coming off baseball’s second-best adjusted FIP. Also baseball’s seventh-best adjusted xFIP. The numbers are backed up by what he did in the minor leagues. For all their assorted flaws or mediocrities, the Orioles are shaping up to have another phenomenal bullpen.
Another thing about Givens: he throws like this.
That gives him a bit of funk, which is a more enjoyable way to say “deception.” But Givens isn’t just your ordinary right-handed side-armer — Eno has written about this, but Givens has a way of still getting on top of the baseball. So he throws side-arm, but with something more like three-quarters movement. As you can guess, Givens is brutal on righties. He’s been fine enough against lefties. This is what his offspeed pitches can look like:
There’s one more thing about Givens, too. His arm slot is kind of a giveaway. He was drafted in 2009 as a shortstop, and he didn’t switch to pitching until 2013. He was selected in the same round as — and ahead of — Nolan Arenado, Steven Matz, Billy Hamilton, and Jason Kipnis. Givens’ background as a shortstop explains the way he throws, and the fact that he throws hard. And Givens’ newness to pitching explains his 2015 breakout. Before this past year, Givens was just one of countless live but wild arms. Then something clicked.
In 2014, of all the pitchers with at least 50 innings in the minor leagues, Givens ranked in the 12th percentile in K-BB%. This past year, of all the pitchers with at least 50 innings in the minor leagues, Givens ranked in the 99th percentile in K-BB%. He led all the pitchers in Double-A and Triple-A, dropping from 23 walks in 25.1 innings to 16 walks in 57.1 innings. His strike rate, of course, took off, and it took his strikeout rate with him. It’s also worth noting that Givens seems to have gained a couple miles per hour on all his pitches since 2014 fall ball.
And there are Givens’ major-league numbers. We’ve covered those.
Even when Givens was wild, he was tough to hit. He was wild in 2013, but he allowed a .290 slugging percentage. He was wild in 2014, but he allowed a .250 slugging percentage. He wasn’t wild at all in 2015, and he allowed a .265 slugging percentage, between the minors and the majors. Now he knows where his pitches are going, and with his strange delivery and his strange movement, he almost always has hitters on the defensive. The raw quality of the stuff is good, independent of the rest of the picture. Add in location and funk, and you have a guy who’s quietly lined up to help an excellent relief corps.
Sure, he’s likely to own a wide platoon split, even if a bit less wide than the typical side-armer. And sure, as Givens is leaned on more often, he’ll face more lefties, and he could be at least partially exposed. He’ll always be stronger against righties; he might always be a nightmare for righties. He’s not a perfect reliever, and he’ll probably never again finish No. 2 in all of baseball in adjusted FIP. That’s Chapman-level good, and you should always bet against someone being Chapman-level. Yet odds are, earlier today, you barely knew a thing about Mychal Givens. The Orioles know plenty. Their 2016 opponents will learn.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.