Release point keys Givens' success, fits Cubs' unique 'pen

May 29th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian's Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Mychal Givens has always thrown from a lower arm slot. As a young Orioles prospect, he just fired baseballs from his unique angle while playing shortstop. It took a few years for Baltimore’s player-development group to send Givens to the mound.

“It was just natural for me,” Givens said of his release point.

Looking around the Cubs’ clubhouse -- now a veteran Major League reliever -- Givens sees similarities to his story in sidearmer Scott Effross. Givens switched to pitching in 2013 and reached the Majors in ’15. Effross made a career-saving change to a lower arm slot in ’19 and found his way to the Cubs’ bullpen by ’21.

More importantly, Givens sees a formula inside Chicago’s bullpen that has worked elsewhere in the reliever’s career. He pointed to the 2016 Orioles, who had the third-best relief ERA in baseball. They had a submariner in Darren O’Day, Givens throwing from the side, Brad Brach with a unique style, and Zack Britton, who threw from a higher slot, but with a lot of deception.

Varying looks and deceptive deliveries can be huge for a bullpen.

“You can ask all these hitters,” Givens said. “Yes, velo is really tough to hit, but I think it might have been a quote from Ted Williams: If you shoot a bullet in front of me, I'll figure a way to time it. If you have a guy throwing hard, but from the same arm slot, I think hitters can feel a little more comfortable.”

The Cubs’ current bullpen essentially covers the entire release-point spectrum.

Effross has the seventh-lowest release point among MLB relievers at 3.66 feet above the ground. Givens checks in at No. 20 at 4.59. For perspective, the MLB average release point is 5.82, per Statcast. On the other end of things, 6-foot-8 Chris Martin is slinging pitches from 6.12 feet above the ground. Lefty Sean Newcomb’s slot is even higher (6.42).

It’s a recipe that has helped the Cubs’ bullpen rank eighth in the National League in bullpen ERA (3.75), third in strikeout rate (27.9 percent), second in strikeout-minus-walk rate (19.3 percent) and third in left-on-base rate (75.8 percent).

“We have different guys that do different things,” Givens said. “And that was a great attribute of our bullpen and what I loved about it in 2016 with the Orioles. And I think we have that here. I think it's really impressive.”