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Givens and O’s bullpen hope to rebound in ‘20

@JoeTrezz
February 28, 2020

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Can the Orioles’ bullpen be better in 2020? Manager Brandon Hyde sure hopes so. So does every member of the relief corps that took as many lumps as any other bullpen in baseball last season. The reality is that almost every O’s reliever is a rebound candidate

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Can the Orioles’ bullpen be better in 2020? Manager Brandon Hyde sure hopes so. So does every member of the relief corps that took as many lumps as any other bullpen in baseball last season.

The reality is that almost every O’s reliever is a rebound candidate heading into 2020. But some appear more primed to take steps forward than others. Let’s crunch the numbers to identify some of those individuals:

RHP Mychal Givens
Age: 29
2019 Stats: 4.57 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 11 saves in 19 opportunities, 86 SO, 26 BB in 63 IP
One big number: 90.5 strand rate

A misconception about Givens’ career-worst 2019 season was that he’d enter messes and make them messier. That’s false. He was actually MLB’s fifth best reliever (min. 20 baserunners) at stranding inherited runners, largely fulfilling the fireman duties the Orioles envisioned for him.

The problem? That was far from his only role, as Givens was probably asked to wear too many hats as Baltimore’s only high-leverage reliever and was often stretched too far. Consider: Givens entered 16 games with runners on base, allowing those runners to score just once.

But he went on to surrender runs the following inning in four of those outings where he came in with runners on -- eight earned runs in 2 1/3 total innings. He loses a full run from his season ERA if he simply doesn’t come back out for a second inning of work, which having a healthy Hunter Harvey in the fold should require him to do less often this year.

LHP Tanner Scott
Age: 25
2019 Stats: 4.78 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 37 SO, 19 BB in 26 1/3 IP
One big number: 2.35 career BB/SO

Projection systems like PECOTA like Scott to break out this year, and everybody loves his stuff, from the high-spin, high-90s fastball to upper-80s wipeout slider. The trouble is knowing where it’s going. If he can figure that out, his 31 percent strikeout rate indicates he can be dominant.

“Everyone knows I walk too many people, so I’m definitely trying to cut down on the walks and attack hitters,” said Scott, who had a 16 percent walk rate last year. “It’s definitely not mechanical. I’d say it’s more about attitude, and, I guess, confidence. It wouldn’t be mechanical at all.”

RHP Miguel Castro
Age: 25
2019 Stats: 4.66 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 71 SO, 41 BB in 73 1/3 IP
One big number: .322 xwOBA on contact

Weighted-on-base average is an advanced metric meant to measure offense more comprehensively than batting average and other traditional stats. Expected wOBA attempts to estimate what that number should look like based on exit velocity, launch angle and, in some cases, the sprint speed of the batter. If you look at this number for when opposing hitters made contact, it paints a picture of how difficult or easy a certain pitcher is to square up.

Castro was not easy to square up in 2019. He was actually one of the most difficult in baseball, a testament to how well his stuff plays when he commands it. It also ticked up last season when Castro added 2 mph of average sinker velocity and bumped his K rate from 15 to 22 percent. The walk rate is still problematic, but if he can improve it, even marginally, he’s a clear breakout candidate.

RHP Cody Carroll
Age: 27
2019 Stats: 1.69 ERA, 16 SO, 7 BB in 10 2/3 IP
One big number: 0

Zero is the number of appearances Carroll made anywhere but the Gulf Coast or Arizona Fall League last year, given he missed almost the entire season with back problems. That makes him a relative unknown to the Orioles’ current front office and coaching staff, who arrived after Carroll was part of the July 2018 Zack Britton deal. He’s a 6-foot-5, 215-pound righty who lives 95-97 mph with his fastball and also features a power slider and splitter.

LHP Richard Bleier
Age: 32
2019 Stats: 5.37 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 30 SO, 8 BB in 55 1/3 IP
One big number: 60 percent ground ball rate

Bleier wasn’t fully healthy when he headed north with the Orioles out of camp last spring, then less than a year removed from a serious left lat surgery. He got off to a terrible start and found himself back on the IL by mid-April, then spent the rest of the summer trying to catch up. By the time Bleier finally felt fully right it was September, when he pitched to a 2.93 ERA in his final 12 appearances.

“The way I felt in September was the way I usually start feeling in June,” Bleier told MLB.com. “I would be extremely excited if I can pick up where I left off in September. I felt really good then. The stuff was really good. Everything seemed normal. The pitches I made were getting the results I was used to getting.”

Now after a winter training at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Bleier says he physically feels the way he did pre-surgery. He was one of MLB’s best-kept secrets before the injury, with a cumulative 1.97 ERA across 111 career appearances. The sinker-cutter specialist’s ground ball rate was actually higher last summer than pre-operation 2018, and ranked third among AL relievers with at least 50 innings. He also enjoyed his lowest xBA and xwOBA since Statcast began tracking.

The problem was Bleier didn’t miss enough bats to mitigate some serious misfortune on batted balls. He finished the year with the 16th biggest “unlucky” gap between BAA and xBAA, 14th-biggest slugging gap and 11th-biggest wOBA gap.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.