by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The news that Zach Britton suffered a ruptured Achilles, sidelining him for at least four months (and likely more), obviously will lead to a change at closer in Baltimore. It’s a change that may have come anyways, with trade rumors swirling, but now the team’s hand has been forced at least for the beginning of the year. The logical option would be Brad Brach, who thrived in the role a year ago, but can he do the job long-term? Is there another option who could emerge?
He posted a 3.18 ERA and went 18 for 24 in save opportunities last season. That said, the actual skill set did leave some questions
42.4% groundball rate
It hasn’t been an issue yet, but he is not a groundball specialist and could easily struggle with home runs (especially pitching in Baltimore). More important, though, was a drop in his strikeout rate (10.10 or better each of the previous two seasons) and a step backwards in his control.
Of course the walks may not be a big surprise, given his history:
- 2015 – 4.31
- 2016 – 2.85
- 2017 – 3.44
The significant regression came in the second half, with a 4.55 BB/9 helping him to ERA north of 4.00 over the final two months. Considering the potential for the walks to continue, as well as the home run risk, Brach is hardly a given to lock down the role.
Over the past three seasons Givens has shown the ability to generate strikeouts (10.90 K/9) and avoid walks (3.29 BB/9). It appeared that he forfeited some strikeouts (10.07) for control (2.86) last season, a decision no one will likely find fault with.
Like Brach he doesn’t generate many groundballs (42.6%), so it is possible he struggles with the long ball. That said, you can argue that the other skills make him a better fit. Of course he struggled with his control coming up through the minor leagues (4.2 BB/9) and had similar struggles in 2016 (4.3).
Maybe he made some progress and changed his approach, but that’s hardly a given and there’s clearly some risk.
The veteran hasn’t been quite as effective over the past two seasons and has generally been hit harder by left-handed hitters (career SLG)
- vs. LHH – .413
- vs. RHH – .285
That could make him more of a matchup play then an end game option.
Unfortunately none of the options are perfect and any one of them could struggle if thrust into the role (and they also are likely more of a short-term solution, depending on Britton’s recovery). Brach has proven he can do it before and therefore will likely get the first opportunity, but chances are this devolves into a committee before long. Target Brach first and stash Givens, just in case, but neither of them should be considered top targets.
Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference
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