23 March 2017

Darren O'Day: Underappreciated Relief Weapon

There are at least a few things about the Orioles that should have you excited for the upcoming season. In no particular order: Manny Machado, healthy versions of Chris Davis and Adam Jones, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy's first year as a full-time starter, a lineup that should hit plenty of dingers, Hyun Soo Kim's sophomore MLB season, and more. It's hard to top anything Machado does, but here's another big one: a bullpen that has a chance to be sensational.

Last year, the trio of Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens was outstanding. They should again be a nasty group to deal with. Britton put the finishing touches on one of the very best relief seasons of all time. Brach started out on fire and made the all-star team, although he slumped a bit in the second half. And Givens showed how useful he can be, especially if his numbers improve against left-handed batters.

Overall, the bullpen finished first in the American League in ERA (3.40), t-second in strand rate (77.3%), sixth in groundball rate (46.3%), and first in win probability added, all the while finishing just 11th best in strikeouts per nine and 12th best in walks per nine.

One of the most interesting things about the bullpen's outstanding performance in 2016 is they accomplished what they did without a healthy and effective Darren O'Day (though Bundy gave them a nice boost for a while). After throwing at least 62 innings in the previous four seasons, O'Day only threw half that in 2016 as he battled two injuries.

O'Day went on the disabled list in early June because of a strained right hamstring, and he wasn't activated until late July. Then in mid-August, he again headed to the disabled list, this time due to a strained right rotator cuff. Apparently O'Day tried to pitch through the pain, which understandably did not help. When he returned about a month later, he pitched a few more times and started to resemble the O'Day fans had come to expect. He appeared in the O's now infamous wild card loss to the Blue Jays, recording five outs while facing just four batters (thanks to this enormous double play).

There's almost no chance Britton can duplicate his truly amazing season, and maybe Brach will take a step backward as well. But if O'Day is anything close to his 2012-2015 self, the Orioles will have something special on their hands. In his injury-plagued 2016, O'Day posted a 3.77 ERA and a 4.57 FIP. Yet from 2012-2015, O'Day's ERA dropped every year (2.28, 2.18, 1.70, 1.52), and his RA/9 nearly did as well (2.28, 2.32, 1.83, 1.79).

Because he doesn't always post great strikeout rates and isn't a groundball-inducing machine, O'Day doesn't typically put up wonderful fielding pitching independent numbers. That's a large reason why in his first four years in Baltimore, Baseball-Reference has him worth nearly 10 wins above replacement, and FanGraphs pegs him closer to five. If you want to see just how amazing O'Day was in that time span, just look at the following table from Baseball-Reference's indispensable Play Index:

Rk Player ERA+
1Craig Kimbrel239250.2201220151.581.80.46233
2Koji Uehara227215.0201220151.842.34.51438
3Darren O'Day214263.0201220151.923.08.58059
4Aroldis Chapman206255.2201220151.901.74.48639
5Greg Holland184241.0201220152.242.09.56957
6Tony Watson166277.2201220152.243.05.57364
7Kelvin Herrera164282.1201220152.523.09.61970
8J.P. Howell164205.1201220152.243.55.61076
9Jonathan Papelbon163261.1201220152.383.03.59969
10Joaquin Benoit161257.2201220152.453.36.58663
11Brad Ziegler158276.2201220152.503.44.59567
12Kenley Jansen157259.1201220152.332.10.53655
13Huston Street155217.1201220152.323.51.58569
14Cody Allen152238.1201220152.642.73.63776
15Santiago Casilla150229.2201220152.393.67.61880
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/22/2017.

Some of the very best relievers in baseball are on that list. The Yankees just gave Aroldis Chapman $86 million over five years. Kenley Jansen received a contract for $6 million less over that same time frame. O'Day isn't in their class in terms overpowering the opposition and just reaching back and throwing the ball by hitters. But he gets outs -- plenty of them -- when he's healthy. That matters.

Before last season, the Orioles rewarded O'Day with a four-year, $31 million contract. So they clearly value his work. But you still get the sense that he's undervalued -- that Beyond The Box Score article linked above didn't even mention O'Day -- and even a bullpen that already projects to be excellent can use another relief weapon.

You can't predict health, and at 34 years old, O'Day is the eldest member of the O's relief options. Still, during an Orioles' spring training filled with frequent updates on injuries to players like Chris Tillman, Britton, J.J. Hardy, Seth Smith, Michael Bourn, and others, O'Day has fortunately been spared. If O'Day is indeed able to get back to his dominant, freewheeling, elevated-fastball and frisbee-slider-tossing ways, opposing batters will be in even more trouble against the Orioles in late-game situations.

Photo via Keith Allison


Anonymous said...

I appreciate this article showing exactly how good O'Day has been since coming to Baltimore, and he's been really good. Maybe at the national level, you're right (and maybe that was your point), but I don't think there's an Orioles fan who's been paying any kind of attention since 2012 that doesn't appreciate how good O'Day has been. Same with Brach. We got that guy for a bag of baseballs (that bag of baseballs was released by the Padres shortly thereafter). While you don't hear a lot about him in the national media because he's not the 9th inning guy, he's been really good for most of his stint here too.

We're really lucky to have had a consistently good bullpen, top to bottom, for 5 years running now, when typically, relievers are a team's most inconsistent group from year to year. If you're talking about national media, you could have written this same article about a number of Orioles relievers, some of whom are still on the team, and some who are not but who contributed significantly while they were here and didn't really get a lot of national media coverage.

Now let's hope O'Day doesn't stumble over the bullpen mound catching homerun balls.

Pip said...

The Giants just lost their closer-apparent. Aquino is planned for a starting gig, but
Have any of the potential BP arms shown enough potential to warrant investigating a trade of Brach to the Giants?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Yeah, the focus was more nationally. Probably should have made that more apparent.

Roger said...

I fibnd it interesting that we're calling O'Day underappreciated when very few of the Depot writers thought he should be re-signed and then indicated his contract was high. With the price of top relievers these days, O'Day's contract is looking a lot better.

Jon Shepherd said...

Those ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Matt Bennett said...

Doesn't always post great strike out rates? O'Day's K/9 rate since arriving in Baltimore: 9.8. By year: 9.3, 8.6, 9.6, 11.3, 11.0.
If that isn't great, what is? O'Day is a strikeout machine.

Jon Shepherd said...

Over 13 k/9 is great. You tend to see about 40 relief pitchers over 10 each year. About 10 over 13.

O'Day is not that.