03 May 2017

Do the Orioles Have a Bullpen Problem Brewing?

The bullpen has, since 2012, been a constant for the Orioles. From 2012-2016, it ranked second in fWAR, third in ERA, tenth in FIP, and first in wins, and fifth in innings pitched. Those are obviously stellar numbers, and the consistency of the pen is, without question, one of the biggest reasons that the Orioles posted the most wins in the American League during that time period.

This season, however, the bullpen has been much more pedestrian. While it once again leads baseball in victories with 8, the pen finds itself out of the top 10 in all the statistics in which they had previously been dominant. To be fair, much of this decline is directly related to last weekend's series against the Yankees. In 16 innings, the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs and potentially gave away two crucial early season victories. As a result, Vidal Nuno and Logan Verrett were sent down, and the O's once again turned to Mike Wright as a fresh arm.

Some of this can surely be attributed to Zach Britton missing two weeks with an arm injury, but Britton himself looked pretty shaky in April. After an historic 2016, he has struggled out of the gate, posting an unsightly 1.857 WHIP and striking out two fewer batters per 9 innings than he did last season during the month of April. Brad Brach filled in admirably as closer, but even he had a meltdown on Friday night in a game in which the Orioles blew leads of 9-1 and 11-4. Britton came off the disabled list and pitched in a non-save situation against the Red Sox last night and did not look good again, giving up a walk and a hit (as well as getting the most bizarre triple play you'll ever see).

Now, it's not like the pen has been bad, but there are potentially a few warning signs. The bullpen is collectively walking over 4 hitters per 9, nearly a full walk per 9 more than 2012-2016. Of greater concern, though, has to be the two year decline of Darren O'Day. After 4 brilliant seasons that earned him a $31 million deal, O'Day has dealt with injuries and struggled to a 4.25 ERA, 4.31 FIP, and 1.323 WHIP in his last 42 innings pitched.

Certainly, the Orioles have other good options, though Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart also struggled last night against the Red Sox, but the bullpen without a dominant O'Day has less room for error than in previous seasons. The encouraging signs for the O's are that the pen is still elite at limiting hard contact and stranding baserunners, which at this point seems to be an innate skill for all Orioles pitchers, and the fact that they are very stingy with the home run ball. It seems likely that Britton will return to being an elite pitcher (assuming he is healthy) and that the recent implosions will not become the norm. Hopefully.


Roger said...

Too early to panic.

Mr. Diggz said...

Givens has been stellar this year; he has improved each season. Donnie Hart is looking like the reliable lefty specialist the O's have been searching for and Brach looks as good as ever if you take away one inning against NY. O'Day isn't a big concern for me at this point but Britton will be if his struggles continue.

Philip said...

Who I see most likely to be a reliable step-up?
Wilson, Wright, Ynoa, Lee, Nuno and probably Verrett haven't proven to be anything.
I still have hope for Aquino, but beyond them, who?

Philip said...

That was a typo:
"Who is most likely to be a reliable step-up?"

Joe Wantz said...

Definitely too early to panic, and Givens has generally been good. Still, there have been times where his velocity has been down (another potential worry).

Roger said...

Givens has always had some trouble with stranding runners, but he's been the most reliable option so far.