Trade talks are fluid. Sometimes, a deal materializes in a short span, but often teams are discussing potential players and terms for weeks or months. It might take years of coveting a player before one lands that elusive piece.
That’s why I’m bringing up Mychal Givens. The Yankees reportedly pursued a deal for the right-handed reliever at the deadline in 2019, so the idea that they would try to carry out a trade for him now makes some sense.
Givens was a second-round pick all the way back in 2009, but the Orioles selected him as a position player, though his possessed two-way talent in high school. Baltimore and Givens tried to make it work for him as a middle infielder for three seasons before converting him to the mound. From there, it took 2 1/2 seasons to reach the Majors.
For the next three years, Givens was immediately a key cog in Buck Showalter’s bullpen. He consistently tossed 70+ innings a season and rewarded the O’s with performances only outdone by the likes of Zack Britton and Darren O’Day.
The right-hander, however, hasn’t kept up over the last two seasons. He’s gone from ERA+’s consistently above 130 to just above-average despite a mostly static pitch mix. That he still drew trade interest in a down season gives a sense of what another team or season can unlock from him.
Since the start of the 2016 season, his first full year in the bigs, he’s 18th among relievers in fWAR. His 39th of 257 qualified RPs in strikeout rate and is seventh in FanGraphs’ fastball metric, wFB, just behind Aroldis Chapman.
In that same span, he’s thrown 293 innings, only eclipsed by Yusmeiro Petit and Brad Hand. He threw over 70 innings each year from 2016-18 and still surpassed 60 in 2019. Turning 30 in May, he’s been able to absorb innings, perhaps in part due to a lack of wear and tear as a converted infielder.
Here’s a rundown of his dominant 2015-17:
- fWAR: 3.3 (24th of 186)
- ERA: 2.75 (28th)
- FIP: 3.23 (41st)
- K-Rate: 29.8% (27th)
And here’s his lesser, but still OK, 2018-19
- fWAR: 2.4 (22nd out of 136)
- ERA: 4.25 (101st)
- FIP: 3.71 (60th)
- K-Rate: 28.6% (36th)
As you can see, his ERA and FIP went from good to merely average. Already a flyball pitcher, his walks and strikeouts spiked in 2019, but the key was home runs. He posted a career-worst 1.9 HR/9 while allowing 13 in 63 innings.
Given the closer role after Britton was traded to the Bronx, Givens lost the job in 2019 after blowing too many saves, including this one to the Yankees.
Yeah, maybe don’t leave a fastball on the inner half for El Gary.
The home runs are tough to square until you look at some of the Statcast data. While his velocity remained steady, as did his high-spin while his K-rate jumped from 2018 to ’19, his exit velocity against went from 92nd to 34th percentile year to year. His batted ball numbers have fluctuated year-by-year — such is the life of a reliever — but this was a noticeable dip that was more extreme for the righty.
Some of that may be from fastball location, which I’ll get into below, but he also allowed batters to barrel up his pitches 11 percent of the time when put into play, in the bottom five percent league-wide.
His problems were amplified against left-handed batters. Givens has had a noticeable platoon split in his career, but that grew in 2019. He sported a .587 OPS against RHBs vs. a .930 OPS against lefties.
Givens also had a significant split home and away, becoming more effective away from Camden Yards. The split was larger than previous seasons, though he’s been better a suppressing power on the road in his career.
Even though he had a down year, there’s still plenty to like in his profile, whether it’s his ability to miss bats or the high-spin, high-velocity fastball that he totes.
Givens’ repertoire starts and ends with his fastball. A mid-90s four-seamer, he throws the pitch over 70 percent of the time and uses it as both his get-me-over pitch and out-pitch when he wants. The spin rate on the pitch went slightly up in 2019 — from 2,372 to 2,383 rpm — though that dropped in percentile from 81st to 77th.
The issue is that he leaves the fastball over the plate. As you can see below, his fastballs are often over the plate and perhaps too much.
Right-handed batters swung and missed at his fastball more often in 2019, while lefties were able to square it up more frequently. In fact, left-handed batters had a 92.1 average exit velocity against the fastball, which he throws about two-thirds of the time against them.
Givens chooses between two offspeed offerings: A slider for right-handed batters and a changeup for southpaws. Both pitches live primarily out of the zone and sit in the mid-to-upper 80s.
The slider went down in spin rate and became a more average option but maintained similar results as his go-to pitch against righties when playing off his heater. As you would expect, he locates it almost exclusively at or just below the bottom of the strike zone.
The changeup, meanwhile, is located similarly, though often further away from lefty batters, and was one positive amid a weaker season for Givens.
The Yankees are known for working with pitchers to adopt more offspeed pitches. If they acquire Givens, the Bombers could try to sharpen up his slider and changeup in an effort to give hitters something else to adjust against when facing him. Both pitches already have 8-10 mph of difference from his fastball.
Givens has been remarkably healthy in the Major Leagues, particularly considering his accumulation of innings over the last few seasons. He had surgery for a sprained thumb back in 2010 and missed 10 days last July around the All-Star break after a collision at home plate. He hasn’t need IL time.
Givens is under Orioles team control for another two seasons. After making $2.15 million last year in his first time through arbitration, he’s projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $3.2 million this time around. Between the team control and the cheaper price compared to top relievers on the free agent market, he should be in demand.
Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?
Certainly. The 2019 Yankees dominated with their bullpen and that remains largely intact for 2020 after Aroldis Chapman re-upped. However, the Bombers had planned on having Dellin Betances bolster that bullpen and he got two outs.
Adding an arm like Givens on a cheap contract would give the Bombers another workhorse arm to take the burden off their top five. Despite his down seasons, there’s plenty to work with in his profile, and the Yankees could unlock his slider as they’ve done for both Chapman and Britton.