The Yankees could use some help edifying their snake-bitten pen after injuries to relievers Tommy Kahnle (Tommy John surgery), Zach Britton (hamstring strain), and now Luis Avilán (left shoulder inflammation) as we approach the latter half of this 100-yard dash of a season. They desperately need a reasonably priced arm or two to provide the middle-to-late innings link between a depleted rotation and Aroldis Chapman.
After some predictable regression following their hot start, the Orioles have dropped seven of their last ten, and look more like the tire fire we’re used to seeing play at Camden Yards. As the team’s fallen to fourth in the American League East, it might be about time to start selling off assets with little hope of any legitimate playoff run. The only worthwhile asset in the Orioles’ bullpen, Mychal Givens, might be just what the Yankees are looking for.
Though Givens has never been one of the MLB’s best arms, he’s been consistently well above average since joining the AL East’s Junior Varsity team in 2015. Over his six years in the majors, he’s posted an ERA of 3.31, with a 3.39 FIP that backs it up. One qualm is his mediocre 31st percentile walk rate, but his 91st percentile strikeout rate more than makes up for it. Givens derives success from the most reliable tool any pitcher can have: a great fastball.
Since the start of the 2019 season, Mychal Givens’s fastball has been the 54th most valuable per 100 pitches. The 94.5 MPH pitch is faster than 72% of all pitchers’ fastballs, and he throws it about two thirds of the time. Though he’s not among baseball’s hottest flamethrowers, he has a discrete set of skills that make his fastball one of the harder ones to hit. Like Josh Hader, Givens has an unusually low release point, especially for someone who throws so hard. Among all relievers, Givens has the 17th lowest release point, but among those pitchers, only three throw harder. Max Muncy explained the difficulty of hitting Hader due to his release point, “When he’s releasing the ball, it’s almost underneath his armpit, and so when he has a high-spin fastball from that angle, it really does look like it’s coming from the ground up.”
Givens doesn’t throw as hard as Hader, but among relievers, he has the 50th greatest average spin rate on the pitch, and the 70th best average perceived velocity. Further, Givens’s fastball’s arm-side run is better than 70% of the league. So far this season, opposing batters have hit only .167 against Givens’s fastball, and posted a meager .265 wOBA. Combining his velocity, arm angle, extension to the plate, spin rate, and movement adds up to a fastball that’s a whole lot harder to hit than the 94.5 MPH sticker price.
Mychal Givens’s complementary pitches aren’t anything to write home about, but since he throws his fastball about two-thirds of the time, they’re fine as just that — complimentary. The final third of Givens’s pitches are split between a solid slider and serviceable changeup, mostly used to keep hitters off balance and prevent them from sitting on his fastball. However, he’s comfortable attacking hitters with the fastball in all counts. This season, 47 of the 66 pitches Givens has thrown in two-strike counts have been fastballs, leading to 11 of his 14 strikeouts.
This chart of all of Givens’s strikeouts in 2020 shows his proclivity for leaning on his deceptive fastball to strike batters out. Here he is putting away the Yankees’ own Luke Voit on that very pitch:
Voit is more than a couple ticks late on the Givens heater due to it’s aforementioned sneaky speed. His explosive fastball is particularly tough on righties, as the ball tails into their hands instead of back into the zone — as it would a lefty. Traditionally, Givens has pitched better to right-handed hitters, last year posting a 3.18 ERA against righties compared to a 6.94 ERA against lefties. Though it’s a small sample size, he’s actually had more success against lefties than righties this season. Occam’s razor suggests Givens is more effective against righties than lefties, but will find more success against lefties than he did in 2019 moving forwards.
Regardless of his potential struggles against opposite-handed hitters, the Yankees should be able to avoid them were they to acquire him. Replacing Tommy Kahnle’s role as the second right-handed arm out of the pen (after Chad Green), the club could use him primarily against righties, with Britton (when he’s back from the 10-day IL) in charge of non-save situation lefty innings. Acquiring Mychal Givens, and his consistently devastating fastball, would restore the one glaring hole in the Yankees’ perennially turbocharged pen.