For Brad Brach and Orioles bullpen, smallest margins magnified in up-and-down season

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Orioles reliever Brad Brach's second inning of work on Tuesday night was a frustrating one, with two walks and a wild pitch that ended up the difference in their 1-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

It shows how tiny the difference is between success and its opposite for relievers, and overall, how thin that line has been for the Orioles' bullpen this year.

Brach, one of the team's top four relievers, has as thin a separation between this year's performance and last year's, and that's made a big impact on the perception of his year.

The chief difference, obviously, is his ERA, which rose to 2.60 after Tuesday. He ended 2016 at 2.05, but that was only really because he was charged with four runs on the second-to-last day of the season. However, his peripheral stats haven't changed too much.

Brach's WHIP is 1.066, up slightly from 1.038. The drop in his strikeout rate from 10.5 per nine innings to nine per nine, plus the small spike in walk rate from 2.8 per nine to 3.2, account for some of the difference in baserunners, and his home run rate is also up slightly.

But consider his role as deputy closer with Zach Britton out for over two months, and the general overuse the Orioles relievers were subjected to because of the injury and the long stretches with a six-man bullpen, and there's an unrealistic divide in perception between Brach this year and Brach last year.

Same goes for Mychal Givens, whose 2.84 ERA is better than last year's 3.13 ERA, even if the rate stats behind them are similar. He's striking out batters less often (11.6 per nine in 2016 to 10.1 this year), but his WHIP is also down to 1.068 from 1.272. Yet some recent results are spoiling the perception of his season, along with some recent issues with inherited runners.

Darren O'Day is in similar spot, with early usage issues and shoulder soreness clouding that he's posted a 1.29 ERA since August began and lowered his ERA to 3.59. It's Britton whose year has the biggest statistical year-over-year difference, though there's also possibility for a major gulf between the greatest year a reliever has ever had and one that includes a lengthy absence from arm injury.

However it's spliced, though, the Orioles reliance on their bullpen to mask over other things puts a strain on the top tier of that group that means even the smallest difference in performance can mean a big change in the team's fortunes.

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