Six years ago today, the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres made a trade that greatly worked out in favor of the Orioles.
The 2019 season has been over for nearly two months now for the Baltimore Orioles, but just thinking about last season’s bullpen still gives me heartburn. It was a brutal year from a positional unit that will look to rebound in 2020 behind young arms such as Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate. But it wasn’t always that way in Baltimore.
As a unit, the Orioles bullpen was worth 0.4 Wins Above Replacement in 2019, according to Fangraphs. They were tied with the Seattle Mariners for the third-worst mark in the majors, behind the Colorado Rockies (0.2) and the Miami Marlins (-2.2). Remember when the Orioles bullpen was good?
From 2012-2016, the recent run of glory for the Baltimore Orioles, then-manager Buck Showalter‘s bullpen recorded a league-high 262 saves and was worth a combined 26.5 fWAR, good for second place behind the Kansas City Royals (29.9).
A good chunk of that value came from one reliever in particular, RHP Brad Brach. In fact, it was on this day in 2013 when the Baltimore Orioles traded away minor league pitcher Devin Jones to the San Diego Padres for a 27-year-old Brach. The trade turned out to be a fantastic deal for the Orioles.
Jones, a ninth-round pick out of Mississippi State, went 4-3 with a 7.23 ERA in nine appearances for the San Antonio Missions (Padres Double-A affiliate at the time), elected free agency after the season, and re-joined the Orioles on a minor league deal. He would make three appearances with the Frederick Keys before officially retiring from the game.
Brach, on the other hand, went on to pitch for nearly five seasons out of the Orioles bullpen before being traded at the 2018 deadline to the Atlanta Braves.
During that time, Brach made 288 appearances with the Orioles, compiling a 27-15 record, 2.99 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 32 saves.
Brach made an immediate impact, going 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA in his first season with Baltimore and continued to trend upwards over the next two years, resulting in a trip to the 2016 All-Star game.
In 2015, Brach appeared in 62 games, lowering his ERA to 2.72 and increasing his strikeout rate from 7.8 whiffs per game to 10.1 strikeouts per game. He would continue to better those numbers in 2016.
A 10-4 record, 2.05 ERA, career-low 1.04 WHIP, and a career-high 10.5 K/9 IP across 71 games led to his first and only All-Star appearance in 2016. The then 30-year-old had reached the peak of his career with the Orioles. The following season, Brach was moved into the closer’s role and put together another season and a half of solid outings, but was unable to replicate his success.
He would go on to finish his Orioles career with a 5-7 record, 29 saves, an ERA approaching 4.00 and would see his hits per game rise from 6.8 to 11.5, his strikeout rate fall from 10.5/9 IP to 8.6/9 IP, while his walk rate ballooned from 2.8/9 IP in his All-Star season to 3.4 in 2017 and 4.4 in 2018.
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Brach made a strong finish to the 2018 season with Atlanta, going 1-2 with a 1.52 ERA in 27 outings, but struggled in 2019 as he split his time between the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets. The former Oriole went 5-4 with a 5.47 ERA and a career-high 5.1 BB/9 IP rate.
Now 33, Brach is a free agent, but after a rough outing with the Chicago, he rebounded well with New York, likely a positive sign that he shouldn’t have many issues in landing another gig in 2020.