The trade of Manny Machado has left a hole in the hearts of Orioles fans everywhere. However, it signified the first step in the long-awaited rebuild that the club will be embarking on over the course of the next few seasons, hoping to get back into the competitive fold for the foreseeable future. It will be a busy offseason within the organization, as the status of the front office and coaching staff will be up in the air. The Orioles also hope to improve their technology, analytics, and scouting both domestically and internationally.
But for now, the focus is on the upcoming non-waiver trade deadline on July 31. As the Machado trade showed, the rebuilding process is sure to see many heartbreaking goodbyes of players who helped the ballclub back to relevance. The next player to be on the move seems to be closer Zach Britton.
ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Orioles have been “doing their business with alacrity,” and it seems as if the club would like to move him sooner rather than later. Various reports have linked teams such as the Cubs, Astros, Red Sox and Yankees, among others to the Orioles closer.
Britton was selected in the third round of the 2006 draft out of Weatherford High School in Texas. Throughout his time in the system, Britton was regarded as one of the top prospects in the Orioles system, being selected to the 2010 Futures Game and ranking as high as 28th on Baseball America’s top prospect list entering the 2011 season.
Britton got his first taste of the big leagues when he entered the Orioles rotation to begin the 2011 season. In his rookie campaign, Britton started 28 games, pitching to a 4.61 ERA and 2.0 fWAR. Over the next couple seasons, Britton saw less time in the rotation, and more time bouncing between the big-league club and AAA Norfolk.
Going into the 2014 season, there were questions as to whether or not Britton would make the big-league club, but between a solid spring and being out of options, Britton found a spot in the bullpen, and thus began the illustrious run as a reliever that we know him for today.
Britton quickly stepped into the closer role after the early season struggles of Tommy Hunter, and his presence was immediately seen in the backend of the bullpen. In that 2014 season, Britton saved 37 games, pitching to a 1.65 ERA and saw his groundball rate shoot up to 75.3%.
Britton’s bullpen success can be credited to his sinker, which was able to play up when he made the switch from the rotation to the late inning role. The sinker, which he throws over 90% of the time, according to Fangraphs, averaged 97.4 mph in his 2016 campaign. The combination of velocity and movement has made the pitch one of the most unhittable pitches in all of baseball.
Speaking of Britton’s 2016 campaign, the argument can be made that Britton tossed one of the greatest seasons by a reliever ever. The campaign saw Britton allow 4 earned runs all season, equating to a 0.54 ERA, while also saving 47 games, striking out 9.94 hitters per nine innings, and inducing ground balls at a rate of 80%. Britton finished the year with an fWAR of 2.5, while finishing 4th in American League Cy Young voting. Unfortunately, what many baseball fans will take from this unbelievable season is Britton being left in the bullpen in favor of Ubaldo Jimenez, as Edwin Encarnacion walked off the Orioles in the Wild Card Game.
Britton battled an arm injury last year, and then ruptured his Achilles working out this previous offseason, but he has seemed to be regaining form over his last eight outings. In those outings, Britton has not allowed an earned run in 8 innings with 6 strikeouts. His sinker has averaged a velocity of 95.2 mph according to Fangraphs, and he has reached upwards of 97 mph on multiple occasions.
The rental relief market has been tough to gauge so far this summer, as the returns on Kelvin Herrera and Jeurys Familia do not stand out in terms of prospect quality. The argument can be made, however, that Britton could net the Orioles a solid return due to the number of clubs involved, Britton’s pedigree, and the fact that he is a left-handed reliever.
Saying goodbye to Zach Britton will undeniably be a difficult task. The adrenaline rush that fans felt when “For Those About to Rock” played over the Camden Yards speakers is unmatched. Britton was the anchor of a bullpen that was such a huge part of the Orioles recent resurgence. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and we will certainly all be rooting for Zach Britton as he looks to help a contending team make a push towards a World Series.
And for those about to rock, we salute you.