Orioles reliever Zach Britton is having another fantastic year in his third season as Baltimore’s closer after starting his career off as a struggling starting pitcher for the Orioles. But while Britton was great in 2014, and fantastic in 2015, he’s taken his game to another level so far in 2016.
In 46 2/3 innings, Britton has a minuscule 0.58 ERA. He’s allowed a total of three earned runs, and six runs in total, all season. Incredibly, all three of those earned runs came in April, meaning that since May 1st, Britton hasn’t allowed an earned run. The three unearned runs all came in one June appearance, meaning that he’s on an overall scoreless streak of nearly seven weeks, 19 games, and 17 innings.
Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2014, Britton has turned himself into a ground ball machine, with his ground ball rate topping out at an incredible 79.6% this season. That’s by far the highest percentage of any pitcher in baseball, with only Adam Ottavino and Mark Rzepczynski even cracking the 70% mark this season. In fact, since we started receiving data on batted balls in 2002, Britton’s 79.6% ground ball rate is the highest of any pitcher season over that time period. Only four pitcher seasons have broken the 75% mark…and three of those seasons are Britton’s three seasons as Orioles closer.
I’m not a huge fan of saves, but Britton ranks second in baseball with 34 saves this season, behind only Jeurys Familia of the Mets (and tied with Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers). Britton hasn’t blown one save this season, which puts him in rare company. He’s the only one of the 40 MLB pitchers with at least five saves to not blow a save this season.
A strong infield defense has also helped Britton turn all of those ground balls into outs this season. Manny Machado is obviously a wizard, grading above average at both shortstop and third base this season. Regular Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is also a plus defender. When Hardy was on the DL, Ryan Flaherty filled in at third while Machado shifted over to short, and his defensive metrics at the position are strong. The right side of the infield is more of a mixed bag, as Jonathan Schoop is roughly average at second and Chris Davis is above average (though take first base defensive metrics with a grain of salt) at first, but it doesn’t matter all that much in the long run.
Throw it all in a blender, and you get one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, despite his strikeout numbers not popping off the page like those of Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, and Andrew Miller. Now, is Britton a Cy Young candidate? That’s a completely different discussion, but given the relative weakness of the AL starting pitcher crop…I wouldn’t count him out.