When it comes to consistency, Zach Britton‘s got it going on.
The Baltimore Orioles have surprised many with their successful campaign this year. At the heart of their success has been the blessing of Britton, and it hasn’t just been for this year. In 2014, Britton had 37 saves with an ERA of 1.65. In 2015, Britton had 36 saves with an ERA of 1.92 while also being named to the All-Star team.
Most would look at those two seasons alone and believe that Britton had shown his best stuff — how could he get any better?
Well, to the person who would have asked that question (all of us), just take a peek at 2016.
Currently, Britton is 34/34 in save opportunities (35/35 if you count the All-Star Game) and it’s only the early days in August. His ERA for the season is 0.58, although more impressive is his ERA by month. In April, his ERA was a 2.70. From May-August, his ERA has been 0.00 every month.
That’s right: all zeroes everywhere.
In 46.2 innings pitched, Britton has 55 strikeouts, opponents are batting .138, and he’s given up a total of three earned runs. Those numbers are insane and it’s not even the end of the season yet.
With those statistics, it’s time to start not just mentioning Britton’s name in the “best closer in the American League”-conversation, but also the “AL Cy Young”-conversation. In fact, it’s accurate to mention him as the probable winner.
When mentioning a closer as a possible Cy Young candidate, people immediately start throwing out the same excuses: “Oh, he doesn’t pitch enough innings”, “Oh, he doesn’t go through the rigor a starting pitcher goes through”, “Oh, he doesn’t even play everyday.”
Those excuses would make sense if Britton’s numbers weren’t what they were.
Also, when talking about Britton winning the Cy Young, one must consider the other candidates. If a starting pitcher in the same league is having an outstanding season, they can offset Britton winning the award. For instance, if Britton was in the National League, he’d have a much more difficult time winning the Cy Young.
But he’s in the American League and in the AL, the pitching hasn’t been as impressive as it has been in past years. No singular starting pitcher stands out as dominant this year. The lowest ERA among starters is a 2.85 by Aaron Sanchez. Nothing against Sanchez, but this seems to be a year in which the statistics for starting pitchers on the AL side are not slam-dunk choices for the award. Maybe this is a year in which a reliever wins the Cy Young.
The last closer to win the Cy Young was Eric Gagne in 2003. His ERA wasn’t nearly as good as Britton’s is now (1.20), however Britton may not get to Gagne’s 55 saves in 55 opportunities. When Gagne won the award, the best ERA of a starting pitcher in the NL was a 2.34, by Jason Schmidt. It’s hard to compare years that are almost 14 years apart, but that was the last time a closer won the Cy Young. Britton does not quite have Gagne’s eye-popping strikeout numbers, but his 97-mph sinker is almost impossible for hitters to do anything with. It’s hard to envision Britton giving up more than a few runs before season’s end. He hasn’t even given up an extra-base hit in almost a month.
At the end of the day, Britton’s numbers are better than Gagne’s now, and will most likely be by season’s end. It takes a truly special season by a closer to win the Cy Young, and that’s exactly the type of season Britton is having.
Britton is so dominant that it’s hard to imagine him not winning the award. If the Orioles can keep on rolling, Britton will keep on saving.