Reliever Number Three: Zach Britton
Besides Hand, the Astros have been most commonly linked to Britton, the closer of the Orioles. When healthy, of course. Rumor has it that there was a trade nearly in place last summer for Britton to be shipped to Houston. Looking back, Baltimore should’ve cashed in on Britton’s value before the 2017 season, but hindsight is 20/20.
The biggest knock on Britton over the past calendar year or so has been his health. As you may be aware, Britton dealt with a sore left arm early in the 2017 season followed by sore left knee in August. Then there was an Achilles injury shortly before Christmas this past winter. In fact, he was just activated from the DL on Monday and made his 2018 debut on Tuesday.
A healthy Britton though would be a valuable asset to any team’s bullpen. While he will probably not approach the level of excellence he demonstrated in 2016 — 0.54 ERA in 67 innings — Britton would give the Astros another left-handed reliever who can pitch in high leverage situations.
That said, Britton will need to show that his 2017 results were due to injuries and not a decline in skill.
37.1 IP, 18.0% strikeout rate, 11.2% walk rate, 2.89 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 3.48 xFIP, 0.6 fWAR
While Britton’s 2.89 ERA in 37.1 innings was quite good, the precarious drop in strikeout rate and rise in walk rate is a concern. Not to mention the .336 BABIP.
Britton’s pitches appeared to be more hittable. For example, opposing batters increased the inside contact rate by 6.0% against Britton in 2017 compared to his historic 2016 season. His outside contact rate jumped by an incredible 14.5%. In terms of overall contact rate, the increase was 11.6%. And fewer batters were chasing Britton’s pitches outside the zone while swinging more in the zone by noticeable margins.
In all, Britton wasn’t fooling a lot of batters in 2017.
The fact that he had such a low ERA and FIP speaks to Britton’s talent. If Britton did pitch a full season at this rate though, I would not expect his overall numbers to look quite as good based on his peripherals. Oh, by the way, his sinker’s velocity was down by roughly one mile per hour. Not much of a difference, but it could be enough to allow batters to hit his mistakes.
Between now and the deadline, Britton’s performance will be under a microscope. Based on his first appearance, his fastball velocity was even lower than 2017. For example, his averaged 94.6 MPH on his sinker and 81.2 MPH on his curveball. For his career, those pitches averaged velocity is 95.4 MPH and 82.6 MPH. In his first appearance, Britton also walked three and struck out one. Surprisingly, he did not give up a hit or a run in the one inning appearance to five batters.
Like Herrera, Britton is a free-agent following the 2018 season. Unlike Herrera, who has shown notable durability in his early career, Britton will likely need to pursue a short-term deal to rebuild his value due to injuries. Of course, it is only mid-June with plenty of baseball left. Britton could rebuild his value in a hurry if he pitches close to his past level.
But teams will not meet the high price that Britton could’ve fetched Baltimore even one year ago. This time around the interested parties have more leverage than the Orioles. But since it is the Orioles, I am not sure if they will actually trade Britton. Regardless, the Astros should keep an eye on him.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs**