Can Britton improve in his sophomore season?


By Olivia Witherite (@oliviawitherite)

If you’re a starting pitcher in the majors and you’re best remembered last season by many for hitting a home run in interleague play, it may tell you something about your pitching. Cue in, Zach Britton.

In his rookie season, Britton started off the season strongly with a one-run, six-inning win. However, by the time July rolled around, Britton was taking 43 pitches before being yanked after recording only one out. Despite starting the 2010 season in Double-A, Britton’s arm and the lack of quality pitching in the Orioles rotation led him to the No. 3 spot at the start of the 2011 season.

As we saw in the 2011 season, the Orioles never really knew what they were going to get out of Britton this season. Maybe fans will see the aforementioned first inning tragedy that led to a 17-3 loss. Maybe they’ll see a complete game, one-run gem like last May versus the Mariners.

So, with the start of Spring Training behind him, what can fans and coaches expect from Britton this season? Or a better question is can they expect anything? There are a few factors that can lead a more consistent Britton this season that the Orioles can actually trust for more than just a home run.

Shoulder healing – Britton has been somewhat inhibited by left shoulder inflammation. However, he is expected to throw this week, and if all goes as planned, should be throwing from the mound in around two weeks. According to the lefty himself from his Twitter account, his shoulder is improving.

Lower pitch count –One thing that really harmed Britton last season was his pitch count. In his fourth or fifth inning of work, the lefty often found himself on the mound with 90 to 100 pitches behind him. Not only does this affect his chances of winning, the bigger factor is that it harms the relievers who become greatly worn out night after night.

Walks – While his numbers for walks per nine innings was not absolutely horrendous (3.6BBs/9,) the numbers are harmful, especially to his previously mentioned pitch count. To put it into perspective, the 2011 leader only gave up 1.143 BBs/9 (Tomlin of Cleveland.)

In 2011, Britton had the luxury of solid run support and wins despite giving up four or five runs. Coming off an 11-11, 4.61 ERA rookie season, Britton will make the starting rotation and possibly even be handed the ball on Opening Day.

While Britton has many kinks to work out this spring in Sarasota, I advise you to keep a close eye on him during Spring Training. As seen at his high points, he has much to offer the struggling Baltimore team once he gains consistency. And, who knows? Maybe it will come his sophomore season.