Baltimore Orioles: Will Zach Britton Ever Return to the Rotation?


It wasn’t too long ago that Zach Britton seemed to have submitted a membership application to the not-so-exclusive club of disappointing Baltimore Orioles pitching prospects. In his first three big league seasons, he averaged 85 innings with an ERA tip-toeing around 5.

After the 2013 season, Britton found himself being categorized with busts like Adam Loewen, Hayden Penn, and Garrett Olson.

Skip ahead to late 2015, though, and he is a top-5 closer in baseball. Not hard to like a power left-hander whose quick and late-breaking sinker makes him one of the last guys you want to face in the 9th inning of a close game.

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  • If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it, so why would the Baltimore Orioles even consider preparing Zach Britton for a move back to the rotation? Here’s my case:

    It all starts with the current state of the O’s rotation — or better yet, the 2016 state of it. Wei-Yin Chen already has one foot out the door, and I am thoroughly convinced that we will not see him in orange next season. So where do the Orioles turn to for a left-handed arm? Nothing but cricket sounds.

    The team is stacked with possible right-handed starters. Gausman, Jimenez, Gonzalez, Tillman, Wright, and Wilson? All rightys. Even top prospects Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey are right handed.

    The left handers? Uhh Brian Matusz, maybe? Tim Berry, who is currently with AA Bowie, is a solid lefty, but he will almost certainly not be ready in 2016.

    The Baltimore Orioles will also be looking for someone who can get through innings efficiently, which has been a huge struggle in 2015. A team who currently ranks last in starters’ innings pitched could benefit from a guy like Britton, who pitches to contact and seduces batters into hitting weak ground balls with his impressive sinker.

    Another important question is this: how good would he even be as a starter?

    Currently, Zach Britton is throwing one inning, three to four times a week. This light workload allows him to reach back and consistently throw 96-98 MPH flames — probably not something he would be able to do if he wanted to throw seven strong innings as a starter.

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    In my opinion, Britton could be a solide #2 or #3 starter for the O’s. Yes, his sinker velocity would see a decline, but so would his strikeout numbers, leading to more ground ball outs, and less pitches per inning — something that is very important in today’s pitch count culture.

    To become an efficient starter, Britton would also need to improve his off-speed pitches, which he rarely throws in his current closer role. His development with that is difficult to predict, but his chances only improve with a veteran pitching coach like Dave Wallace at the helm.

    The Orioles will certainly need a left-handed starter for 2016, and it is getting about time that they ask themselves:

    Do we want one of the best closers in baseball? Or a pretty good starting pitcher?

    Next: Baltimore Orioles: In memory of the great Mike Flanagan

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