In an age where the Baltimore Orioles struggled with their minor league system and player development as a whole, Zack Britton was one of few shining success stories. The lefty debuted in 2011 with mixed results as a starting pitcher before discovering his wicked sinker and becoming, for a brief period, one of the most dominant relief pitchers baseball has ever seen.
Britton’s Orioles tenure went south after the infamous 2016 Wild Card game during which the closer was inexplicably left in the bullpen as the Toronto Blue Jays pounced on Ubaldo Jimenez, a move that former O’s manager Buck Showalter still hasn’t taken full accountability for. Britton’s 2017 season was curtailed by nagging injuries, and an offseason Achilles injury limited him to 16 appearances for the Orioles in 2018 before the club tore down shop and sent him to the Yankees for Dillon Tate among others.
Zack Britton was one of the players shipped out of town when the Baltimore Orioles decided to begin the rebuilding process.
While no longer historically dominant, Britton has accumulated a 2.75 ERA over five seasons as a Yankee and was one of their late-inning options while healthy, but his health has been an issue. Britton underwent Tommy John surgery in September of 2021, returned to action twelve months later, and ended up back on the Injured List due to arm fatigue shortly after, representing one of numerous injuries to the Yankees bullpen that left them short handed in the American League Championship Series. The injury doesn’t appear to have any impact on Britton’s status for Spring Training, so I dare ask: would a Zack Britton reunion make sense for the Baltimore Orioles?
Like mentioned above, he’s not 2016 Zack Britton anymore. Heck, the last letter in his first name has even changed since then. Make no mistake though, he has more than enough talent (and stuff) to be an effective pitcher when healthy. Because of how much time he’s missed, you have to go back to 2020 to find a large enough data sample to analyze, but there’s promising information there. Britton was among the league’s best when it came to quality of contact and getting batters to chase pitches outside the strike zone. He’s still sinker dominant like he was when he was last an Oriole, but the slider has emerged as yet another devastating pitch in his arsenal, drawing a swing and miss over two thirds of the time he threw it in 2020. Not a single hit was allowed from a Zack Britton slider that season!
It’s not hyperbolic to say that in 2016, Zack Britton’s sinker was in the same discussion as Mariano Rivera’s cutter or Trevor Hoffman’s changeup. What does it look like now? Still nasty, but not to that degree thanks to a decrease in velocity; Britton’s average sinker in 2016 was an outright stupid 96.9 MPH considering the accompanying movement. It now rests closer to 94 on most days, but the famous sink is still present. Even in his recent injury-riddled seasons, the sinker had between 3-5 more inches of vertical drop than sinkers thrown within 2 MPH and 6 inches of Britton’s release point. This bowling ball, as the Pitching Ninja Rob Friedman describes it, was thrown just before his Tommy John Surgery in 2021.
Because Zack Britton has missed so much time over the past two seasons, it is likely that the Baltimore Orioles could reunite with their former closer for a one year deal, maybe in the neighborhood of $3-5 million. If there is interest from Britton in a reunion, the Orioles would do much worse than adding #53 back to a bullpen who could use another left handed arm after Cionel Perez and possibly Keegan Akin. May we let bygones be bygones, forget about the Wild Card game, and make up with Zack Britton!