BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 18: Zach Britton #53 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 18, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Yesterday's game was one of those that hurts. The Orioles got good pitching for fourteen innings, they squandered a bunch of chances to win, and they kept us up so late that now we're cranky and tired. But I don't want to be miserable about baseball right now. So instead I'm going to sing the praises of our young star.
Back in 2009, when almost all Orioles talk revolved around the so-called Big Three, Dan Connolly wrote an article about Zach Britton in which was the first sentence was, "This was Zach Britton's organization before it was Brian Matusz's or Chris Tillman's or Jake Arrieta's." For some reason, when I read that, I really began to root for Britton. Despite being highly regarded in the system, he was overshadowed by the three pitchers who made their big league debuts before him. But he's here now, and he's not going to let anyone forget about him.
Service time issues aside, there is no denying that Britton absolutely belongs in the major leagues. He has now pitched fifty-nine big league innings with an ERA of 2.14 (ERA+ 185). Since allowing three runs in the third inning against the Rays on May 6th, he has pitched 19.1 innings without giving up an earned run. His FIP is a tidy 3.65 and his FanGraphs WAR of 1.0 is behind only CC Sabathia, Josh Beckett, James Shields, and David Price for starters in the AL East. That's not bad company.
Britton's BABIP is only .229 and his HR/FB is just 7.8%, so he won't be able to keep up these stellar results forever, but even when those stats normalize he's still en route to be very successful.
So far this season there have been twenty-three rookies to make a start in the majors (only eight of them have, like Britton, been with their teams since the season started). Only Seattle's Michael Pineda has a higher WAR to this point than Britton. Britton has pitched more innings than any other rookie. His ERA is second behind Rangers' pitcher Alexi Ogando, his FIP is fourth behind Pineda, Tyson Ross of the Athletics, and Brandon Beachy of the Braves. Only Ogando and Pineda have a WHIP better than Britton's 1.05.
The Orioles have a lot of problems and O's fans are frustrated (as they should be), but I am truly happy to watch Britton (and Arrieta, and I even don't mind Chris Tillman sometimes) every five days. It's not enough to make the Orioles a truly good team, but it is enough to keep me from going crazy. And it's a start.