Last year I had the good fortune to see Zach Britton in Bowie facing off against the Toronto AA team, featuring Kyle Drabek and Adam Loewen. Talking with JohnnyG on our podcast brought back those memories, and I thought I'd flip back through my old work and see what I wrote then and how it compares to now. And the real key takeaway for me, being a stats guy, was that Britton had a strong platoon split in the minors (at least, up until that point). This was, I had surmised, because of an ineffective offspeed pitch to get swings and misses from opposite-handed batters.
So I looked up his splits from his time in the majors so far, and his platoon struggles seem to be continuing:
vs. RHB: .745 OPS, 11.8% K-rate, 8.4% non-intentional walk rate, 1.6% HR-rate, .314 BABIP, 53.3% grounders, 4.30 xFIP (which normalizes for a high or low HR/fly ball ratio)
vs. LHB: .661 OPS, 21.1% K-rate, 7.8% non-IBB rate, 3.1% HR-rate, .282 BABIP, 58.9% grounders, 3.04 xFIP
So he has still had a tough time with right handed batters. That's not totally unusual. Getting opposite-handed batters out is one of a developing pitcher's biggest hurdles.
Now let's look at who Britton faced in his disastrous start against Boston, after which he was demoted to Bowie:
Britton faced four lefties, and gave up a walk, a home run, and two other fly balls. He faced six righties and gave up two line drives, two ground balls, walked one, and got a strikeout. Granted, the Red Sox lefties are about the toughest bunch in the majors, but it's still not good when your platoon advantage abandons you. Then again, it was just one night with all the sample size problems that happen all the time.
Now let's look at the horrible New York start which marked his big-league return:
|RHB||Swisher||Grounder reached on error|
Again, this was a difficult set of lefties to navigate and it was only one night. Britton faced three lefties and got two grounders and a liner. He faced seven righties and got a strikeout, a walk, three grounders, a liner, and a flier.
If you look at last night's game with Kansas City, Britton had these splits:
vs LHB: 1 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 4 liners, 1 fly balls, and 4 ground balls in 10 AB. He really only struggled with Alex Gordon who hit the ball well four times in four tries. Alex Gordon is hitting .311/.382/.505 on the year.
vs. RHB:: 2 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 3 liners, 5 fly balls, and 8 ground balls in 19 AB. Which is not bad in terms of walks and ground balls, at least.
So, I think the recent struggles of Zach Britton really come down to something pretty simple: he's facing a lot of right-handed hitters, who he continues to struggle with, and he's faced off against really good left-handed hitters.Yes, his command hasn't been very good, and his pitches perhaps not as crisp, but these are to my mind normal bumps that almost every rookie goes through trying to navigate their first long major league season. Especially in the AL East.
But look at these guys that have put a hurting on him. Brett Gardner, Alex Gordon, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury...these guys are some of the best hitters in baseball period, and let's not forget that the Oriole defense is going to let a lot of balls fall in. Struggling is the expected outcome.
In other words, let's not worry about Zach Britton just yet. He's still developing, and he's going to continue to have bumps against righties and against the All-Star level lefties that he's been seeing lately. But he's still a good pitcher, and he could still become a very, very good pitcher.