Zach Britton is re-writing the record books.
He’s doing things we just haven’t seen before in a 162-game season.
Where Joe Flacco may or may not be elite to the Baltimore Ravens, Mr. Britton is very much deserving of the elite tag for the Baltimore Orioles. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a legitimate argument against that notion.
He’s the staple of this Orioles team, and he might just best reliever in Major League Baseball.
The numbers that don’t seem real
After the failed experience of Britton’s work as a starter, few of us knew what path his career would take. He didn’t seem to have the stuff of a one-inning shutdown man, and he certainly struggled to sustain six or seven-inning success to be considered a long-term option moving forward.
Now, looking back at the 46 major league starts Britton made, one has to wonder if the adversity he faced on the mound helped him mold into the closer he is now.
Perhaps increased looks in difficult situations help him when the game is close in the ninth inning. Maybe he’s relieved, having experienced brutally lengthy nightmare outings, that he only has to throw one inning of perfection when he’s called upon.
Whatever it might be that has gotten Britton to this point, it’s certainly paid off.
First, check out the basics. Below, Britton’s totals:
64 games, 61.1 innings, 34 hits, 4 earned runs, 67 Ks, 45 saves.
Understand the basic meaning of that line. Every time Britton takes the field, you can count on an almost perfectly predictable truth: he’s going to pitch an inning, give up a hit about every other time, strike out somebody and not give up a run.
Baseball is a numbers game with trends dominating all conversation. In this case, one trend trumps all — in 45 save opportunities, Britton’s converted every single one.
That’s borderline unheard of.
If he gets five more of those saves, he’ll be one of only 13 pitchers in MLB history to record 50 or more in a single season.
Fernando Rodney currently holds the MLB record for the lowest single-season relief ERA in major-league history, with his 0.60 number in 2012. Now, that’s a tricky stat to pin down considering most ERA leaderboards require one inning pitched per team’s game played, but Rodney’s number appears to be the clubhouse leader.
Britton currently sits at 0.59, which of course, would be in line to break that total.
What’s most impressive about Britton’s game is the beauty of his ability to mow down hitters from either side of the plate, in any situation. Righties are hitting .165 against (27-164) , lefties just .140 (7-50).
In his last 11.1 innings (there are eight saves in there), Britton has walked just two batters. All in all, the 0.84 season WHIP says it all -- when he starts an inning, he’s probably not giving up a run.
A look around the league
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to summarize, after looking at those numbers, that Britton has been the best closer in baseball. Best reliever is perhaps a matter of opinion, but as I mentioned at the top of the column, I’ll firmly hold onto the belief that there isn’t any bullpen arm I’d rather have than number 53.
When pinning the conversation to strictly closers, Britton runs away with the Most Valuable Closer role, and it’s isn’t particularly close.
His 45 saves rank second in the MLB behind only Jeurys Familia, who has a 2.43 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. Not to mention batters are hitting .222 against Familia, compared to a .159 number that Britton owns. Advantage — Baltimore.
Among “qualified” closers in the league (we’ll go with guys who have at-least 15 on the season), here are the top-five ERA leaders:
- Zach Britton (BAL): 0.59 ERA, 45 saves
- Aroldis Chapman (CHC): 1.67 ERA, 35 saves
- Mark Melancon (PIT): 1.71 ERA, 42 saves
- Seung Hwan Oh (STL): 1.79 ERA, 18 saves
- Kenley Jansen (LAD): 1.81 ERA, 45 saves
What you have there, folks, is total category domination. If we’re basing this “best closer in the MLB” chat on ERA and saves alone, Britton wins it unanimously.
But as we know, ERA paints only a sliver of the picture (though, it is admittedly more valuable with relievers, but that’s a conversation for another day).
What about WHIP and blown saves?
Below, your WHIP leaders among players who have at-least 15 saves:
- Kenley Jansen (LAD): 0.65 WHIP, 64.2 IP
- Hector Rondon (CHC): 0.82 WHIP, 47.2 IP
- Zach Britton (BAL): 0.85 WHIP, 61.1 IP
- Aroldis Chapman (CHC): 0.87 WHIP, 54.0 IP
- Roberto Osuna (TOR): 0.88 WHIP, 65.2 IP
Rondon hasn’t picked up a save since July 24th, obviously, so he gets shifted out of this debate, leaving only Jansen to put up a fight against Baltimore’s guy here.
And in fairness, Jansen’s numbers are legitimate.
He has a 1.81 ERA in 64.2 innings, consistently acting as the Dodgers’ go-to guy in the ninth inning. He’s been legitimate for quite some time now; if you wanted to give Jansen the nod over Britton, it’d be hard to blame you.
However, remember when we mentioned that Britton has yet to blow a save in 45 chances?
Jansen’s season has consisted of six blown saves, picking up his 45 in 51 opportunities. Perhaps some would say that’s reaching and unfair to Jansen in this comparison — sometimes, blown saves, like ERAs, don’t tell the whole story.
But at the end of the day, that’s what this conversation centers around: the big picture. Not one or two statistics, but the entirety of the body of work.
Britton has a 0.59 ERA.
He’s notched a save in every situation he’s had.
He’s allowed batters to a mere .159 average against.
He represents the Orioles perfectly, and can very acceptably be given much of the credit for why the Birds are likely going to capture a spot in the 2016 postseason.
So while his status as Major League Baseball’s “best reliever” might be up in the air, one thing is for sure: there isn’t another closer in the league that Buck Showalter would rather have than his reliable ninth-inning shut-down arm.
Now if you’re reading this, @zbritton, ignore everything you just heard.
I mean, you know what they say about baseball and superstition...