After dominant year, Zach Britton is not ranked as MLB’s top reliever

This might drive some Orioles fans crazy, but there are some national analysts that do not rank O’s closer Zach Britton as the No. 1 reliever in baseball.

After a year where Britton’s 0.54 ERA ranked as the best in major league history among pitchers with 50 or more innings, Britton was ranked No. 3 by MLB Network on its list of the “Top 10 Relievers Right Now” show.

1. Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians
2. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
3. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
4. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
5. Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs
6. Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants
7. Seung Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals
8. Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
9. Jeurys Familia, New York Mets
10. Will Harris, Houston Astros

Taking into account player performance over several seasons with an emphasis on 2016, a number of offensive and defensive metrics both advanced and traditional, and projected performance for the upcoming season, MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” series ranks the top players at each position heading into the 2017 season. Obviously, the offensive and defensive metrics factor in mostly for position players.

Before Orioles fans blow a gasket over this, as exceptional as Britton was, the top four all posted incredible stats and Miller added a dominant postseason performance as well.

The top four in 2016:
Miller: 1.45 ERA, 0.686 WHIP, 5.1 hits/9IP, 1.1 BB/9, 14.9 K/9.
Jansen: 1.83 ERA, 0.670 WHIP, 4.6 hits/9IP, 1.4 BB/9, 13.6 K/9.
Chapman: 1.55 ERA, 0.862 WHIP, 5.0 hits/9, 2.8 BB/9, 14.0 K/9.
Britton: 0.54 ERA, 0.836 WHIP, 5.1 hits/9, 2.4 BB/9, 9.9 K/9.

So while Britton led everyone in ERA, he ranked third among this group in WHIP, third in hits allowed per nine innings, third in walk rate and fourth in strikeout rate. It seems some of the analysts love rate stats and strikeouts always play well in these ratings.

zach_britton-sidebar_pitching.jpgWhen it comes to strikeout/walk ratio, Britton ranked fourth at 4.11 behind Miller with a ridiculous 13.67 ratio, with Jansen at 9.45 and Chapman at 5.00.

Saves are just not valued by most analysts, in fact, they have become almost overlooked in my opinion. I don’t agree that anyone can get the last three outs and we’ve seen many teams that have been sunk over the years due to the lack of a solid closer.

Britton’s save percentage last year was 1.000 (47-for-47), while Chapman had the next highest percentage at 92.3 (36-for-39), with Jansen at 88.6 percent (47-for-53) and Miller at 85.7 percent (12-for-14).

Britton led all major league relievers with a spectacular 79.4 groundball percentage, with Miller at 54.3 percent, Chapman at 46 percent and Jansen at 30 percent. Miller led all relievers with a left on base percentage of 95.7, but Britton ranked second among this group of four at 89.7 percent.

Some do see Britton as the top reliever either in the American League or in all of Major League Baseball. In October, the Sporting News named Britton the reliever on its AL All-Star team. In his player and positional rankings, ESPN’s Buster Olney ranked Britton No. 1 among all relief pitchers. Click here for that list (subscription required).

Olney wrote: “Britton’s sinker was as unhittable as any pitch ever, and if that seems like an overstatement, consider that opposing batters generated an OPS of .430 against the Orioles’ closer. During Mariano Rivera’s career, the legendary closer had just one season that good - in 2008, when opposing hitters had an OPS of .423.”

By the way, the other three relievers we’ve looked at here had these OPS against stats in 2016: Jansen at .446, Chapman at .452 and Miller at .487.

But Britton was not even a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award. He finished fourth in the voting, despite giving up four earned runs all year and just one over his last 58 games. He had an ERA of 0.26 in home games. Lefty batters hit .185 against him and right-handed batters hit .155. He yielded an average of just .085 when pitching with runners in scoring position and opposing batters were 0-for-6 against him when he pitched with the bases loaded.

But in a strong year for elite relievers, some top analysts saw Britton as clearly among the best, but not the best. MLB Network Radio analysts C.J. Nitkowski and Jim Duquette weighed in as well.

My take on this: In Baltimore, Britton would win this vote by a landslide, but in such a strong year for other relievers, Britton is clearly not No. 1 for everyone. That is fine and you can make a case for several relievers to be No. 1. Lists are subjective.

In my opinion, strikeouts and swing-and-miss pitches are overvalued and saves are undervalued. I see a pitcher that gave up one earned run in the last five months, was perfect in save chances, had the best groundball rate by far and rated first in OPS against. Hard for me to rank him anywhere but at the top.

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