So after one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen from a reliever, what does Orioles closer Zach Britton do for an encore in 2017? It’s a question he figures to get a lot in spring training from both local and national reporters.
“I try not to live up to it or try to duplicate it,” Britton said at FanFest. “I think every year your body is different. The way you go about doing things may be different. You’re a little older - maybe your arm slot is a little different. You treat every year different. Obviously, there is a foundation - the way I approach going after hitters is going to be the same - but the way you get to that is going to be different each year.”
The way he did it last year sure worked as he went 2-1 with a 0.54 ERA and 47 saves in 47 chances. Britton gave up one earned run in 58 games and 57 innings from May 1 through the end of the year. Britton’s 0.54 ERA led major league relievers and was the lowest in big league history among pitchers with at least 50 innings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other pitchers in major league history have had an ERA below 1.00 in a season with at least 40 saves: Dennis Eckersley in 1990 (0.61 ERA, 48 saves) and Fernando Rodney in 2012 (0.60 ERA, 48 saves).
Lefty batters hit .185 against him and right-handers .155. Batters went just 5-for-59 (.085) when batting against him with runners in scoring position. But you may have heard, despite all that, he didn’t pitch in the American League wild card game in Toronto. That created a bit of a stir.
“I mean, I was over it right away,” Britton said. “We had so many days together and so many games that you can look at in hindsight and second guess yourself a lot. Once I got home, it was over with for me. I understand it was a big story. You know, I trust Buck (Showalter). He’s done a lot of good things for me and put me in good situations. I didn’t second guess him. It was just get a reason why he did it and I moved on.”
The theme for Orioles players for 2017 seems to be they have the band (mostly) back together and they like that. They’ve got at least one or two more shots at a title before some key members of the current team, Britton included, hit free agency.
“I think there is some of that (take their shot now mode),” Britton said. “We know a lot of the older guys are going to be free agents pretty soon. So there is a little sense of urgency to kind of win one now when everyone is together. Obviously Wheaty’s (Matt Wieters) gone and it would have been great to win one with him here and when we had (Nick) Markakis. As this group kind of starts approaching free agency, we’d like to win one together as a team before who knows what happens.”
2016 AL leaders in bullpen ERA:
3.40 - Orioles
3.41 - Indians
3.45 - Royals
3.55 - Mariners
If you are the best in the league, as the Orioles were in bullpen ERA, there is only one to go from there. But Britton feels they could duplicate that performance. Actually in 2014 (3.10 ERA) and 2015 (3.21 ERA), the O’s ‘pen ERA was better that what was recorded last year.
“A lot of the younger guys took good steps last year. I’m really excited for Donnie (Hart),” Britton said. “He got some good innings under his belt in tough situations. He came in and handled himself really well. I’m excited for Donnie and the guys coming back. Hopefully we stay consistent, Brad (Brach), Darren (O’Day), keep him healthy for a full season. Mychal (Givens), too. We’ve got some big weapons.”