Zach Britton on Pace to (Probably) Make History

Orioles closer Zach Britton was once part of the team’s “cavalry” of starting pitching prospects that included Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and to a lesser extent Brandon Erbe and Brad Bergesen. #Blessed with an above average sinking fastball and slider (along with an average change-up), Britton was generally considered the 2nd or 3rd best prospect of the group, depending on who was asked, and he topped out as Keith Law’s #11 overall prospect in his 2011 rankings for ESPN (ESPN Insider required and recommended). Here’s a snippet of what Law had to say:

“There’s at least strong No. 2 starter potential here, but better command would give him more ceiling than that.”

Obviously, things didn’t turn out the way the team or its fans had hoped for Britton, or any other members of the cavalry for that matter. Britton showed promise during the 2011 season (4.00 FIP in 154.1 innings), but struggled during 2012 and 2013, spending the majority of his time in the minors. While the change-up never fully developed, it was his his lack of command that led to ineffectiveness as a starter. In 2014, he was out of minor league options and with the Baltimore starting rotation full, he was sent to the bullpen, where he has thrived. Take a look at comparing his time in the rotation (pre-2014) and his time in the bullpen.

Britton Stats

Zach Britton career statistics by year

As you can see, Britton has always been a groundball machine with his sinker. However, in the bullpen this year he is getting groundballs at an amazingly high rate (76%), much higher than any other year during his career. A ground ball rate that high helps get a lot of outs when you have what is arguably the best infield defense in the league. But is that groundball rate sustainable? Maybe.

As of July 24, Britton has thrown 50.2 innings. Since 2002, when Fangraphs began tracking a pitcher’s ground ball percentage, his 76% ground ball rate is the highest ever for a pitcher with a minimum of 50 innings pitched, but not by much, as Brad Ziegler produced a 75.5% ground ball rate in 2012. To date, the Orioles have played 100 games, which puts Britton on pace to pitch approximately 82 innings this year. Increasing the sample set to a minimum of 80 innings pitched, you get the following results:

*Actually, the amazing thing about this table is Derek Lowe’s GB% in over 200 IP, but that’s a post for another day

*Actually, the amazing thing about this table is Derek Lowe’s GB% in over 200 IP, but that’s a post for another day

If Britton keeps pace, he would easily post the highest ground ball rate of any pitcher since 2002 with a minimum of 80 innings pitched. If that happens, it probably doesn’t make Zach Britton anything more than an answer to a trivia question that very few people would know, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Individually, it’s not a record anyone will care about. However, with an infield defense as good as Baltimore’s, keeping his ground ball rate that high could potentially be one of the factors that may help make him the answer to a trivia question people will know (especially in Baltimore): Who was on the mound to record the last out of the 2014 World Series?

One Response to “Zach Britton on Pace to (Probably) Make History”

  1. I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of your blog?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it
    better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

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