Baltimore Orioles: Zach Britton Injury Isn’t So Devastating

Apr 8, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton (53) pitches against the New York Yankees in the ninth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton (53) pitches against the New York Yankees in the ninth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports /

Teams need a dominant one inning arm. This is nearly an established fact after an examination of the last few MLB seasons. The Cleveland Indians are the most recent ones to attest to the statement. Despite the way the game has turned, some teams can still get by without one.

The goal of every season is to win 162 games. Obviously, it’s a tough goal to accomplish, but a team does the best they can and hope it at least lands them a spot in October baseball. The common thinking today is that a closer is an absolute need for a team to slide into the post-season. The Baltimore Orioles have a great closer in Zach Britton, but they will still stand well in the American League East with or without a one inning monster. Britton has only seen half the team’s save opportunities and they are still first in their division with a 22-10 record.

Britton is as solid a closer as any. His recent accolades have thrown him to the top of the list for best closer in the league, that’s no secret. He’s “Bluetooth earpiece, open convertible roadster in a snowstorm” level closer at this point. You’d have to go all the way back to September 20, 2015 to find his last blown deal/save. His ERA since and including that date is an astonishing 0.78. It’s entirely understandable to believe his recent injury is a hefty blow to the Baltimore Orioles season. It isn’t.

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Look at the rest of the bullpen staff and you’ll see it’s still good. The staff includes Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, and Darren O’day, among others. It’s a sound collection of arms to carry a lead. The pen, including Britton, is ninth in reliever ERA at 3.56. Subtract Zach Britton’s contributions, and the team’s relief ERA slips to 3.75, 11th-best in the league. Now, it can’t be expected that the relief corps would perform that way with Britton having never pitched, but it shows how little his nine innings have influenced the team’s success so far.

Brad Brach has been Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s go-to guy for saves as of late. He’s done well enough, converting eight of nine opportunities. His overall performance this season stands at 18.2 innings pitched, a 2.41 ERA, and an 0.91 WHIP. If he can continue that performance through the season as a closer then he’s throwing as well as the 2016 versions of Toronto Blue Jays’ Roberto Osuna and Cleveland Indians’ Cody Allen, and much better than then San Francisco Giant Santiago Casilla.

Considering each of those three closers were the ninth inning guys for post-season teams, the Baltimore Orioles won’t have much to worry about. There are other factors that help to cover Zach Britton’s absence as well, such as a potent lineup. The offense is largely performing out of character.

First, there’s Manny Machado. This is old news at this point. Touting a .226 average, he’s been one of the least lucky players to swing a bat so far in 2017. Machado still boasts a .322 On-Base Percentage and a .460 Slugging. His BABIP stands at .222, lower than league-average and out of character for Machado. It will start to rise as he gets more AB’s.

The star third baseman may be in for a big year. His 12.6 percent walk rate is much higher than any point in his career to date. His hard contact percentage of 44.9 towers over his 33.1 and 35.4 percentages from 2015 and 2016, respectively. Look for his luck to sway and his contact finally starts falling in for hits. Trey Mancini, a 25-year-old rookie, has done well in making up for the lack of results.

Throw in Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo rounding into expected form, and the Baltimore Orioles have enough firepower to overcome the loss of their closer. The slugging percentage of these two power bats together come out to be .725, edging Bryce Harper‘s by just three points.

The team is 20th in the league in RBI and tenth in the league in average runners left on base per game at 7. In the last three games, the Orioles are fifth at 9.33 per game, and they’re still on a six-game win streak. When Trumbo and Davis tick up toward their career numbers, the team will start climbing up the list.

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Finally, a factor nobody should sleep on is Buck Showalter. Buck is good at his job. The three time AL Manager of the Year has been consistently praised for his bullpen management. Losing Zach Britton is more of a challenge to Buck and the Baltimore Orioles than a handicap.