Baltimore Orioles: 2014 Season Grades – Relief Pitchers

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Sep 23, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton (53) celebrates with catcher Nick Hundley (40) after defeating the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

A. . Pitcher. Baltimore Orioles. ZACH BRITTON

Over my years of baseball writing, I annually include a freshly-edited version of an article that slams the “closer” philosophy that predominates modern baseball. Quickly stated, it is not that I do not acknowledge that it works, it is simply that so few teams have someone who can play the role. So to try to strategize to use a designated ninth inning “closer” who is not generally unhittable is to throw the game away with regularity.

There is more to it than that, but the biggest point is to say that there are, at any given time in baseball, only a handful of pitchers truly capable of fulfilling the role. Often, the Orioles have not had a person like that, and it was costly to try to find that player. Fortunately, the O’s did find that role player this year in the form of Zach Britton.

The only other consistently successful closers in the AL this year were Greg Holland and Fernando Rodney … and maybe David Robertson. Koji Uehara was for a while, but blew up toward the end. And Dellin Betances looms over the horizon as a beast of a closer.

With the very wise trade of Jim Johnson, the question arose in the past offseason as to who would be the O’s closer. The presumptive frontrunner was Tommy Hunter, and it was probably appropriate to give him the first shot. I never expected it to work and feared Buck’s loyalty quotient would extend too long while games were being lost at the end.

Once the decision was made in the spring to keep Britton as a reliever, it seemed obvious to me that he would be the best closer candidate given his ground ball-inducing style. And sure enough, once he inherited the role from Hunter, it was a great season with a pitcher who truly could fulfill the assignment.

Britton’s final ERA was 1.65, converting on 37 out of 41 save opportunities. A closer simply cannot allow many baserunners, and Britton had a WHIP of just 0.90 with opponents only hitting .178 against him. He yielded only four home runs in 76.1 innings.

Britton certainly did not pitch well in the playoffs, clearly losing his command unlike any other time in the season. One would have to think that the several days of flying to California and back for the birth of a child had to contribute to this, along with the end-of-season wear.

But it is difficult to imagine a much better season than Britton had, and about 85-90% of teams would love to have him do for them what he did for the O’s. Give him an “A” for the season.