Searching For Saves: Can Zack Britton Thrive As The Yankees’ Closer?


With Aroldis Chapman having been diagnosed with COVID-19 and likely to miss the start of the season, all signs point towards Zack Britton opening the year as the Yankees’ closer.  Aaron Boone was quoted by Bryan Hoch of (click here for the article) as saying:

“Britton has been an elite closer in this game for a long time, and he’s still a great pitcher, so he naturally could fill that role,” Boone said. “It’s easy to put him in that, but with our team and with our bullpen and our pitchers, we feel confident in a lot of guys. Britt would be a natural guy if Chappy wasn’t back at that point.”

Britton has had a lot of success closing games, with 145 career SV over a three year stretch with the Orioles (2014-2016) where he recorded 37, 36 and 47 saves.  However it’s easy to argue that he isn’t the same pitcher as he was at that point.

When Britton was operating as one of the elite closers in baseball he paired an elite groundball rate with strikeout stuff and pinpoint control.  In three years since that run that simply hasn’t been the case:

  • Strikeouts – 7.49 K/9
  • Control – 4.59 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 74.6%

Obviously he’s still a groundball machine, but the control has been significantly worse (2.37 BB/9 during his elite seasons) and he’s not missing as many bats (9.26 K/9 from ’14-’16).  His SwStr% has fallen from 15.5% to 11.5% and it’s clear that the injury issues he’s dealt with have played a role  (Britton missed a large part of 2017 due to a forearm injury, before later rupturing his Achilles).

The last time Britton had a BB/9 under 4.00 was the first half of ’17, when he posted a 3.75 BB/9 over just 12.0 IP.  Obviously pitchers with poor control have had success closing games, and the fact that he’s an elite groundball artist will help overcome that issue since he shouldn’t be prone to home run issues.  He showed it last year when he posted a 1.91 ERA over 61.1 IP, though an 86.8% strand rate and .224 BABIP shows that there was some luck behind the numbers.

In terms of Britton’s value he should be a solid short-term option if he’s “on”.  As we noted in our preseason Draft Guide: 

He continues to lose velocity (94.87 mph on his sinker), though he had a 7.84 K/9 or better in five out of six months.  He also showed elite control at times (2.08 BB/9 or better in three months), giving hope that he could once again put it all together.

Utilize him early, but be prepared to move when/if things go south.

Sources – Fangraphs,

Make sure to check out all of our Updated 2020 preseason rankings:

PositionLast Updated
First Basemen07/20/20
Second Basemen07/07/20
Third Basemen07/08/20
Starting Pitchers07/14/20
Relief Pitchers07/12/20


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