A narrowly focused update on Zach Britton, new New York Yankee

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Last night, the New York Yankees completed what to this point constitutes the second-most significant trade of the month when they sent three prospects to Baltimore in exchange for a few months of closer Zach Britton’s services.

The Orioles drafted Britton out of high school in 2006, and Britton debuted five years later as a full-time starter for Baltimore in 2011. By 2014, he had transitioned to a full-time bullpen role, and my earliest memories of him date to two years after that.

Britton was a key part of the 2016 Baltimore team that finished second in the AL East and made the postseason as a wild card. That was the Orioles’ last playoff appearance, and manager Buck Showalter’s decision not to use Britton as the win-or-go-home contest went into extra innings granted the game an air of infamy.

Prior to that, writer Ben Lindbergh memorably made the case that Britton, a closer who would pitch sixty-seven innings that season, merited serious consideration for the AL MVP award. As recorded contemporaneously in these digital pages, Lindbergh’s argument was based on a modification to the notion of Win Probability Added (WPA):

Earlier today, Ben Lindbergh argued that Baltimore reliever Zach Britton has a claim to the 2016 AL MVP award. To make that case, Lindbergh demonstrated that Britton had done more than any other player to help his team win games that mattered. Lindbergh did this by placing Britton’s performance in the context of the individual games in which Britton pitched– did Britton’s actions help or hurt his team’s chances of winning that game, and to what degree did they do so?– and then placing those games in the context of his team’s position in the playoff hunt. Viewed this way, Britton (excellent contributions to a good team in close contention) is more valuable than, for example, Mike Trout (superlative contributions to a bad team far out of contention). The metric that captures this contextual performance concept is called Championship Probability Added (cWPA), and Britton currently holds a commanding lead atop that leaderboard.

(Emphasis added.)

The road has been a bit rough for Britton since that 2016 season, however, as the trade article linked above summarized:

After consecutive two-win seasons in 2015 and 2016, he has missed time with the following injuries:

  • April 16, 2017 – Hits the disabled list with a strained left forearm and misses a little over two weeks.
  • May 6, 2017 – Almost immediately after return from disabled list, goes back on it with same injury.
  • August 25, 2017 – Injures his left knee and is shut down in September.
  • December 2017 – Hurts his right Achilles in an offseason workout requiring surgery.

The lefty returned to action on June 12 but hasn’t been lights out like he was before 2017, with a 4.43 FIP and 3.45 ERA thus far. He’s been a bit better of late, tossing eight straight scoreless outings, but has still produced just six strikeouts against four walks in that span. Perhaps more encouragingly, his velocity is up over his last few outings, getting closer to the 97 mph sinker he used to throw. If the velocity return is here to stay, better results might follow.

By a clear margin, Britton led all pitchers in WPA in 2016. This year, however, he’s nowhere to be found atop that list. That no team has done as little winning as Baltimore (record: 29-73) likely contributed to that shift. Still, the fact that he has a negative WPA (-0.13) for the first time since he moved into the bullpen seems worth noting in light of the foregoing.

As the block quotation immediately preceding the immediately preceding paragraph indicates, there are a number of red flags that suggest that the version of Britton the Yankees acquired (insert reference about Redcoat POWs) last night may be meaningfully different from the one who presented an intriguingly compelling case for consideration as the most valuable player in the American League in 2016.

As a closing addendum, the current leaders in pitcher cWPA for 2018 are Justin Verlander (.023) and Josh Hader (.020).

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Related
Baltimore Closer Zach Britton Isn’t Just a Surprise Cy Young Contender — He’s the AL MVP

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Game 162: Talking baseball at the end of the 2016 regular season

Every MLB team is in action beginning at 3:00 this afternoon for the final* day of the 2016 regular season. Before heading down to Turner Field to catch the Tigers and say farewell to baseball in downtown Atlanta, I was a guest on today’s episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, in which I rambled about wild card scenarios and made severely underinformed playoff predictions.

Stream or download the podcast here.

* Final as to all except Detroit and Cleveland, which likely will need to play a makeup game tomorrow.

The Phillies have given up, finally

Back in February, before the 2015 MLB season started, I wrote that the projected-to-be-terrible Philadelphia Phillies should just give up and put themselves out to pasture. They did not immediately heed my advice. Nearly four months later, the team found itself with a 22-44 record, the worst in all of baseball. Cue the terminal sequence: Continue reading

When do baseball teams score runs?

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One of the marks of a smart baseball writer is the ability to sense a trend, research its existence and nature, place her findings in context, and present her conclusions in a way that meaningfully educates readers. Inherent in this ability is the wherewithal to know when to stop researching a trend or pressing on a concept, realizing that the fruits of the work have been or soon will be exhausted. Sometimes a person who is not a “smart baseball writer” by the foregoing definition will noodle about on an idea for so long, he’ll end up with a small pile of research that no longer has any bearing on any meaningful conclusions.

Two years ago, I decided to investigate a hunch that the Detroit Tigers were having trouble scoring runs late in games. My initial research mostly seemed to support my hypothesis, and a follow-up look appeared to confirm it more strongly. More than merely interesting (and fleetingly self-satisfying), it also was informatively concerning, because it placed the team’s well-known bullpen problems in a more nuanced light: relief-pitching woes alone weren’t the problem, because the lack of late-game scoring was compounding the problem of surrendering leads during the final frames. As strange as it seemed, the Tigers had interrelated shortcomings on both sides of the plate.

One comment I received in the course of sharing those findings stuck with me: I needed to place this information in context. After all, there are plausible reasons to believe that all teams might, perhaps to varying extents, experience decreased run production in the late innings.

And so it was that, two years later, I finally discovered Retrosheet, a site that compiles inning-by-inning scoring data to a more useful degree than the resources I’d utilized back in 2013. What follows are two graphs of the inning-by-inning scoring of sixteen teams for the 2014 season. Continue reading

Upton Abbey: Episode 7 – Dessert Seized

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There will be extra baseball in Atlanta this year. The Braves clinched the NL East title over the weekend, ensuring themselves a postseason berth. With a few days left in the regular season, their potential playoff opponents include the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates(!), and Dodgers.

The good news: Jason Heyward is back in the lineup sooner than expected– thirty days after a New York Met fastball broke his jaw. In the last twenty-two games Heyward played before the injury, Atlanta was 18-4. They were 13-13 in the twenty-six games without him. Heyward may not be fully healed, but the team needs him back in the lineup, and bringing him back for these last few regular season games was the only way they could allow him to get back into playing mode before the playoffs begin.

Heyward_Braves_baseballThe odd news: As part of its remodeling effort, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution began offering a live, online feature for Braves games called Gametracker. It’s similar to ESPN’s online Gamecast product. Gametracker is a nice way to keep track of Braves games, but it seems odd that, as of last week, it would think relief pitcher Luis Ayala plays for the Orioles. First, Gametracker only tracks Braves games. Second, while Ayala did appear in two games for Baltimore this season, he’s appeared in thirty-five for the Braves, the team he joined in April of this year.

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Finally, third baseman Chris Johnson has been having a nice year at the plate. Way nicer than anyone expected or really can explain, in fact. One concern entering the playoffs is that, with the offense sputtering and his awareness of his potentially fluky success and the increased importance of that success to the team’s success, Johnson will start to overthink his plate appearances and squelch his offensive proficiency.

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Previously
Episode 6 – I Can See Clearly Now?
Episode 5 – Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner
Episode 4 – A Three-Course Meal
Episode 3 – Hosting Royalty
Episode 2 – Lords of the Mannor
Episode 1 – Beginning, as we must, with Chipper

ALDLAND Podcast

The MLB had a fairly inactive trade deadline today, but luckily ALDLAND had a very active podcasting session to make up for it. Marcus and I share our semi-informed opinions on a variety of trades that were and were not made, as well as discuss the date of the MLB trade deadline and whether it should be moved. Bonus discussion of music related things. Will this podcast be the first ALDLAND podcast to be on iTunes? Who can say?

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

ALDLAND Podcast

ALDLAND is back with its most intense baseball podcast yet.  We have playoff predictions.  We have triple crown coverage.  We even speak about the elusive quadruple crown.  Also covered: a stupid sport with stupid players and owners that isn’t even going to play a season this year.  Someone else needs to step up and listen to this while Pax is in the Alps.  Will it be you?  It better be.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

ALDLAND Podcast

After another short-ish break, Aldland is back with another podcast, this time featuring blog creator AD.  We have doubled the number of listeners to our podcast, and are producing an appropriately epic podcast to honor the occasion.  Listen as we talk baseball, Saints bounty program and obviously, about the biggest news story of the year.  Click that play button!

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here: