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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Can CC Ride into Cooperstown?

New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia had a big night last night, giving his team a much-needed six-inning shutout start and a chance to even the series against the  Houston Astros in the ALCS. With Sabathia, at age thirty-seven, in the final year of his current contract, Sabathia’s performance made some wonder about his Hall-of-Fame credentials, a subject I attempt to parse in only slightly greater detail in my latest post for Banished to the Pen.

The full post is available here.

When your favorite group plays poorly in the wrong venue

When the Tap’s fans wanted to express their displeasure with the debut of Spinal Tap Mark II and “Jazz Odyssey” at Themeland, there’s only one way to do it:

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The same goes for Rays fans expressing their displeasure with a losing performance against the New York Yankees in a game relocated to Citi Field (the home of the New York Mets) due to Hurricane Irma:

Have the Atlanta Braves discovered the secret of the ooze?

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Only three teams– the Rockies, Tigers, and Phillies– declined to participate in the transaction frenzy that concluded on August 1’s non-waiver trade deadline, which means that, yes, even the lowly Braves were in on the action.

One of the clearest messages the trade-deadline market communicated was that contending teams (or teams that fancied themselves contenders, anyway) were willing to pay a premium for relief pitching. Atlanta did send pitchers Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez to Texas in exchange for Travis Demeritte, an infield prospect who starred across from Dansby Swanson at this year’s Futures Game, on July 27. They skipped the more obvious opportunity to sell high on the momentarily resurgent Jim Johnson, however, especially considering the fact that he’s a free agent after this season.

Instead, in the words of Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, the Braves “exchange[d] toxic assets” with the Padres by trading infielder Hector Olivera for Matt Kemp.

It’s been tough to find people who think this was a good trade for the Braves. Kemp was good, once, five years ago, when he provided 8.3 fWAR in 161 games for the 2011 Dodgers. Since then, he’s been worth 4.8 fWAR total from 2012 through August 2, when he made his Braves debut at Turner Field:

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Kemp’s still being paid like he’s an eight-win, MVP-caliber player, but he’s playing like a half-win, DL-caliber player. He can’t run. As he demonstrated for the crowd in his Atlanta debut, he can’t defend. His bat, his only potential weapon at this point, is less consistent than that of Justin Upton, the last consequential left fielder to wear a Braves uniform. Still, when Kemp received a standing ovation from the home fans (who, to my eyes, were outnumbered by a surprisingly large cadre of Pirates fans) when he came to the plate for the first time in the bottom of the first, it so confused the Pittsburgh players that Jace Peterson, who was on first after walking to start the inning, easily stole second. So maybe there is some hidden value there.

But really, what’s the Braves’ plan with this move? Continue reading

Yogi Berra, by the numbers

The most famous Yankee catcher, a veteran of twenty-one World Series and one World War, died yesterday at the age of ninety. It’s a testament to the power of Yogi Berra’s personality, which remains his strongest legacy, that it casts a shadow longer than the remarkable numbers that attempt to illustrate his baseball achievements. What follows is a sampling of those numbers:

If you’re not going to know nothing about baseball, these are some pretty good things to know. Now get on to Yogi’s funeral, or else he won’t come to yours.

A fresh glance at Babe Ruth, upon the resumption of baseball

My latest post at Banished to the Pen contributes to the spirit of the opening of a new baseball season with a quick look back at one of the game’s most accomplished players.

It is nice to see the rookies of today showing respect for their elders, but modern celebrants of the game sometimes fear that reexaminations of their childhood heroes will alter their images and understandings of past giants in adverse fashion. For Babe Ruth, a truncated, targeted retrospective does serve to modify the Ruthian folk zeitgeist, but, in his case, it does so exclusively to enhance the stature of the Sultan.

The full post is available here.

Upton Abbey: Season Two Preview

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Upton Abbey is our Atlanta Braves series, now in its second season. B.J. and Justin Upton are off to rough starts, but overall, the state of Upton Abbey is strong. Tune in all season long right here on ALDLAND.

The Braves are opening at home this week with series against division foes New York and Washington. They started the season on the road in Milwaukee and Washington, going 4-2 on that trip, dropping just one game in each city.

Atlanta’s young, ascendant starting pitchers were the story heading into the season. That talent vanished with still-shocking swiftness, duplicate round-two Tommy John surgeries, and other injuries clearing out the bulk of the rotation. Still, the remaining starters, led by Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, have looked pretty good so far. Craig Kimbrel remains the best closer in the game, so that’s something that will help reassure a young, trembling group of starters. Reliever Luis Avilan’s hamstring injury, suffered this week, is cause for concern, but you’re getting the theme pretty clearly at this point.

The main non-injury offseason personnel event was the departure of free agent catcher Brian McCann to the Yankees. While the still-raw Evan Gattis (and the wily Gerald Laird) may be able to replace some of McCann’s hitting, we should pause here to note the likely dropoff when it comes to the glove. From 2008-13, McCann was the best catcher in baseball in terms of pitch framing; Laird and fellow Braves backup catcher Ryan Doumit were among the ten worst over that period.

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ALDLAND will be at Turner Field for two games this week. Tonight, Commodawg and AD will catch the rubber match in this opening series with the Mets. On Sunday, Physguy comes to town to join AD for the third game of the Nationals series. Stay tuned here and on twitter for the freshest insights and hottest updates.

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Related
Preseason BP Nuggets
A Boy, His Granddad and the Monumental Courage of Henry Aaron (via The Bitter Southerner)

Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection
From Barves to Burbs: What’s Happening to Baseball in Atlanta?

Preseason BP Nuggets

bpro-oscarAs mentioned, this is my first season reading the Baseball Prospectus annual, and as those around me this spring have noticed, it’s full of numbers. Numbers are okay, but without analysis or interpretation, it can be a bit like reading the backs of a bunch of really comprehensive baseball cards (that also happen to include some sophisticated projections for the season ahead). There’s nothing wrong with numbers, but they don’t tend to make for very exciting reading on a site like this. Instead of asking you to widen your eyes along with me at the number of home runs Chris Davis is projected to hit this year (thirty, down from his Triple-Crown-repeat-spoiling fifty-three in 2013), I’ve tried to extract a few nuggets of information from the weeds of the raw data that will make watching baseball this season just a little bit more enjoyable.      Continue reading

ALDLAND Podcast

Welcome to a very special ALDLAND Podcast this week as old favorite and one time co-host Chris Cunico returns to discuss a variety of topics with yours truly and Marcus. On tap this week is the boring slog that is the NFL preseason, discussion of Clint Dempsey’s move to the MLS and one final steroid suspension talk (we promise we’re done after this). Bonus: technical problems!

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:
[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/73353635/Podcast%2040.mp3]

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: