To Keep or Not to Keep: Zack Britton
by Ethan Semendinger
July 7th, 2021
Over the next month as we begin to approach the 2021 Trade Deadline season, Ethan will be taking you through most of the Yankees MLB talent (including those on the IL) and his give opinions on what he would do if he ran the team and on what the Yankees will likely do.
Today we’ll be discussing Zack Britton.
MLB Postseason/Division/WS Odds for the New York Yankees (2021): Preseason: Fangraphs – 91.3%/71.0%/17.5% BBRef – 84.0%/63.1%/11.8% 538 – 83%/60%/14% On June 14th: Fangraphs – 44.5%/14.4%/5.7% BBRef – 19.3%/0.9%/0.8% 538 – 37%/8%/3%#Yankees #StartSpreadingtheNews — Start Spreading The News (@NYY_Report) June 14, 2021
Understanding This Series:
At the beginning of this series, the Yankees currently sit with a 33-32 record, are 4th in the AL East (8.5 GB of the Rays), and are 6th in the AL Wild Card race (4 GB of the Astros). If they want to win 93 games this season (what they’d likely need for a wild card spot) they’ll have to play .618 baseball, a winning percentage of which just 2 teams (Rays and White Sox) are currently playing at. In this series we’re not believing that the Yankees, under their current roster construction and self-inflicted restrictions, have a shot at the playoffs. Thus, we’re looking at the 2021 Trade Deadline as a place to sell and to look towards 2022 and the future for this team.
Zack Britton Background:
Acquired by the Yankees as they looked to bolster the bullpen at the trade deadline during the 2018 season, Zack Britton while on an expiring contract and then signed him as a free agent for 3/$39 million to keep him with the team from 2019 through 2022.
Over his parts of four years (including his 4.1 innings pitched in 2021) with the Yankees, Britton has been a great pitcher:
2.22 ERA (201 ERA+; 3.77 FIP), 14 saves (116 games; 36 games finished), a WHIP of 1.131, 93 Strikeouts (7.6 K/9), and 53 Walks (4.3 BB/9)
However, being behind Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen- and the Yankees inability to move the flamethrower from the closer role- has meant that Britton has not only been able to be used in non-9th inning situations, but also in higher leverage situations while again putting up better numbers than Chapman. Maybe this is the Yankees being incredibly smart as they have had two great options for a closer.
Regardless, there is no doubt about Britton as a reliever/closer. He’s tops in the game and has been for a while at his job. Though, in 2021 there has been a major problem with getting on the field.
After missing the beginning of spring training with a COVID diagnosis and a quick end to spring training with a move to the 60-Day IL after elbow complaints, Britton started making some rehab starts at the end of May and into June. On June 12th, the Yankees brought him back…and he lasted just 4.1 innings before having a hamstring problem that has him currently on the 10-Day IL.
What I’d Do and What the Yankees Will Do:
Unfortunately, it is hard to trade hurt players as we saw with our discussion on Luis Severino. However, Britton does have a timeline to return before the deadline (he can return as early as July 6th) which means he could go through some quick rehab, get into a few MLB games, and pitch well enough to warrant a trade.
The other good thing with Britton is that his track record for success is incredibly high. Since 2014 he has had 5 seasons with an ERA+ over 200 with two of them being in 2019 and 2020. That with his being okay to sign a deal with a team with a closer and accepting a non-closer role for the past few seasons also bodes well for a trade if he was to return from injury and pitch well before July 31st.
Would I trade Britton? If a team was interested in him, 100%. For similar reasons as I said about Aroldis Chapman at the beginning of this series, it is in the Yankees best financial and future interests to trade high on relievers during a market where many high-profile and high-budget teams are likely willing to spend.
Think about 2016 and what the Yankees could do again if they offered both Chapman (well…if he can learn to throw his fastball for a strike again) and Britton at the deadline. They’d have the obvious monopoly on the top-tier reliever market and be able to get back (likely) the best deals.
However, I don’t expect the Yankees will deal him. I don’t expect the Yankees will deal Chapman (and at this point in the last few weeks that has gotten to look to be even harder to do). Unfortunately, I see them being very flat-footed at the deadline with holding onto their team as constructed going into the season and ultimately missing out on making good deals to start a rebuild/retooling phase now.