Archive for Orioles

Prime Ball-in-Play Traits of the 10 Playoff Teams, Part 1

Over time, teams take on the characteristics of some of their key players in the minds of analysts and fans. The Rays are eternally linked with Evan Longoria, known for power taking precedence at the plate, with a focus on defense. Similarly, Ryan Braun is the poster child for the Brewers, a bat-oriented player without a material defensive presence.

This week and next, let’s allow the players themselves to fade into the background, and draw some conclusions from a simple set of numbers — namely, each of the 10 playoff clubs’ team ball-in-play (BIP) statistics, broken down by exit speed and launch angles. We’ll examine what made these teams tick during the regular season and allowed them to play meaningful October baseball.

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Fall League Daily Notes: October 12

Over the coming weeks, Eric Longenhagen will publish brief, informal notes from his looks at the prospects of the Arizona Fall League and, until mid-October, Fall Instructional League.

Athletics OF Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros continues to take better at-bats than I anticipated and has an advanced feel for his strike zone. The power is as advertised, too, though he’s extremely vulnerable against breaking balls and is often so far out on his front foot against them that he can’t do anything but foul them off and live to see another pitch. He has a 40 arm, is a 50 runner and a left fielder for me going forward.

Also of note for Oakland yesterday in a Fall Instructional game against the Angels was RHP Abdiel Mendoza, who just turned 18 in September. Mendoza is extremely skinny but loose and quick-armed. His fastball sat in the upper 80s but I think there’s a good bit more coming and I like Mendoza’s athleticism. He’s purely a teenage lottery ticket but one I think who’s worth following.

For the Angels, INF Julio Garcia took the field at shortstop, which is notable because I hadn’t seen him play there for over a year. Garcia, a switch-hitter, came over from the DSL late last summer and looked tremendous at SS, but has spent this year playing a lot of 2B and 3B in deference to, in my opinion, inferior prospects — and also lost a significant amount of playing time to a facial injury. Scouts like the glove, body and bat speed but want to see a more measured approach to hitting, especially from the left side. The Angels’ middle infield is crowded at the lower levels, a group that includes 2016 draftee Nonie Williams, who posted an above-average run time for me yesterday.

Also of note for the Angels yesterday was the cage work of 2016 2nd rounder, OF Brandon Marsh. Marsh has not played in games since signing (neither in the AZL nor during instructional league) but showed above average raw power during a side session yesterday. The body should grow into even more pop. Mid-way through his session Marsh paused to take instruction from a coach behind the cage and immediately made an adjustment on his subsequent swings.

In last night’s Arizona Fall League game between Peoria and Salt River, Mariners OF Tyler O’Neill posted a plus run time for me yesterday and showed off his plus bat speed on several occasions but I thought his at-bats were a little overaggressive. Seattle LHP Luiz Gohara sat 95-97, touched 98 and flashed a plus slider in the mid-80s but struggled with command and, at age 20, is already carrying what looks like 240-plus pounds.

Padres utility prospect Josh VanMeter squared velocity several times and had three hits. Orioles LHP Tanner Scott was touching 99 but not getting as many swings and misses as you might expect from a 95-plus mph heater and his low-90s cutter/slider wasn’t all that effective, either.

The Orioles’ Secret Sauce

Last week, both Jeff and I wrote about the Orioles and BaseRuns. Jeff said this towards the end of his piece:

In four of the last five years, the Orioles’ BaseRuns record has been better than the projected record by at least six wins. In the fifth year, they were the same. The point being, the Orioles have knocked their projections out of the park, and they’ve done it far more than anyone else.

I ended my article with the following quote:

Haven’t [the Orioles] overperformed their BaseRuns wins for many years now? Yes, they have. But they’re overperforming at run prevention, not run scoring.

That night, Buck Showalter thumbed his nose at us both. Specifically, he mocked and derided the concept of run prevention by refusing to use his best run preventer in a tied elimination game with one out and runners on the corners. That refusal hurt the team’s chances of winning in a high-profile way. And thus another Orioles team bit the dust.

Given what happened, the prospect of talking about the Orioles and run prevention makes me twitch. But I’ll suppress it because there’s some interesting analysis here. Onward!

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Zach Britton Wasn’t Even the AL’s Best Reliever

Zach Britton has recently found himself at the forefront of baseball consciousness for a lot reasons, mostly positive, some negative, albeit through no fault of his own. He had a supremely excellent season in a tightly tailored, typical closer’s role for the Orioles, and his non-usage in last week’s wild-card game has almost become a caricature, a metaphor for outdated laissez-faire managerial strategies.

He will certainly receive many, many Cy Young votes, and might even walk off with the award. In my piece here last week, I compared his 2016 performance to some of the top seasons produced by AL starters, utilizing granular batted-ball data, and found that, while Britton does at least belong in the conversation, he didn’t deliver as much production to his club, in a year that is admittedly without a runaway choice among starting pitchers. What if I told you, however, that Britton didn’t even have the best season among AL relief pitchers?

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The Craziest Part of Showalter’s Crazy Decision

You already know the story of last night’s AL Wild Card game. The Orioles lost, and Zach Britton didn’t pitch. Everyone is talking about it today. Jeff Sullivan wrote a good piece on Showalter’s call, as did basically every other baseball writer in existence. Now, 12 hours later, it’s still hard to believe that it actually happened.

In reading the accounts from those who talked to Showalter — this one by Tyler Kepner, in particular, was really well done — you can feel the respect people have for him, and rightfully so. Showalter is one of the winningest managers in baseball history, and despite what he did last night, he didn’t get that way on accident. Two years ago, I wrote a post extolling Showalter’s postseason usage of his relievers; he clearly understood then that the postseason is a different animal, and needs to be handled differently from the regular season.

And while I certainly was among the chorus calling for Britton in the eighth inning — and every inning after that — you don’t have to squint too hard to see some logic in how Showalter used Mychal Givens, Brad Brach, and Darren O’Day. The Jays lineup is very right-handed, and those pitchers all throw from difficult angles for RHBs. Britton is the Orioles’ best reliever, but especially against a right-handed lineup, Showalter was picking from a variety of good options, all of whom were likely to pitch well in that situation. Britton might have been a bit more likely, but when factoring in the platoon splits, you can least kind of see why Showalter might have felt comfortable with his three primary right-handed setup guys.

But while Showalter stated in the postgame press conference that his decision wasn’t based on some philosophical issue, the 11th inning suggests differently. Because the only way you rationalize letting Jimenez face Edwin Encarnacion is if you’re dead set against using your closer in a tie game on the road.

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Zach Britton Watched the Orioles Lose

There is one article to be written about Tuesday’s American League wild card game, and that article will be written in 25,000 different places. I thank you for taking the time to read our own version. I can’t promise that it’s a different version from what’s likely to be already out there, but, see, that’s just the thing. There was a problem with how Tuesday played out for the Orioles, and everybody but perhaps the TBS broadcasters has been able to put their finger on it.

The Orioles lost, sure, and that’s the biggest problem. There’s no problem that affects them more. But the Orioles lost in extra innings. After Chris Tillman was removed, Buck Showalter cycled through six different relievers. Not one of those relievers was named Zach Britton, a closer who spent the year being so dominant he’s constructed a case for the Cy Young. The final pitch of the Orioles’ season was thrown by Ubaldo Jimenez. This is about what it looked like, and then it was time for them all to get packing.


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Zach Britton and the Two Possible Explanations

The Blue Jays just walked off against the Orioles, with Ubaldo Jimenez giving up the game-losing home run to Edwin Encarnacion in the bottom of the 11th inning. The story, though, is that the Orioles used seven pitchers in their final game of the season, and potential Cy Young winning closer Zach Britton was not one of them. The Blue Jays beat the Orioles in large part because the Orioles didn’t use their best pitcher tonight.

At this point, there are two possible explanations for Buck Showalter’s decision.

1. Zach Britton wasn’t available, or felt something off when he warmed up in the 8th inning. Given that Buck Showalter seems like a reasonable human being, this should probably be our default assumption right now. Often times, when a manager does something inexplicable with their bullpen usage, there’s information asymmetry, and they know something we don’t know. That may very well be the case here.


2. The “save” stat just cost the Orioles their 2016 season. If Showalter really used Brian Duensing and Ubaldo Jimenez before Zach Britton because he was waiting to get Britton a lead so that he could earn a save, then this is the craziest managerial decision that I can remember in my baseball-watching life.

I don’t see another possibility, really. Either Britton is hurt or Buck Showalter just screwed up in an historic way. It will be interesting to find out how honest the team is about Britton’s availability in postgame comments.

Update: It was option #2. A few quotes from Showalter.

Strikeout Rates, BaseRuns, and the Orioles

As an Orioles fan, BaseRuns is never far from my thoughts. Since 2010, the team has outperformed its BaseRuns record every year — most notably in 2012, on the way to its first playoff appearance in over a decade. This year’s Orioles are no different, sitting last week at +5 wins versus what BaseRuns models. Fans say it’s Orioles Magic. The algorithm says such performances are expected. Jeff Sullivan doesn’t know precisely what to say.

After the team signed Pedro Alvarez, I paid attention when Dave asked if they would strike out too much, where by “too much” he meant “to such an extent that they’d win fewer games than their BaseRuns record suggests.” With another season in the books, I’ve picked up here where Cameron left off, exploring the relationship between a team’s strikeout rate and its BaseRuns in a few more ways.

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The Orioles Are Better Than We Thought, Again

There’s a certain urgency to a post like this. Yesterday, I talked about the Cubs, and I had little choice but to mention the Cubs probably won’t win the World Series. The Orioles, one has to figure, are worse than the Cubs, so the Orioles probably won’t win the World Series, either. The odds are strongly against every individual team, meaning fans of every individual team are likely looking ahead to crushing heartbreak. If and when that heartbreak occurs, it’ll be a little while before people want to reflect upon happy memories.

So instead of waiting, I want to slide this in today. For all I know, some hours from now, the Orioles’ 2016 season will come to an end. They have something like a 50/50 shot to move past the Blue Jays, and then they’d just be rewarded with another tough match-up against another tough roster. The playoffs are hard and the playoffs are draining. But no matter what happens soon, it was another strong season for Baltimore. And it was another strong season that the projections didn’t expect.

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Buck Showalter and the Zach Britton Test

Tonight’s AL Wild Card game is a pretty fascinating matchup. Both teams launch home runs at prodigious rates, as the Orioles led the majors in long balls, and the Blue Jays finished fourth overall, just four home runs back of a tie for second. Interestingly, however, neither team was as good offensively as those home run totals might make you think; Toronto ranked 11th in offensive runs above average while Baltimore came in 13th. If they’re not launching homers, they can be held in check, so tonight’s game might not be the slugfest that could otherwise be expected.

Especially because the rules of the Wild Card game incentivize frequent pitching changes, and both of these teams should be taking advantage of the flexibility. The Blue Jays are starting Marcus Stroman, but they also have starters Francisco Liriano and Marco Estrada on the roster, plus the normal compliment of seven relievers; the Jays could mix-and-match their pitchers from the first inning and still have enough arms to get through the game, even while holding one of the extra starters in reserve for a potential extra inning contest.

Likewise, the Orioles are also carrying 10 pitchers, with Ubaldo Jimenez and Dylan Bundy available in relief, along with seven traditional relievers. But if you’re Buck Showalter, you’re probably a lot less excited about the possibility of bringing in Jimenez (5.44 ERA/4.43 FIP/4.64 xFIP) or Bundy (4.02 ERA/4.70 FIP/4.61 xFIP) in an elimination game, and the plan is more likely going to be to ride Tillman as long as he’s effective, than to turn the ball over the team’s normal relief corps.

That relief corps, of course, is anchored by Zach Britton, the best pitcher the Orioles have. Britton’s dominance is almost hard to believe at this point; 202 of the 254 batters he faced this year (80%) either struck out or hit a groundball. He’s the most extreme groundball pitcher we’ve ever seen, only he also blows hitters away with a similar strikeout rate to what Noah Syndergaard posted this year. Opposing batters hit .161/.221/.191 against him this year. To put that in perspective, Mariano Rivera only held hitters to a lower OPS than Britton’s .430 mark once in his career; in 2008, when hitters put up a .423 OPS against him.

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How Should We Evaluate a Manager?

I’ve got a vote for American League Manager of the Year this season and I’m terrified. My first vote as a member of the Baseball Writer’s Association, and it’s the impossible one.

Maybe impossible is too tough a word. I’m sure I’ll figure something out in time to submit a vote. But evaluating the productivity of a manager just seems so difficult. We’ve seen efforts that use the difference between projected and actual wins, or between “true talent” estimations for the team and their actual outcomes. But those attribute all sorts of random chance to the manager’s machinations.

I’d like to instead identify measurable moments where a manager exerts a direct influence on his team, assign those values or ranks, and see where each current manager sits. So what are those measurable moments?

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Projecting Orioles Call-Up Trey Mancini

With the minor-league playoffs finished, the Baltimore Orioles summoned first-base prospect Trey Mancini from Triple-A Norfolk this week to help sure up their offense. Mancini wasted no time making an impact for the O’s, notching his first career home run in Tuesday’s game against the Red Sox. Mancini broke out in 2015 when he slashed an outstanding .331/.370/.539 between High-A and Double-A. His raw numbers regressed a bit this season as he moved to a more pitcher-friendly park, but he still managed a strong .282/.357/.458 showing, with almost all of that coming at Triple-A.

Mancini’s power is enticing. In each of the last two seasons, he’s reached the 20-homer mark and ISO’d over .175. However, some of his other attributes take away from some of that shine. Mancini’s a first baseman, meaning he’ll need to hit a bunch to have a long-term future in the bigs. He also turns 25 next spring, making him a bit old for even the Triple-A level. And perhaps most importantly, he kind of strikes out a lot — likely due in part to his long swing.

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Zach Britton on Sinkers, WPA, and the Cy Young

In October 2011, a Q&A titled Zach Britton, Oriole in Progress was published in these pages. Britton had just completed a rookie season in which he went 11-11, with a 4.61 ERA, in 28 starts. He’d thrown his signature pitch 53% of the time.

Fast forward to today. Britton is still in Baltimore, but much has changed. He became a reliever in 2014, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Since moving to the bullpen, the 28-year-old southpaw has appeared in 199 games and fashioned a 1.42 ERA. Relying more heavily on his power sinker — he now throws it over 90% of the time — he has the highest ground-ball rate in the game (80.8% this year). He also misses bats. Britton strikes out better than a batter per inning.

This season he’s been next to un-hittable. In 61.1 innings, Britton has allowed just 34 hits. He’s recorded a microscopic 0.59 ERA and has 45 saves in as many chances. As August Fagerstrom wrote last month — many have echoed his opinion since that time — Britton is very much in the mix for this year’s American League Cy Young award.


Britton on his pitch mix and changing roles: “There were a lot more four-seamers back [in 2011]. As a starter, you throw more pitches and mix in different things. It was probably a negative for me that I wasn’t learning how to command the sinker as much as I am now. That was really the big focus when I went to the bullpen — the command of my sinker. The results have been really good once I got that focus.

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Zach Britton Has Actually Been Unlucky

Hopefully there aren’t too many of you out there suffering from Zach Britton fatigue. Last month, our own Corinne Landrey wrote about his potential for an all-time great season, and then shortly thereafter the baseball-writing community collectively began taking turns crafting the individual arguments for his Cy Young — and even MVP — candidacy, before the pushback began. We had our Zach Britton week, and all was good and fun. In reality, however, the chances of him winning — or even making a serious run at — the Cy Young Award seems highly unlikely.

But the first inaugural Zach Britton Cy Young Discussion Week still provided the framework for a few days of thought-provoking arguments and gave us something interesting to ponder. Now, here’s something else to think about: what if, in Zach Britton’s already potentially all-time great season, he’s actually been unlucky?

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What Can Hitters Actually See Out of a Pitcher’s Hand?

We’ve all seen those swings so terrible that a batter can’t help but smile. Swings like this one from Brandon Phillips last year.

Phillips, of course, isn’t the only victim of this sort of thing. He’s been a league-average major-league hitter for a decade, which is a substantial accomplishment. But even accomplished hitters can look bad, can get it very wrong.

Were Phillips batting not for a last-place club but one contending for the postseason, we might gnash our teeth. Couldn’t he see that was a slider? What was he thinking? What was he looking at?

The answer to that last question, turns out, is way more complicated than it seems. Phillips clearly should have laid off a breaking ball that failed to reach the plate. He clearly has done that — otherwise, he wouldn’t have had a major-league career. So what happened? What did he see? Or not see? Ask hitters and experts that question, and the answers are vague, conflicting, and sometimes just strange.

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Ubaldo Jimenez Found His Mechanics at the Right Time

The words “Ubaldo Jimenez” and “good start” haven’t appeared together often this year. In fact the word “start” itself hasn’t always applied. But with his team clinging to a Wild Card spot and still within reach of a division title, he picked a great time to throw four good starts in place of an injured Chris Tillman.

Jimenez’s first two years with the Baltimore Orioles are a study in contrasts. In 2014, he walked nearly 14% of his batters en route to a 4.48 xFIP. Although the Orioles won the AL East and took Jimenez to the ALDS, they left him off the ALCS roster. But in 2015, Jimenez harnessed his funky mechanics, got more ground balls, walked fewer batters, and had a much better 3.83 xFIP.

This year has more resembled 2014 than 2015. Although Jimenez is walking fewer batters than in 2014, he’s striking out fewer, too, leading to a lower strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%). After beginning the season in the rotation, here’s what happened:

  • June 14 – Demoted to bullpen. At the time, his strikeout rate was just 17.3%, while his walk rate was 11.4%.
  • June 17 – Pitched 2.1 innings in emergency relief of Mike Wright. Jimenez struck out four batters but walked two and gave up two long balls.
  • June 22 – Returned to rotation.
  • August 1 – Demoted to bullpen again. From June 22nd to August 1st, his strikeout rate improved to 22.25%, but his walk rate soared to an unplayable 15.7%.
  • August 24 – Returned to the rotation as a result of Chris Tillman going on the DL. At the time the Orioles were 69-56, two games back in the AL East and two games ahead of Seattle for the second AL Wild Card spot.

His four starts in place of Tillman were good. Jimenez struck out only 15.9% of the batters he faced, but he cut his walk rate to a stingy 5.6%. He also threw the team’s first complete game since 2014.

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The Case for Manny Machado for American League MVP

This week, we’re running a series of posts laying out the case for the most compelling candidates for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award. These posts are designed to make an affirmative argument for their subject and are not intended to serve as comprehensive looks at every candidate on their own. The authors tasked with writing these posts may not even believe their subject actually deserves to win, but they were brave enough to make the case anyway. The goal of these posts is to lay out the potential reasons for voters to consider a variety of candidates and to allow the readers to decide which argument is most persuasive.

Other cases: Jose Altuve for AL MVP / Mookie Betts for AL MVP / Mike Trout for AL MVP.

It’s fair to say that, at places like FanGraphs, we spend a lot of time trying to remove teammates from the equation, strip everything down to its basic parts and determine a player’s individual value without context. We ignore things like RBI and runs — metrics that are often based not on a player’s own talent level, but how good a player’s teammates are around him. While there are differing viewpoints on the BBWAA’s suggestion that “actual value” ought to be considered in MVP voting — and how that term should be defined — if we choose to look at the standings, at the playoff races, and the individual teams and players on those teams, Manny Machado has been the most important player in the American League and has provided more actual value to his team this season than any other player. That is his case for Most Valuable Player.

Machado currently has 34 home runs and .306/.358/.565 overall line, good for a 140 wRC+. The 24-year-old has played to his usual incredible standard on defense, and his 28 runs above average on offense — coupled with his 13 runs above average on defense — has led to a WAR above six on the season. While there are other players who provide more offensive or defensive value, literally no one in baseball provides that combination of the two: no single player currently stands within 15 runs on offense of Machado and five runs on defense. There is not a player who has provided double-digit defensive numbers with even half of the offensive runs above average as Machado. There are few concerns that Machado’s defensive numbers are the product of a small-sample mirage, either: he’s averaged about 18 runs above average per 150 games in his career. On offense, Machado is chasing history. The only players to play at least 25% of their games at shortstop and hit more than 40 home runs are Alex Rodriguez and Ernie Banks. Machado has a chance to join them. Read the rest of this entry »

Manny Machado Is Looking for His Cookie

Per at-bat, Manny Machado is better this year than he was last year. That’ll happen with a 24-year-old. Or at least that’s what people tell me, I don’t remember those halcyon days myself. What’s most interesting, of course, is how he’s done it. You can tell that he’s hitting for a bit more power by hitting more fly balls, and that he’s improved against breaking balls. That much is on the player pages. But was it the result of a mechanical adjustment, or an approach adjustment? Ask the player, and the answer is yes. And no!

“I haven’t really changed anything,” the Orioles infielder said recently of his swing. “You get a little smarter with the pitches they’re going to throw to you, what they are trying to do to you. Try to look more for a pitch you can drive.” When pushed on that particular subject, he admitted what most hitters would probably admit if they were being honest. “I’m sitting dead red. Looking for a fastball down the middle, more or less.”

“What’s my power, what’s my cookie?” he added with a smile. As for his answer, it does appear as though the fastball up has rewarded him with the best results. He’s been more aggressive on the fastball out over the plate and that’s resulted in more fly balls and power. Here’s his swing rate on fastballs last year (left) and this year (right).


Sitting on that high fastball has made the low pitches look less attractive — the same thing Adrian Beltre found when he started looking for the high fastball — and that has, in turn, dampened Machado’s ground-ball rate on fastballs.

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Revisiting Chris Davis’ Troubling Trend

Few players can heat up the way Chris Davis can. Baltimore’s left-handed slugger has homered five times in his last six games, and over the last two weeks has ran a .432 ISO and 183 wRC+. It’s a sufficient number of stretches like this one over the course of a season that leave Davis winding up among the league’s best hitters, as he did in 2013 and 2015.

Few players can get lost the way Davis sometimes can too, though, and certainly few are getting paid more. Before Davis’ current two-week hot stretch began, the $161-million man was barely a league-average hitter, posting a 103 wRC+ over his first 451 plate appearances in the first year of the seven-year contract he signed in the offseason. Even when Davis has struggled to make contact, he’s walked enough to maintain a respectable on-base percentage, and he moves well enough for a slugger to accrue base-running value and avoid being a liability in the field. So, the season as a whole hasn’t been a disaster: he’s projected to finish the year with roughly 3.5 WAR. But the bat’s what earns Davis his money, and when Dan Duquette handed out the largest free-agent contract in franchise history this January, he certainly wasn’t hoping to see it look like this so soon.

And just before Duquette handed out that very contract, our own Jeff Sullivan, writing for FOX Sports, pointed out a troubling trend within Davis’ game, regarding that very bat. Sullivan noted that Davis was on a five-year run of increasing his pull rate, pulling air balls more each year, and pulling ground balls more each year. The culmination of that five-year increase was Davis, last year, ranking in the 99th percentile in pull rate. In other words, he’d become the most pull-happy hitter in baseball. The extra pulled grounders resulted in more shifts, and more outs. The extra pulled air balls presented a potentially worrisome indicator, too. To quote directly from that article:

People say that, as hitters age, they try to become more pull-happy, to squeeze out as much power as possible. That’s not the only explanation, but this could be Davis adopting and embracing an old-player skill. Which isn’t what you want to think about a player who’s been offered a seven-year contract.

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Zach Britton Could Have a Real Cy Young Case

“Does Zach Britton have a shot at the Cy Young this year?”

It’s a question I didn’t take seriously at first. It’s only happened once in the last 20 years, and Eric Gagne’s 2003 season is perhaps the greatest season in the history of the modern closer. It comes complete with major league records — 55 consecutive single-season saves and 63 consecutive saves spanning multiple seasons — that helped justify the voter’s decision. There existed both the utter dominance and the storyline. But the Cy Young Award is now almost universally a starter’s award, and it’s been fair to wonder all this time whether Gagne could be the last reliever to win it, but it also might be time to start wondering whether this is the year it should happen again.

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