Early AL RoY Favorite: Zach Britton

In the American League East, Tampa Bay and Toronto get the bulk of attention as clubs with a lot of up-and-coming talent. Baltimore, though, has a lot of potential as well and could soon surprise a lot of people – if they’re not already – on the strength of the organization’s young pitching.

With Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, and Brian Matusz already making names for themselves in the young rotation, an early-season injury to the latter pitcher has given Baltimore fans an earlier-than-expected glimpse at ground-ball machine Zach Britton. Perhaps one of the most underrated pitching prospects in the game (who is slowly gaining supporters) Britton burst onto the scene on April 3 with an impressive performance against the Tampa Bay Rays during his MLB debut.

In his first start, the lefty allowed just three hits in 6.0 innings and struck out six batters. Facing his second test on April 9 against a potent Texas team, the youngster allowed just four hits and no runs in 7.2 innings of work. He walked three batters for the second straight start and struck out just two hitters. So far in his young career, Britton’s repertoire has looked good and his three pitches – fastball, slider and changeup – have each been average or better. Britton is known for having strong ground-ball rates in the minors (64.0 GB% in ’10) but he induced just four grounders during his first start; he then returned to his worm-burning ways against Texas with 14 ground balls (and just four fly balls).

Although he has an exciting mix of sink and velocity, the rookie could struggle with the current infield defenders behind him. Third baseman Mark Reynolds is not a good fielder at his current position and second baseman Brian Roberts has definitely seen his defense slip in the past few seasons. Veteran first baseman Derrek Lee has been inconsistent at his position in recent years. Only shortstop J.J. Hardy figures to be a consistent asset to Britton. His fellow young pitchers (Tillman, Arrieta, and Matusz) are all fly-ball pitchers and must content, instead, with the O’s questionable outfield defense.

Britton is talented enough to have a similar impact (~2.5 WAR performance) in 2011 to what Matusz had for the big league club in 2010, even though he is in The Show a little sooner than expected. Britton’s overall command/control still need some fine tuning and his changeup is developing so he’ll have to learn to make adjustments once the scouting reports make their way around the league. With time, he could easily develop into a No. 2 starter and one of the top southpaws in the American League.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect and rookie analysis. He also operates AstrosBall.com and can be reached via email at: marchulet@astrosball.com, or follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

29 Responses to “Early AL RoY Favorite: Zach Britton”

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  1. Ben says:

    Probably won’t have much fantasy value though, will he? Think he’ll rack up more Ks?

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  2. everdiso says:

    JP Arencibia says hi.

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    • Renegade says:

      I’d actually take Brett Lawrie or Kyle Drabek over Zach Britton or JP Arencibia.

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      • Bill says:

        I think Drabek and Britton are pretty similar, but Drabek is a bit more polished. Brett Lawrie is a good prospect, but I can’t see putting him on the same level as Britton (or Drabek). Britton and Drabek can be #1 starters. I think Lawrie’s ceiling is a league average contributor.

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      • Chris in Hawaii says:

        I’d take Lawrie… but only for my league of extraordinary douches.

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  3. Mario Mendoza says:

    So you are picking Britton over Pineda then?

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    • Mario Mendoza says:

      …I need to pick up one of the two in my keeper league (only ERA and IP count.)

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      • Jack says:

        I’d say Britton over Pineda given the injury history in keeper leagues. Britton can take path like Brandon Webb, Pineda might have the higher upside in short term but injuries could jeopardize his future.

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  4. RiverAce says:

    He’s got as much of a chance at ROY as the Orioles winning the AL East

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  5. Donny Andrews says:

    I think you are grossly underrating the Orioles infield. They have all looked spectacular so far this season.

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  6. JTKingdon says:

    Drabek struggled with command in his second start, we’ll see how he does in the upcoming games. Britton has looked great through two starts. However, I question how he’ll do against the East’s powerhouses. Pineda’s also only had one start, and held down a powerful Texas lineup pretty well, as did Britton. Britton, though, was at home, whereas Pineda pitched in one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball. Don’t forget about Hellickson either. He looks like he’ll live up to all of the hype after one start.

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    • Chris in Hawaii says:

      “whereas Pineda pitched in one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball”

      Camden Yards ain’t exactly PETCO either.

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      • JTKingdon says:

        Now that I look at it more closely, Camden is actually ranked 1st, followed by Chase (AZ), Citizens (Philly), and then Arlington for 2011 so far. The ranks for 2010 had Camden 5th and Arlington right behind at 6th.

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    • everdiso says:

      I think the ump was struggling with the strike zone more than Drabek was struggling with command.

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      • Spiggy says:

        But Bob Davidson is well-known for his consistent and even-handed decisions as an umpire, especially when the Jays are involved.

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  7. Ben says:

    ESPN boxscore has him with 16 groundball outs in his last start. Either way, that is some crazy stuff. And before you cry “wait until he faces the AL East” let’s remember this was against a Rangers lineup that can go toe-to-toe with the Beast’s hitters.

    He obviously won’t keep this pace up, but he’s gonna be a fun guy to watch this year.

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  8. Kampfer says:

    I really dont see any ACE possibilities out of Drabek and Britton, they do not really have an out pitch to put hitters away. They have really high floor, but limited upside. J.R. Arencibia on the other hand, is at least a good offensive catcher, and if he keeps up his habit(he dominated on the second try on all levels, but struggled initially), he will be better than Mauer. His defense isnt really bad

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  9. everdiso says:

    was Piazza better than Mauer?

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    • nolan says:

      who’s on first?

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        At the Mets/Phillies game this past Tuesday, Hu was put into the game aftr the Mets had pulled comfortably into the lead. One over excited Phillies fan sitting behind me got very excited when he realized a player named Hu was up to bat and started yelling his support for Hu to get on first. When he hit a single the guy was incredibly happy and shouted: “Hu’s on first, Hu’s on first!” I can only imagine his disappointment if he had hit a double.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Too early to tell, but I think it’s close. It depends on how Mauer’s knees hold up and whether he can produce long into his career. If I were to bet on which player will have the highest career WAR, I’d put my money on Piazza, though.

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  10. Mike Green says:

    Arencibia and Drabek will quickly learn to spell “favourite” correctly if they want to get the home fans’ support.

    Hu’s on first? I like it.

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  11. Lucky Jim says:

    It’s interesting to read projections by folks who (likely) haven’t actually gotten a chance to watch Britton. For a while, I figured his upside was as a solid No. 2, but his secondaries are rapidly improving. He has a slider that flashes plus and a change that flashes solid-average, to go with legitimate plus 2-seam (sinker) and 4-seam fastballs. He gets astounding movement, and though he’s not had his “best” stuff early this season, he’s incredibly difficult to square up on.

    I don’t think he’s particularly “underrated” – Law, BA and BP have each been high on him (top-25ish). He’s just not super-hyped.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the O’s defense, either. It’s been solid over the last half-season or so, and Reynolds is not the butcher he’s made out to be at 3d.

    Don’t get me wrong, the O’s are the longest of long-shots to contend this year. But none of that has to do w/ Britton, or who’s backing him up.

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  12. Joe says:

    Britton will end up being a better pitcher than Lester. Easy AL ROY winner. Love my Vols, but Arc is overrated and Brittons last start had a lot of weakly hit grounders and even a sac bunt for a hit. Every pitcher has those games. Get him if you’re a fantasy guy and he is cheap or available on the wire.

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