Results tagged ‘ Zach Britton ’
Last Saturday’s 12-3 Tides loss to the Charlotte Knights feature one of the worst pitching performances I’ve ever seen. To set the stage, the parent Baltimore Orioles had burned through their pitching staff on Thursday, and summoned Saturday’s scheduled starting pitcher Zach Britton to start Saturday’s Orioles game. The Class A Delmarva Shorebirds were returning to the Eastern Shore from Kannapolis, NC, and made a stop in Norfolk, ejecting Zach Petersime. Petersime, who had been an emergency pitcher with the Tides earlier, made the start for the Tides.
You might think that the bad pitching performance would come from Petersime, who was really supposed to pitch three levels below the AAA Tides, and who had pitched less than 150 innings in his professional career. But Petersime rose to the occasion. He pitched three scoreless innings. In the fourth, Justin Greene hit a line drive to left center. L.J. Hoes ran to catch it, but just as he was getting there he lost his footing and the ball rolled to the fence; Greene reached third on a triple. One out later, Jose Lopez singled in Greene and Brent Morel doubled. With runners on second and third, Petersime was relieved by Pedro Viola.
And it was Pedro Viola who pitched terribly. Viola is a left-handed relief pitcher who can reach 95 miles an hour, but he has poor control and his pitches are straight. His delivery is out of the Al Hrabosky/Mitch Williams school — he turns his back on the batter before starting his delivery and looks at home plate by peeking over his right shoulder. While Hrabosky and Williams had some spectacular seasons, their delivery was hard to repeat and they weren’t consistent.
On Saturday, Viola pitched two and one-third innings. On the positive side, he did strike out five batters. On the negative side, he walked two, gave up five hits including two home runs, allowed a stolen base, and misplayed a return toss from the catcher. This led to six earned runs. But it wasn’t just that. Viola threw 57 pitches; 22 were balls and six were fouls, which led to some long counts. And Viola took a long time between pitches. It made for a very tedious two and one-third innings.
I have to wonder if some pitching coach, somewhere, has tried to work with Viola to adopt a more traditional, more repeatably consistent delivery. Maybe one has and found that Viola loses velocity when he used it. The Orioles are hoping that they can harness Viola’s powerful left arm and develop a relief ace, or at least a devasating lefty specialist. But when Viola’s not pitching well, it’s painful to watch.
It should be clear that the pitchers on the 2012 Tides will be determined, in large part, by the pitchers who win spots on the 2012 Orioles. Going into spring training, no one had a spot in the Orioles starting rotation locked up. With two weeks left in spring training, there’s been a little bit of clarification, but there is also still a lot of uncertainty.
- Zach Britton is suffering from “arm inflammation” and is almost certainly not going to be in the rotation at the start of the season.
- Tommy Hunter, another rotation candidate, is making his first spring appearance today. There’s not going to be enough time for him to get ready to be in the rotation by the start of the year.
- Jake Arrieta has pitched more in minor-league games than in big-league spring games, but seems likely to be ready by opening day.
- Brian Matusz hasn’t pitched all that well, but he has a 16-1 K-BB ratio in fifteen innings and looks to be back in the rotation.
- Jason Hammel and Wei-Lin Chen have pitched well enough to solidify spots in the opening-day rotation.
- Alfredo Simon is still hanging around, but hurt his cause by not telling Buck Showalter that he had hurt his groin. That’s yet another reason why I wouldn’t want him around.
- Despite Zach Britton’s unavailabilty, Chris Tillman hasn’t really pitched well enough to seize a roster spot. Because he has an option year remaining, I think he’ll start the year at Norfolk.
- Brad Bergesen has been pitching out of the bullpen and not pitching very well. He’ll likely begin the season at Norfolk.
- Dana Eveland has pitched slightly worse than Brian Matusz.
Summary — we still don’t really know who’ll pitch for the Tides in 2012.
How good will he be? Will he be a successful major league starting pitcher? A star?
Zach Britton shot through the full-season minor leagues in three seasons, obtaining good results at each level. He keeps the ball low — in those three seasons, he allowed roughly 0.5 home runs per nine innings — and made the Orioles out of spring training when other pitchers were hurt. Britton pitched well in the first half of the season, getting some mention as a fringe Rookie of the Year candidate, but tapered off at the end, winding up with an 11-11 won-lost record (pretty good for the Orioles) but a 4.60 ERA (good among the Orioles starting pitchers, but still not really good.) He was sent to Bowie and Norfolk around the All-Star break to keep him on a regular schedule.
I wrote after the 2010 season that I had three concerns about Britton. After his 2011 season, I have two more — his major league strikeout rate was much worse than expected (5.7 K/9 IP) and his walk rate has been higher throughout his career than you’d like (around 3 BB / 9 IP). If he’s able to return to close to his minor league strikeout rate — say, 7.5 K / 9 IP — then he doesn’t have to improve his walk rate significantly to be effective.
Among Baseball-Reference.com’s ten most-similar pitchers to Britton at age 23 are four reasonably current players — Jon Lester, Aaron Laffey, Luke Prokopec, and Jonathon Niese. Lester, of course, has become a successful pitcher — but his ERA, while in absolute terms was very similar to Britton’s, was in relative terms much worse. In terms of strikeout and walk ratios, the most similar was Prokopec, who pitched terribly at age 24 and got hurt, never pitching in the big leagues again. So while Britton still could develop into a solid starting pitcher, the odds aren’t with him and he’s definitely not on the train to stardom.
Who is he?
Zach Britton’s brother, called up from Frederick at the end of the year to hang out with Zach and to allow them to share a ride to their offseason destination. He’s also a third baseman, and if Zach turns out to be any good will have a position in the Orioles organization as long as he wants it. Quality-wise, he’s probably about as good as Bobby Bonds, Jr. or Stephen Larkin, not as good as Ozzie Canseco.
How good will he be?
I am optimistic about Britton’s short/medium term future, less so about his long-term future. Britton has been promoted as an outstanding pitching prospect — mlb.com recently named him the third-best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball — and it’s easy to see why. He’s a sinker-type pitcher with an above-average fastball, and a very good fastball for pitchers of that type. He’s pitched very well everywhere he’s been, and it looks like he’s handled each new level without hiccup.
On the other hand, I have three concerns. First, he’s pitched a lot every year he’s been in full-season ball. I’m not sure that it’s a career-killer, but he pitched 147 innings as a 20-year-old, 140 innings as a 21-year-old, and 153 innings as a 22-year-old. Second, he does give up more hits than you’d like to see. It’s not a lot more — right around 8 hits per 9 innings — but it is a little bit more. Finally, his stuff isn’t overpowering. It’s good, but not great.
Yeah, that’s Tom Glavine’s profile. But it’s also Steve Avery’s. On the whole, the three concerns don’t mean Britton’s not an outstanding prospect. Given the right opportunity, patience, health, and luck, Britton will have some good years in the major leagues. But I think it’s a 50-50 shot that he’ll be done by age 30.
Years ago, the Royals had a hot pitching prospect named Chris George. This can’t be the same guy, can it?
Yes, it can; and yes, it is. Chris George is a left-handed pitcher, drafted out of a Texas high school by the Royals as a 1st-2nd round sandwich pick in 1998 (as partial compensation for the loss of Jay Bell.) He shot through the minor leagues and reached AAA in his second full season. In 2001, he pitched great in his first look at AAA, and the Royals called him up. He didn’t pitch well, with a 4-8 record and a 5.59 ERA.
That was the best ERA of his major-league career. In 2002, he had a 5.87 ERA in AAA and a 5.60 in six major-league starts. In 2003, he poorly both in AAA (7.29 ERA), and with the Royals (7.11 ERA in 18 starts, with a 9-6 record, go figure). In 2004, he pitched well in AAA (3.42 ERA) but his major-league ERA increased to 7.23.
He was still only 24, but ruined his chances of a major-league career with four remarkably consistent years in AAA. From 2005 through 2008, he had ERAs of 5.63, 5.62, 5.56, and 5.85 in AAA. His 5.85 ERA in 2008 was as a relief pitcher. He pitched 12 games in Pawtucket in 2009; got released; and then got signed by the Orioles. He pitched well in five late-season starts, and was in the rotation most of 2010.
He is what he is, an innings-eating AAA roster filler.
Can he improve? Does he have a chance to pitch in the major leagues?
His control is much better now than it was before. His BB/9 ratio has gone from roughly 4.5 in the pre-2008 period to roughly 2.5 now. It wouldn’t shock me if he got an emergency start, and if he pitched well he might be able to get a few more starts. It would shock me if he did anything with them.
Chris George is, as much as anything, a cautionary tale about high-school pitchers. His career is a pretty good track for Chris Tillman’s up to this point. With this track record, I’m concerned about Zach Britton too.