Yankees Bullpen: With Zach Britton, is it the best? Rotation, bullpen and more

Yankees acquire Zach Britton

The Yankees acquired Orioles’ closer Zach Britton on Tuesday evening in a deal for three prospects—right-handed pitchers, Dillon Tate (Double-A) and Cody Carroll (Triple-A), as well as left-hander, Josh Rogers (Triple-A). Britton will slide into the middle of the Yankees bullpen.

At one point—as recently as 2016—Britton was considered the most dominant reliever in the game. He finished fourth in the American League CY Young voting that year, thanks to 47 saves and a 0.54 ERA.

Britton’s 0.54 ERA—which amounted to four earned runs allowed in 67 innings—is the lowest in Major League Baseball for a single year since ERA became an official statistic. It became an official stat in the National League during 1912 and the American League during 1913.

Lowest ERA in a single season – Since 1912 (NL) and 1913 (AL)

Zach Britton – 0.54 ERA – 2016 Orioles
Fernando Rodney – 0.60 ERA – 2012 Rays
Dennis Eckersley – 0.61 ERA – 1990 Athletics
Rob Murphy – 0.72 ERA – 1986 Reds
Earl Hamilton – 0.83 ERA – 1918 Pirates

(Those rankings are based on a minimum 50 innings pitched).

Injuries have derailed Britton in recent years. He missed roughly two-and-a-half months in 2017 due to a left forearm strain. The former All-Star also underwent right achillies surgery this past off-season and didn’t make his 2018 debut until June 12. Britton has a 3.45 ERA in 16 appearances this season, including eight consecutive scoreless appearances dating back to the end of June.

What does this mean for the Yankees’ bullpen? New York already has an MLB-best 2.75 bullpen ERA this season. In fact, their ‘pen is among the MLB leaders in most categories. Keep in mind, the following statistics are prior to the acquisition of Britton.

Aroldis_ChapmanYankees Bullpen – Statistics and MLB Ranks (out of 30 teams)

ERA – 2.75 – 1st
BAA – .199 – 1st
Opp. OPS – .603 – 1st
Strikeouts – 448 – 1st

The move is surprising in a sense. It’s obvious the Yankees already had a great bullpen—if not the best one in the majors—prior to trading for the lefty closer. Most of the rumors surrounding the Yankees have centered on the Bombers acquiring a starting pitcher prior to the non-wavier deadline.

That would make be the logical course of action, considering their rotation (outside of Luis Severino) leaves a lot to be desired. The following statistics and ranks are from prior to Tuesday’s game.

Yankees Starters – Statistics and MLB Ranks (out of 30 teams)

ERA – 4.10 – 16th
BAA – .241 – 9th
Opp. OPS – .713 – 10th
Strikeouts – 529 – 9th

New York doesn’t have the worst rotation in the majors by any stretch, but there’s definitely room for improvement. Multiple reports indicate the Yankees will still look to add a starter before the deadline.

But, why trade for a reliever—albeit one of the game’s best—when the real need lies within the rotation?

I believe the reason is two-fold. First, take a look at the trade market for starting pitchers. There aren’t a lot of number one starters available. Fans may believe stars such as Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarmer could get moved before Tuesday’s deadline.

Such thoughts belong in fairy tales and pleasant dreams. Reality is a different ballgame (excuse the pun). The best starting pitchers likely available are lefties J.A. Happ (Toronto Blue Jays) and Cole Hamels (Texas Rangers). Tampa Bay right-hander Chris Archer has also been mentioned in rumors, but it would take a big package of prospects to persuade the Rays to give him up. For now, let’s focus on Happ and Hamels.

J.A. Happ and Cole Hamels – 2018 Statistics
J.A. Happ Stat Category Cole Hamels
4.18 ERA 4.72
..229 BAA .258
.677 Opp. OPS .811
114 Innings Pitched 114.1
130 Strikeouts 114

In order to acquire either lefty, the Yankees would likely to have to part with some of their top prospects. I don’t believe it’s worth mortgaging the future of the club for two aging pitchers (Happ is 35-years old, while Hamels is 34), who may not be with the team beyond 2018.

Happ is a free agent following this season. Hamels has a $20-million team option for 2019, with a $six-million buyout. If New York acquired the Rangers’ left-hander, they likely wouldn’t pick up his option for the following season.

I wouldn’t give up six-years of club control for top prospects in exchange for a one-year rental starting pitcher. New York didn’t have to give up any of their top five prospects for Britton. Below are the top five prospects in the Yankees’ system, according to MLBPipeline.com.

MLBPipeline.com is a website that ranks the top 30 prospects for each team (among other prospect rankings). They ranked Tate as the ninth-best prospect in New York’s system. Carroll was ranked the Yankees’ 15th best prospect, while Rogers wasn’t ranked in the top 30.

New York Yankees Top Five Minor League Prospects

According to MLBPipeline.com

OF Estevan Florial
LHP Justus Sheffield
RHP Albert Abreu
RHP Chance Adams
RHP Luis Medina

Florial (37th), Sheffield (39th) and Abreu (60th) are also ranked in MLBPipeline.com’s “Top 100 MLB Prospects”. I believe the wise move would be to hold onto these prospects, unless the Bronx Bombers are hoping to acquire deGrom himself. deGrom aside, it’s not worth trading any of of them, especially when four of prospects are starting pitchers, who could help the rotation in the near future.

Secondly, the Yankees are building for a postseason run. There’s less of a leash for starting pitchers during the playoffs. In May and June, managers will usually allow veteran starters a chance to get out of jams before calling the bullpen. October baseball is a completely different story. Struggling starters may find themselves out of games in the first inning with postseason elimination on the brink of every pitch.

The best strategy this year may be to acquire dominant relievers to bolster a club’s bullpen. Just look at the Yankees. Let’s say, (for example) New York is up 4-3 in Game One of the World Series. However, Luis Severino was only able to last four innings. With the acquisition of Britton, you’d have the following five relievers ready to take over for the final five innings.

Likely Late Inning Yankee Relievers
  • Chad Green
    • 2.63 ERA – 48 IP – 1.02 WHIP – 10.9 K/9
  • David Robertson
    • 3.05 ERA – 44.1 IP – .097 WHIP – 11.2 K/9
  • Zach Britton
    • 3.45 ERA – 15.2 IP – 1.34 WHIP – 7.5 K/9
  • Dellin Betances
    • 2.55 ERA – 42.1 IP – 1.02 WHIP – 15.7 K/9
  • Aroldis Chapman
    • 2.03 ERA – 40 IP – .93 WHIP – 15.3 K/9

These pitchers are among the best in the majors. New York is fortunate enough to have what amounts to five closers in their bullpen. Thanks to this deal, four innings may be all the Yankees need from their starters come October.

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