In a season where playoff spots are still up for grabs, it’s hard to start thinking about postseason awards because there’s so much baseball left to be played. But, of course, voting committees have to be paying attention to this kind of thing throughout the season, and right now more than ever.
Firstly, I know that relievers don’t generally win Cy Young awards, and it seems especially insane to award someone with who’s going to log less than 100 innings in a season (for a starting pitcher to qualify, he must pitch at least one inning per every team game; i.e., at least 162 total innings).
Secondly, and before we start looking at contenders, I know that the first thing you’re probably thinking is, “Mariano Rivera was the greatest closer ever, and he never won a Cy Young award. Why should Zach Britton?” I get it. It makes sense. Rivera was and still is the best closer that baseball has seen, but he was also never perfect in save opportunities. As it stands today, Zach Britton has converted 45 of 45 save opportunities. Yep, that’s a 100% conversion rate. There have been guys before to finish the season perfect in save chances. Think 2003 Eric Gagne for the Dodgers, who went 55 for 55. Gagne went on to win the Cy that season. There was some pretty good competition for the Cy that year, and I would argue that this year’s competition is not as substantial.
In some areas, Britton is actually posting better numbers than Gagne. For example, Britton’s ERA for the season is 0.59, while Eric Gagne’s was 1.20. In some other categories, however, Gagne does rank better, but not by much. Gagne also pitched over 80 innings, and we’ll have to see how many innings Britton will post, but it likely won’t be as many, which could hurt him – but it shouldn’t.
Thirdly, the competition. Masahiro Tanaka, for example, has the best ERA among qualifying starting pitchers in the American League at 2.97. Certainly, that’s a respectable number, but it’s not overly impressive, especially with what we’ve seen the Cy Young winners do in the past, usually finishing about half a run or better in this category. There’s a decent chance that Tanaka will finish with an ERA over 3.00, and to give a guy the award with an ERA that high just doesn’t seem right, considering how well Britton’s pitching. Moreover, a pitcher (including NL and AL, as well as when there was only one award for the whole league) with an ERA over 3.00 has only won the award 20 times since 1956.
You could consider giving a pitcher like Rick Porcello the award, who boasts a 3.09 ERA and 21 wins. In the past, I think the win total would be a strong argument for Porcello to win the award, but I think the “win” statistic has become a little outdated in the world of baseball. There are certainly better indicators of a pitcher’s performance throughout a season. There are simply too many extraneous factors contributing to a pitcher’s win total. So I don’t think it should go to someone like Porcello.
I know voters have a hard time choosing relievers to win a Cy Young, but Zach Britton needs serious consideration. He’s not just a reliever, either; closers are kind of in a league of their own in terms or relief work. Perhaps it’s a more difficult scenario in which they’re thrust, and the voters will consider that. The general consensus around current and former players alike is that the closer role is far different from any other role that a reliever might face, and if that’s the case, then Britton’s numbers need to be treated with similar weight as starting pitcher statistics.
Important numbers for Zach Britton:
Source(s): FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, MLB.com
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images, CBS Baltimore