On a brisk Saturday April night in Baltimore, Jose Abreu poked a single to right field off of Orioles pitcher Vance Worley.
The date was Apr. 30, and Abreu's single, scoring Adam Eaton, gave the White Sox an 8-7 lead. The run, however, was charged to Zach Britton, who took the loss.
That run was the last of its kind for Britton.
Since May 1, Britton sports a 0.00 ERA over 41 appearances. He's saved 31 straight games and has a great 46-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his 40 innings pitched.
For the season, now, Britton has a 0.54 ERA, totaling 37 saves, leading some to believe that he should be considered for the American League Cy Young award in 2016.
Britton has had a phenomenal season no matter how you look at it, but there are flaws in this way of thinking.
The Cy Young award goes to the best pitcher in each league. While there are no specifications that it has to go to a starter, since 1956 (when it was first presented), a starting pitcher has won the award in each league every year with just nine exceptions.
The problem for Britton is that he hasn't been the best pitcher in the American League. He ranks 36th among AL pitchers in fWAR (minimum 40 innings). One can't even blame that on his workload; Britton is "only" tied for third among most valuable AL relievers.
Britton has been worth just 1.8 fWAR this season, so how can we say he has been the best pitcher in the entire league?
Britton has only been worth 0.1 more wins than Kevin Gausman this season, who is 3-10 with a 4.04 ERA, 4.35 FIP and a 3.83 xFIP over 21 starts (120 1/3 innings). While I'm not quite comparing apples to apples here, who would consider giving Gausman the Cy Young award this season? Nobody.
Sure, there's the whole history aspect that goes into this argument. Britton hasn't allowed a run in 40 straight innings! Britton's ERA is historic, right? Wrong.
In 2012, Rays' closer Fernando Rodney posted a 0.60 ERA, just 0.06 runs off of Britton's current mark, in 74 2/3 innings pitched, 24 2/3 innings more than Britton.
Perhaps the biggest difference between 2016 Britton and 2012 Rodney was that Rodney was the American League's most valuable reliever, totaling 2.4 fWAR. He also saved 48 games in 50 chances, giving him all the credentials to perhaps be named Cy Young.
Long story short, Rodney finished in 5th in the voting.
Rodney aside, other Britton supporters like to argue that there has not been a starter worthy of the Cy Young this season.
Nobody has stood out, that is correct. But there are many worthy candidates, all of whom post better credentials than Zach Britton.
Jose Quintana has posted a 2.85 ERA this season, as well as a 3.42 FIP over 157 2/3 innings pitched, totaling 3.9 fWAR. Aaron Sanchez has a 2.84 ERA and a 3.29 FIP and has totaled 3.6 fWAR. Perhaps Corey Kluber could win the award again, especially with a good run down the stretch, as he has pitched to a very good 3.15 ERA and a 3.01 ERA, good for a 4.3 fWAR. Maybe even Danny Duffy could be the Cy Young. . .
There are many other, better options than Zach Britton for American League Cy Young. And by voting for the Orioles' closer, a much better, more qualified candidate is going to be snubbed.
Last Thought: Jayson Stark's idea of creating an award for the top reliever in each league that is voted on by the BBWAA would be a great alternative (MLB gives out a relief pitcher award every year, but it is not voted on by the BBWAA) to this madness that is caused by the Cy Young award, which truly is a starting pitcher's award.
We're three weeks from baseball season. Almost there, readers! This Saturday, you're going to have to settle for another division preview, though. After doing the entire National League over the past three weeks (if you missed them, they're further down on the blog), I flip over to the Junior Circuit American League, beginning today with a very competitive AL East.
1. Boston Red Sox -- 2015 Record: 78-84; Projection: 90-72
In the second half of the 2015 season, the Red Sox finally saw the production they were hoping for from their young players. From August 1 through the rest of the season, Boston went 32-26 and almost finished .500 even though they were 12 games under coming. An exciting breath of youth for Sox fans was seen at the end of last season, and this offseason, a new regime in the front office supplemented to their promising roster in hopes to make a playoff run.
Perhaps the most intriguing player for the Red Sox in 2016 is Mookie Betts, who looks to build off of a fantastic age-22 campaign. He hit for an .820 OPS (118 OPS+) in his first full season in the Majors, solidifying himself in Boston's outfield for years to come. Joining him in the 2016 lineup will be a good mix of up-and-comers as well as seasoned veterans, including designated hitter David Ortiz, who is planning on retiring after the season, his 20th.
In the pitching staff, the Red Sox get a huge boost with the additions of David Price via free agency and Craig Kimbrel in a trade. The rotation still has some questions, especially surrounding Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz, but a true ace will definitely help this team, as Price is exactly what the Sox lacked in 2015. Kimbrel, on the other hand, will step in as closer and should be able to fix other woes Boston has had in years past.
David Price, Craig Kimbrel, and the young talents will lead the Red Sox to the 2016 AL East crown. Maybe even Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez will chip in too!
2. New York Yankees -- 2015 Record: 87-75; Projection: 88-74
The Yankees can win this division. They could've won the division last year too, but settled for a Wild Card spot. The Bronx Bombers lost the one-game playoff to Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros, ending their season abruptly. But a pair of offseason moves should help the Yanks make a run deep into the 2016 season as well, operating with the best bullpen in baseball.
Yankees relief pitching posted the third-highest FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) as a group in 2015, and then they went out and traded for Aroldis Chapman, the game's best relief pitcher, this offseason. However, Chapman will miss the season's first 30 games due to a suspension after a domestic violence incident that did not result in an arrest. Albeit the suspension, the Yankees still boast Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in the back of the 'pen, and they should be more than capable of shutting down opposing lineups at the end of games.
The rotation is this team's only question, as just like in 2015, they do not have a true No. 1 starter. Masahiro Tanaka does appear at the top of their rotation, but he did not have an ace-like season last year. The Yankees do have one of my personal favorites, Nathan Eovaldi, in their rotation. His stuff is fantastic (100+ MPH fastball), and he had a 3.2 fWAR season in 2015.
As for the lineup, the Yankees are returning most of their veterans and add the likes of Starlin Castro. They will score runs. And lots of them. But will it be enough to win the American League East? I just don't see the team on top at the end of the year.
3. Toronto Blue Jays -- 2015 Record: 93-69; Projection: 86-76
The Blue Jays made the playoffs for the for the first time since 1993 in 2015, and they concluded their season with their fans wanting more, losing the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals. Despite this, the Blue Jays proved that their offensive-minded team can win but only after they acquired David Price at the trade deadline were they able to run away with the division. The Blue Jays' record before July 31 was 53-51. Their record after July 31 was 40-18.
While this rapid improvement cannot all be credited to Price (they also got Troy Tulowitzki at the deadline, you know), he did provide something they lacked during the first part of the season: an anchor at the top of the rotation. Price is no longer in Toronto this season, and this means that someone else will have to step it up in order for the team to repeat their successes. It could be Marcus Stroman, who allowed just five earned runs in 27 innings after coming back from injury. But even if he does pitch well, the depth they have just isn't the same. Mark Buehrle is also gone. Besides Stroman, their pitching staff consists of: R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ (new addition), and Aaron Sanchez. I'm not a fan.
However, there are no holes in this lineup. They've got AL MVP Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin all in one lineup. There's no way to pitch to this team, who scored 891 runs last season (5.5 R/G), the best in baseball by almost 130. There's no doubt in my mind that their offense will have issues in 2016, but the Blue Jays' downfall comes in the form of their rotation. And I'll let you in on a little secret: There aren't any David Prices that are likely to be available at this season's trade deadline.
4. Tampa Bay Rays -- 2015 Record: 80-82; Projection: 84-78
The 2015 Rays were average. They finished just two games under .500, scored 644 runs, and allowed 642 runs. Their season had its ups and downs, from leading the division by as many as a pair of games and being as far behind as 15 1/2. At the end, the Rays finished 13 out of the Blue Jays and missed the playoffs for the second straight season. This offseason, the club acquired Corey Dickerson from the Rockies for Jake McGee and brought in Logan Morrison and Brad Miller via Seattle.
If the Rays want to win in 2016, they'll need some bounce back seasons from Matt Moore and Drew Smyly, who each missed a good portion of the 2015 season due to injury. Moore is just three years removed from an All-Star season, and Smyly had a 3.24 ERA in 153 innings in 2014. Those two will fall behind the anchors in the Rays rotation: Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, both of whom had stellar years. In the bullpen, the Rays lost McGee, a back-end reliever, to Colorado, but still retain Brad Boxberger and Alex Colome to shut down opposing lineups at the end of games.
As for their lineup, the Rays don't really have a big bat. Despite this, every player in their lineup has the ability to be productive. Even Evan Longoria, who led the team with 21 homers, posted a 110 OPS+ in 2015 (10% above league average). This could come back to bite the team, as they'll have to go up against some of the toughest lineups in baseball in their very division.
I still wouldn't rule out the possibility of the Rays making a wild run in the American League, but going into the season, they just appear to be a bit behind most of their fellow AL East members.
5. Baltimore Orioles -- 2015 Record: 81-81; Projection: 77-85
The Orioles are going to be haunted by their lack of pitching in 2016. Even last year, Orioles' starters posted the sixth-highest ERA in baseball. Now, they get Yovani Gallardo on a free agent deal but lose Wei-Yin Chen to the Marlins. The loss of Chen may not seem like a big deal, but to Baltimore, it could mean everything. He was their best starter, posting a 3.34 ERA in 31 outings.
The rest of their staff isn't deep. Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Kevin Gausman round out the O's rotation, with Tillman and Gonzalez posting ERAs above 4.90. Even Gallardo, who registered a 3.42 ERA last year and is supposed to help anchor the starters, is showing signs of age with diminished velocity and a relatively average FIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2015. As for the bullpen, the Orioles are set. Darren O'Day re-signed with the club this offseason, and Zach Britton was named an All-Star with a 1.92 ERA (2.01 FIP) last season. As for the innings between their starters and back-end relievers, there is a lot of unknown in Baltimore. Vance Worley, T.J. McFarland, and even Dylan Bundy could be used as middle relievers.
I don't have a problem with the Orioles' offense, and I may even prefer it to the Rays'. Chris Davis is back with the team, complementing Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and two new additions, Mark Trumbo and Korean signee Hyun-soo Kim. Their offense will have to step it up to win high-scoring games if they want to beat their projection this season. And even if this does occur, the Orioles may still only have the third- or fourth-best offense in the AL East. This could be a rough year for O's fans.
Next up: AL Central
Using Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds, you should be able to tell who has the best chance of doing just that. Teams really should take those odds to determine whether they should be buyers and sellers because more often than not, they are right.
After games being played on July 6 last year, five of the ten eventual postseason teams had a 80 percent chance of making the playoffs or better. Every team that did have an 80 percent or greater chance of making the playoffs on this date last year did.
The team with the highest percent chance to make the playoffs on July 6 that ultimately didn't was the Milwaukee Brewers, who had a 71 percent chance to punch their ticket, but collapsed down the stretch and failed to make it.
Only three (Orioles, Royals, and Pirates) had less than a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs following action on July 6. By July 31, the Orioles were up to a 71 percent chance, the Royals were at a 17 percent chance, and the Pirates were at a 46 percent chance.
Knowing this, I will use Baseball Prospectus' current postseason predictions to determine who should buy and who should sell at the 2015 Trade Deadline.
All In (85% or greater)
St. Louis Cardinals (99.3%)
There's no reason why the Cardinals, who own MLB's best record at 54-28, should consider selling. In fact, Baseball Prospectus says that they have a 99.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, leaving just a very small chance for an extreme collapse. If the Cardinals play just .500 ball the rest of the way, that would put them on pace for 94 wins, which would definitely put them in prime position to punch their ticket to the postseason. The Cardinals have no reason to do anything but buy.
Los Angeles Dodgers (92.9%)
The Dodgers have the second-highest playoff percentage in the league, and nothing suggests that this team won't buy at the trade deadline. I predicted them to go out and get Johnny Cueto, perhaps the best pitcher available not named Cole Hamels. The Dodgers are always willing to spend money and prospects to make their team better and can easily justify doing so at the deadline.
Washington Nationals (85.6%)
The Nationals have arguably not played their best baseball yet, but still have an 85.6 percent chance to make the playoffs. They could use some reinforcements in their bullpen, but most of the additions the Nationals will be getting will be players coming back from injury, such as Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg. They may not need to make a ton of moves in July, but if they do, they have good reason to do so.
Houston Astros (84.7%)
The Astros have already shown interest in some of the top pitchers that will be available, and Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds completely backs that up. Houston's playoff percentage, at 84.7 percent, is so close to 85 percent that I had to shove them into this category. The Astros have showed that while they are a bit of a surprise, they still can win ballgames and do it over a period of time. The Astros by no means are "pretenders," as they have been able to hold a comfortable AL West lead since late April.
Should be buyers (70-85%)
Pittsburgh Pirates (81.3%), Chicago Cubs (73.1%)
The Pirates and Cubs have a case of some serious bad luck. They are playing in the National League's toughest division and would be either leading or close to leading any other division in the league. The only reason I'm wary of either of these teams buying at the deadline is because they are not division leaders and have more of a chance to collapse and fall out of the playoff race altogether. Unless they believe they have a real shot at the Cardinals (which it appears they don't), they shouldn't completely unload their farm systems to go out and get the best guy on the market.
Kansas City Royals (75.3%)
Of the three teams in this category, I am most comfortable with the Royals buying at the trade deadline due to the fact that they lead their division by a comfortable margin and need just one or two pieces to really put the pressure on the rest of the division. All signs point to the Royals making the playoffs again this year, so I would go ahead and pencil them in as buyers at the deadline.
Los Angeles Angels (64.8%)
The Angels are in a good position right now. They are playing good baseball and have shown the need for an upgrade in left field. Of the teams listed in this section, I truly believe they are the best and most complete team, so therefore they should be buyers at the deadline. The Angels could use some rotation help as well, but if they patch up a few spots, they will get into the postseason. My verdict? They should be buyers.
AL East: New York Yankees (59.4%), Toronto Blue Jays (39.6%), Tampa Bay Rays (34.9%)
The American League East division is lumped together because the division is so muddled and close that really anyone could win it. Baseball Prospectus' simulations give the Yankees the best chance to go to the playoffs out of that division, but with some rotation help, the Blue Jays are the division's best team. The Yankees and Rays should stand pat or make small moves at the deadline, while the Blue Jays should go out and make a splash for a rotation piece.
Detroit Tigers (36.7%)
With Miguel Cabrera being sidelined with his hamstring injury, I'm going to pencil the Tigers in as should be sellers, but as this team continues to try and make a run once again, they will find themselves trying to buy. The Tigers are heading towards a Phillies-esque fall, and if they don't realize that soon, it could only get worse if they decide to buy at the trade deadline in hopes for one last run at the World Series.
Maybe/Stand Pat (20-30%)
New York Mets (28.9%)
Even if the Mets added an offensive piece, I don't think that would be enough to get them to the playoffs this season. With that said, however, I could see them dealing for a guy with more than one season of control, as their young and talented pitching staff comes into their own. The Mets couldn't justify buying for a rental player, but a guy who is at least signed through 2016 could make sense.
Baltimore Orioles (28.7%)
The Baltimore Orioles have a ton of free agents at the end of the season that they probably should move. The Orioles could be one of those teams that tries to get 25-man roster guys with more years of team control in return. The Orioles could be a team that buys and sells at the trade deadline, and I would be fine with that.
San Francisco Giants (22.9%)
It's an odd year. The Giants aren't good enough to win the NL West, and considering that they have to deal with the Cubs and Pirates for the Wild Card, it will be tough for them to really make a run into the postseason. However, they still have a good core group of guys and the team has proved me wrong before. They probably should stand pat.
Shouldn't buy (Less than 20%)
Minnesota Twins (18.2%)
The Twins just aren't that good. Sure, they had a good run earlier this season, but all the numbers suggest that they were going to fall out of first in the AL Central. The Twins should really try and go for 2016, when some of their rookies will be more polished.
Texas Rangers (15.0%)
While the Rangers shouldn't buy, they probably will, as I consider them to be in a similar boat as the Tigers are in. The Rangers could legitimately contend, but they would more than a couple of upgrades, to the point where they probably shouldn't go for it this season.
Cleveland Indians (13.5%)
The Indians were a popular postseason pick prior to this season, but Baseball Prospectus' simulations show that they would need some serious luck to actually get there. The Indians shouldn't sell any pieces other than the impending free agents because my gut says that they will be back in the postseason sooner than later.
Boston Red Sox (11.8%)
The Red Sox are in a tough position right now. It might not be time for a fire sale quite yet, but it's definitely not time to go out and try and contend this season.
Seattle Mariners (7.0%)
The Mariners have had some issues staying in the race this season, and while they shouldn't sell off their entire team, they really shouldn't be buyers either.
Oakland Athletics (6.8%)
The Athletics are already shopping their pieces and it looks like they will be sellers.
Arizona Diamondbacks (6.4%)
The Diamondbacks are a team that should stand pat. They still have pieces to contend in the near future and as their pitching improves with guys coming back from injury, they could be a legitimate contender coming 2016.
Atlanta Braves (3.8%)
The Braves, especially in the offseason, have committed to becoming a selling team. They don't have any exciting pieces, but even though they have kind of surprised, they should by no means buy.
Chicago White Sox (3.2%)
The White Sox are in a tough position. They reportedly won't have a fire sale, which makes sense considering how much money they spent in free agency, but they need to get rid of Jeff Samardzija and still be planning to try again in 2016.
San Diego Padres (2.7%)
The Padres could buy at the deadline, but in all reality, they shouldn't. They've got some important games coming up that they need to win if people start seriously seeing them as contenders. Once again, they are proving that the winners of the offseason don't necessarily win during the season.
Miami Marlins (1.6%)
The Marlins shouldn't go into a fire sale, but Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Brad Hand, and other free agents at the end of the season should be gone.
Cincinnati Reds (1.1%)
The Reds have Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and possibly Aroldis Chapman available, and while they won't sell until after they host the All-Star Game, I expect it to come, as it should.
Colorado Rockies (0.2%)
I'd pull the trigger and deal Troy Tulowitzki. It's time for a real change in Colorado if they want to be relevant down the road.
Milwaukee Brewers (0.2%)
The Brewers should enter into a fire sale.
Philadelphia Phillies (0.0%)
Now, these rankings and categories don't mean that each of these teams will do as I advise. Their postseason percentages could change and perhaps an addition is all they need to do that. However, Baseball Prospectus' odds are very accurate and should not be taken lightly. Teams really should use them to determine whether they could justify buying at the deadline.
The Baltimore Orioles look like they're in no position to begin selling pieces off their roster.
At 34-32, the Orioles are right in the heat of the AL East division rate, sitting just three games out of first place. With a +36 run differential, the Orioles could be looking to get on a tear soon, perhaps catapulting them up in the division or the Wild Card races.
Despite all this, the Orioles need to move slugging first baseman Chris Davis at some point during the season.
Davis, 29, would be an attractive piece due to his power, as he's hitting for a .224/.314/.461 line this season with 14 homers and 38 runs batted in over 264 plate appearances. He's just a season removed from a 53 home run performance.
Teams like the Cardinals and Rays could have need for the first baseman Davis. St. Louis has had to deal with a season-ending injury to starter Matt Adams. The Rays would be a good fit for Davis due to the injury and under-performance to James Loney, but the Orioles may be reluctant to move Davis to a division rival.
With free agency impending following this season, it seems nearly impossible that the Orioles will have Chris Davis following the 2015 season. Scott Boras, who is known for commanding big deals for his clients, represents Davis.
The Orioles may just not be willing to pay Davis like a primer slugger when he has trouble hitting for a good average and getting on base. This makes him a perfect to candidate to be dealt.
It's also a possibility that the Orioles decide to offer Davis a qualifying offer after the season and collect their draft pick. So, a trade is by no means a given.
However, a trade is an interesting thing to think about for the front office staff and GM Dan Duquette, who is known for being extremely creative with his roster. Perhaps the Orioles could get a Major League starter for Davis, as their rotation is among the worst in baseball. It is definitely a possibility.
As for the Orioles at first base, Steve Pearce could get a look, as he is suffering from an extremely low BABIP and is still hitting plenty of line drives. It's possible that he could rebound and make Davis seem like he was never gone.
With the trade deadline just a month away, it is finally time to be talking about possible "out of nowhere" moves. The Orioles could and probably should move Chris Davis in the next month.
Brewers' pitcher Will Smith and Orioles' pitcher Brian Matusz were both ejected this past week for having a foreign substance on their arms. Smith was suspended--and has since appealed--eight games, while Matusz is still waiting on a verdict.
Major League Baseball rule 8.01(a)(4) states that, "The pitcher shall not...apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball...PENALTY: For violation...the pitcher shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games."
Foreign substances include mixes of sunscreen and rosin, pine tar, and anything else for pitchers to get a tacky ball, something that will allow them to grip it better.
The worst part of all these suspensions and ejections is that hitters tend to not care if pitchers are using these substances. If a pitcher can grip a ball better, they are able to throw it more accurately, meaning less hit batsmen and overall a safer game.
Orioles' manager Buck Showalter understands the rule, but is also a main proponent in instituting tackier balls for a safer overall game.
"Why is the rosin on the field? Why is it there," asked Orioles manager Buck Showalter, via The Baltimore Sun. "It's a deeper issue than that. You've all heard me talk about the crux of the problem. Same reason hitters have pine tar. We all understand the crux of the problem is gripping the ball; it's not trying to [doctor the ball]."
The "foreign substance rule" was implemented to outlaw certain advantages pitchers were gaining through throwing spitballs or, as Showalter mentioned, doctoring the baseball.
But when a pitcher's intent is to just grip the ball a little easier, don't you think that they should be allowed to use these substances?
Absolutely. But to keep pitchers from doctoring the baseball or using spitballs, MLB cannot get rid of the rule altogether. They would need to tweak it.
"I would like to see an approved substance pitchers can use," Red Sox manager John Farrell was quoted as saying via ESPN. "I think anytime a game loses players for eight to 10 games, I think it makes us as an industry look within."
ESPN's Baseball Tonight had an interesting segment regarding foreign substances, including an appearance from ex-Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden.
Braden said that, during Spring Training, the Athletics would have an "application" station, where pitchers would learn to use these substances, including a mixture of rosin and BullFrog sunscreen. Braden said that he would reapply the mixture after every inning.
Braden suggested that they should put a pine tar rag behind the mound, similar to how there is a rosin bag behind the mound. He argues that hitters have weighted donuts, batting gloves, pine tar, and other things to give them an advantage, so why are pitchers limited so much?
Even though they may be at a disadvantage, pitchers are still technically cheating. Now, isn't cheating wrong? Is there a little bit of guilt involved?
"No. Absolutely not," Braden said. "I've got outs to get."