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.