Red Sox trade deadline target: Orioles reliever Zach Britton
By Damian Dydyn
The Boston Red Sox are in need of significant help in the bullpen. So it’s no surprise that they have interest in Orioles reliever Zach Britton.
With Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia off the board, Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton is the best reliever remaining on the trade market this July. After Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox don’t have a lock-down option for the late innings. Matt Barnes has been going well lately, but has had his issues this season. And even with a nifty ERA, FIP and xFIP, is still walking 4.60 batters per nine innings. That’s a 12.3% rate, which is the 19th worst in all of baseball. Joe Kelly now has a 4.31 ERA on the season and has given up 5 ER in his last two outings. Tyler Thornburg’s first 4.1 IP with the Red Sox have been a disaster. And Carson Smith is out for the season. Again.
That’s every name that was supposed to be in the mix for those non-save high leverage late innings this season. And every single one of them is a question mark. The minor leagues don’t seem to have an answer either. At least, not unless a June draftee can defy the odds and go from throwing in college games to locking down the 8th in October within the span of five months. So what is a championship hopeful team to do? Hit the trade market, of course.
The answer may be right down I-95.
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Looking at Zach Britton’s season line you might not be inclined to think he’s any more the answer than Matt Barnes. But his season line doesn’t tell us the entire story. Currently he’s sitting on a 3.45 ERA with a 4.43 FIP and a 4.01 xFIP. His 7.47 K/9 leaves a lot to be desired and his 5.47 BB/9 is a bit frightening. So why should the Red Sox give up valuable trade chips to add him to the mix? Well, Britton missed most of the first half of the season recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon. He returned to major league game action on June 12. That was after just 5.1 IP in the minors to get back up to speed. So, essentially, Britton went through his spring training against major league hitters who were already in full swing.
So it’s not surprising that he gave up 4 ER against the Braves on June 22. Since then he has given up just 2 ER in 11 IP and none in his last eight appearances. Does he look like the dominant closer he was from 2014 through 2015? No, not quite. But he has looked mighty effective since that one meltdown against the National League’s third best offense. Especially since he was still ramping his fastball velocity up at that point. His game log at Brooks Baseball shows he was still throwing the heater around 94 MPH that night. It wasn’t until July 7 that his average fastball velocity ticked up over 95 MPH in a game. Since then it has lived between 95 and 96 MPH. And that time span correlates pretty well with the 8 game scoreless streak he’s on.