Before I get too far into this post, let me begin by saying that I am in no way comparing Zach Britton to Mariano Rivera as far as the caliber of pitching is concerned (not yet, at least). Rivera is in a class all his own as the best closer in baseball history, hands down, and will inevitably be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Britton is still a long way away from being anywhere close to the pitcher Rivera was. But even so, there are undeniably a lot of similarities to this point in both of their careers.
Like Rivera, Britton began his career as a starting pitcher. Coming up through the Orioles’ system, Britton posted a 3.38 ERA over the course of 137 games in the minor leagues. However, upon reaching the majors, Britton wasn’t able to stick, posting a 4.77 ERA over 46 starts ranging from 2011-2013.
Rivera faired much the same in his attempt to be a big league starter. In his only season starting for the Yankees, Rivera was horrible, positng a 5.51 ERA over 10 starts. The following season, Rivera was made a reliever, and the year after that at the age of 27 was made the full time closer, notching 43 saves his first season as the ninth-inning-guy.
The rest is history.
In the first season as a full-time closer for Britton in 2014, he recorded 37 saves and posted a 1.65 ERA — a huge turnaround from the three subpar seasons in which he attempted to make it as a starter. And he hasn’t looked back since. Over the past three seasons, the two-time All-Star has recorded a collective 1.44 ERA as well as 111 saves, including 38 alone so far this season. But Britton is still being overlooked in the minds of many.
This year, Britton is not only having a breakout season that’s leading to him being seen as a top-notch closer, but also as a candidate for Cy Young or even (less likely) American League Most Valuable Player.
Britton is certainly making a good case to be in the running. After all, it’s been nearly four months since Britton allowed an earned run, coming all the way back on April 30th.
Since then, Britton has gone 43 straight appearances without allowing an earned run. When you put it all together, Britton has recorded one of the best seasons ever for a reliever, tallying a 0.53 ERA to this point — on pace to be the lowest single-season ERA ever for a reliever with over 50 games pitched (Rivera’s lowest ever was 1.38 back in 2005).
If that isn’t remarkable, I don’t know what is.
So, maybe Britton won’t go on to be a Hall of Fame closer. Sitting well over 500 career saves back of Rivera, Britton certainly has a long way to go before he could even come close to being viewed in that light, and there have been a fair amount of relief pitchers to explode onto the scene only to fall apart within a few years. That’s not the point I’m trying to make at all. But regardless, the similarities between the two are hard to ignore.
Who knows? Maybe Zach Britton’s career will turn out much like that of Mariano Rivera.
Failed starter, turned All-Star closer, turned all-time great.