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2017 Orioles preview: Zach Britton

Posted on 26 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over a week away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart
Jonathan Schoop
Mychal Givens
Ryan Flaherty
Brad Brach
J.J. Hardy
Ubaldo Jimenez
Mark Trumbo
Wade Miley
Welington Castillo

RP Zach Britton

Opening Day age: 29

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

2016 stats: 2-1, 47 saves, 0.54 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1 HR, 67 IP

Why to be impressed: Going a perfect 47-for-47 was amazing enough, but Britton set major league records with 43 consecutive scoreless appearances and the lowest ERA ever for pitchers completing at least 50 innings. Using his sinker 91.7 percent of the time, the lefty had a ground-ball rate of 80 percent, which was 14.1 percent higher than second on the major league list among those finishing 60 innings.

Why to be concerned: Expressing concern about the best closer in baseball would be reaching when you look at Britton’s results over the last three years, but he’s bound to blow a save at some point and will need to shake off the disappointment quickly on a club with little margin for error. It’s worth noting that opponents’ .231 batting average on balls in play reflects a level of good luck that will be difficult to repeat.

2017 outlook: The 2016 AL Reliever of the Year could feature even better stuff this season and still not be able to duplicate perfection, making you appreciate what he was able to do last year. The oblique issue that slowed his start to spring training is worth keeping an eye on early in the season, but there’s just no reason to think Britton won’t remain one of the top relievers in baseball in 2017 if he stays healthy.

2017 not-so-scientific projections: 3-2, 45 saves, 1.51 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 3 HR, 64 IP

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of Grapefruit League play

Posted on 27 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles already playing spring games in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Having fetched compliments for his early-spring work, Ubaldo Jimenez induced four ground-ball outs in two solid innings on Monday. Command remains his biggest need, but his average fastball was just 90.1 miles per hour last year, making it even more important for him to effectively use his two-seamer.

2. Jimenez gave up a run thanks in large part to a chopper that Mark Trumbo should have handled. Hyun Soo Kim later lost a routine fly in the sun. Both plays were ruled hits and are examples why error totals and fielding percentage aren’t particularly helpful statistics for evaluating defense.

3. Jonathan Schoop hit a monster homer that Yankees left fielder Aaron Hicks didn’t even bother to react to on Monday. The 25-year-old clearly needs to become more selective, but improving further against lefties like he did last year is another key to him finding another level of success.

4. The early reviews from Sarasota have been positive for Welington Castillo, but you still hate to see the new catcher spending so much time away from Orioles pitchers to play in the World Baseball Classic.

5. I like the idea of celebrating a global game, but I hate the timing of the WBC. Yes, injuries will occur anyway — evident by the Orioles’ ailments before Grapefruit League play — but potentially losing a valuable commodity when it’s not even under your watch is a cruel risk.

6. Donnie Hart struck out two in a scoreless inning against the Yankees and could be an important cog. He held lefties to a .347 on-base plus slugging percentage last year and will be a real force if he uses his changeup to hold his own against right-handed bats.

7. Speaking of young lefties, prospect Tanner Scott was consistently hitting the mid-to-upper 90s in striking out two and walking one in an inning on Monday. The 22-year-old averaged an unseemly 8.0 walks per nine innings last year, but he’ll be fun to watch if he can find more control.

8. It was only his first spring outing, but former Orioles right-hander Yovani Gallardo was roughed up for four runs, three hits, and two walks in an inning for Seattle on Monday. No matter how Seth Smith performs this season, I still like that trade.

9. Vidal Nuno was sharp in two scoreless innings against the Yankees and looks like a good fit to fill the Vance Worley role this year. The difference is that Nuno has a minor-league option remaining, which will aid in the flexibility of the bullpen when necessary.

10. On the other hand, Oliver Drake is out of options and gave up the game-winning three-run homer Monday. The 30-year-old has had some success with a 3.48 ERA in 33 2/3 major league frames, but he needs to have a strong spring to be in position to make the club.

11. A cranky back for J.J. Hardy to begin the spring should be a reminder to give the 34-year-old shortstop enough periodic rest. There’s no reason not to do it when you have Manny Machado to slide over to short as well as Ryan Flaherty to help spell the veteran.

12. Buck Showalter wants to move on from last year’s wild-card game, but you hope everyone learned from it. When possible, your best reliever should be deployed for the game’s most critical moment, which isn’t always for the standard save situation in the ninth. That’s not radical “baseball nerd” talk.

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Three key Orioles remain on mend for start of Grapefruit League

Posted on 23 February 2017 by Luke Jones

Three key contributors remain on the mend as the Orioles begin Grapefruit League action on Friday.

Closer Zach Britton (oblique), shortstop J.J. Hardy (back), and starting pitcher Chris Tillman (right shoulder) are said to be improving, but it remains uncertain when any of the three will be ready to play in spring training games. Britton’s injury appears to be the least serious and has not been specifically labeled an oblique issue, but he told reporters in Sarasota on Thursday that he is still feeling lingering discomfort in his side and hasn’t been cleared to begin throwing again.

Buck Showalter told reporters after Thursday’s intrasquad game that Hardy received a cortisone injection for the lower back spasms he’s been experiencing since last month. The Orioles manager said the injection was planned all along, but it comes a week after Hardy underwent various tests to determine whether there were any structural concerns with his back. The 34-year-old has dealt with the spasms at various points during his Orioles tenure, but these have lingered longer than in the past.

Tillman continued his throwing program on Thursday and says his right shoulder has responded well to the work. The 28-year-old won’t be ready for Opening Day and is likely to begin the season on the disabled list, but the Orioles have expressed hope that he can begin pitching in spring games by mid-March if there are no setbacks. Tillman received a platelet-rich plasma injection for his shoulder in December.

The good news is that Opening Day is still more than five weeks away, giving Britton and Hardy ample time to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Relief pitcher Logan Ondrusek is also continuing to recover from an ankle injury suffered earlier in camp.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts counting down to spring training

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

With Orioles pitchers and catchers reporting to Sarasota for spring training in less than a month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There are valid reasons for the Orioles not to re-sign Mark Trumbo, but nothing about Dan Duquette’s history in Baltimore makes me believe he truly values a compensatory draft pick for the departure of the slugger.

2. Entering Wednesday, Baltimore’s 2017 estimated payroll of $157.9 million ranked eighth in the majors, according to Baseball Reference. I question how wisely the Orioles are budgeting for their roster more than the amount they’re spending these days.

3. Zach Britton is worth every penny of the $11.4 million he’ll be paid in 2017, but I still believe it was organizational malpractice not to pursue a trade this offseason with the lucrative market we saw for closers. A club with other needs and a shrinking window missed an opportunity.

4. Former Orioles prospect Josh Hader is MLB.com’s top left-handed pitching prospect, which will make fans groan in light of their current system. It’s easy to call the Bud Norris trade a failure given his disastrous 2015, but his 2014 season and playoff win against Detroit make it easier to stomach.

5. It’s difficult to believe the 25th anniversary of the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards will arrive this April, and Stadium Journey again recognized it as the top stadium experience in North America. Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium also ranked 14th and topped all NFL facilities on the list.

6. My fondness for Camden Yards aside, the Orioles donning jersey patches and using special baseballs all season for the 25th anniversary after making such a big deal out of the ballpark’s 20th feels excessive.

7. I like the acquisition of Seth Smith and believe he will be a solid addition to the lineup, but the Orioles’ potential reliance on multiple platoons is going to be problematic in this era of extreme bullpen use. Finding another bat who can hit left-handed pitching is a must.

8. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised since Scott Boras represents him, but I’m surprised that Matt Wieters hasn’t found a new home yet. The Orioles were still wise to sign Welington Castillo on the cheap and not endure the waiting game for a catcher turning 31 in May.

9. The retrospectives to Wieters’ time with the Orioles only reminded me that Chris Hoiles is one of the most underrated players in club history. Per Baseball Reference, Hoiles was worth 23.4 wins above replacement in 894 career games while Wieters is at 16.3 in 882 games.

10. I’m interested to see what lingering effect Brad Brach’s arbitration case could have as the 2016 All-Star selection reportedly filed at $3.05 million while the Orioles offered $2.525 million. The right-hander took his second-half struggles hard and undoubtedly would be reminded of those in a February hearing.

11. The Orioles defense led the American League with 50 defensive runs saved in 2014 and followed that with minus-9 in 2015 and minus-29 last year. The outfield ranked last in the AL in 2016 at minus-52. Smith and Castillo alone aren’t fixing such a steep overall defensive decline.

12. Adam Jones is coming off a rough year, but he’s a solid bet to bounce back despite entering his age-31 season. His .280 batting average on balls in play was a career low and suggests tough luck while his walk rate, strikeout rate, and average exit velocity improved from 2015.

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Orioles avoid arbitration with Machado, Britton, Tillman, Schoop

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Facing a 1 p.m. deadline on Friday to exchange salary figures with players eligible for arbitration, the Orioles came to terms on contracts with four key cogs to their success over the last few years.

Third baseman Manny Machado ($11.5 million), closer Zach Britton ($11.4 million), starting pitcher Chris Tillman ($10.05 million), and second baseman Jonathan Schoop ($3.475 million) all agreed to one-year deals for the 2017 season. Tillman is scheduled to become a free agent after the season while Machado and Britton remain under club control until the end of 2018. Schoop does not become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

After failing to come to terms, the Orioles exchanged salary figures with starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, reliever Brad Brach, and catcher Caleb Joseph. Multiple outlets have reported that the Orioles intend to take a “file-and-trial” approach with any unresolved cases, which would mean they would not negotiate any further with these players before arbitration hearings that would be scheduled for next month.

It comes as no surprise after they played such crucial parts in recent trips to the postseason, but Machado, Britton, Tillman, and Schoop will combine to command nearly $18 million more in salary than they did in 2016. That’s a major reason why the Orioles are projected to have a payroll well north of $150 million for the 2017 season.

Baltimore came to terms on one-year deals with utility infielder Ryan Flaherty ($1.8 million) and left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland ($685,000) on Thursday.

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Ravens take care of business using same flawed formula

Posted on 28 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens did what they needed to do to snap their five-game losing streak against Cincinnati.

No matter how depleted the current Bengals might be, you don’t take a victory for granted when you haven’t beaten the division rival in over three years and you need to win. The 19-14 final drew Baltimore even with Pittsburgh for first place with the calendar turning to December this week.

The Ravens couldn’t ask to be in better position, especially when you recall where they were a month ago.

But several offensive starters lamented the inability to build off a fast start that included a Joe Flacco 14-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman and a field goal on their first two drives of the game. Leading 16-3 at halftime, the Ravens went 0-for-6 on third down and managed only one field goal the rest of the way, which gave the Bengals a chance to tie the game before Elvis Dumervil’s strip-sack and Lawrence Guy’s recovery with just over a minute remaining.

Yet again, a good defensive performance and a perfect Justin Tucker played the leading roles in the win while the offense spun its wheels after some early success.

“I’m confident in my ability to play games like this and win down the stretch and do the right thing with the football,” said Flacco, who was a relatively efficient 25 of 36 for 234 yards and an interception to go with the opening-drive score. “But in order for us to take that next step and be the kind of team that we want to be and be a championship football team, we’re not going to survive week in and week out doing things like this. We’ve got to keep the foot on the gas and learn how to put teams away.”

The ninth-year quarterback offered the same sentiment after the Week 3 win in Jacksonville two months ago. Fortunately, the offense has recovered from its miserable — and injury-plagued — October, but Flacco’s words reflect the lack of overall improvement from the opening month of the season until now.

The Ravens have scored just 19 touchdowns this season, ranking 31st of 32 teams in the NFL. The offense certainly deserves credit for the work required to put Justin Tucker in position to go a league-best 27-for-27 on field goal tries, but 18 were from 40 yards or longer, meaning the Ravens haven’t exactly been all that close to the end zone on most of those drives.

Baltimore has managed more than one offensive touchdown in just five of 11 games and has scored fewer than 20 points six times. The Ravens have scored 25 or more in just three games with two coming against winless Cleveland.

It’s scary to think where they might be without Tucker, who is rapidly cementing himself as the league’s best kicker and is an impressive 7-for-7 from 50 yards and beyond after converting three from that range in the first half on Sunday. He’s been to the Ravens what All-Star closer Zach Britton was to the Orioles this past season, the difference in making them a playoff contender despite other flaws.

For now, the offense can only continue working to improve, pointing to the recent stabilization of the offensive line and the steady emergence of rookie running back Kenneth Dixon as reasons for optimism.

“I know that we’re getting better on offense,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think we’re doing a good job, but we’re striving for more than that. Our guys are going to tell you, we want to put a lot more points up than that. That’s what we’re working towards.”

The most encouraging development from Sunday’s game may have come on the opposite side of the ball with the return of Dumervil, who was rusty in his first action in seven weeks until the final defensive play when he blew past Bengals right tackle Eric Winston to strip quarterback Andy Dalton of the football inside the red zone. The turnover sealed the victory for the Ravens defense, who buckled but didn’t break against a Cincinnati offense lacking its best player in wide receiver A.J. Green.

The Ravens need top cornerback Jimmy Smith to return from a back injury that’s sidelined him for the last two games, but a healthy Dumervil could work wonders for an edge pass rush that’s relied heavily on fellow veteran Terrell Suggs, who collected two strip-sacks of his own on Sunday. It was just the third game of the season for Dumervil, who’s dealt with a frustrating rehab from offseason foot surgery.

“You get a guy and add that to the defense that we already have, it just opens up the possibilities of being even better than what we are right now,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It was huge. He practiced outstanding the last two weeks. We knew it was going to give us a boost, and adding him across from [Suggs] and our other rushers and [to] our game plans, we’re going to be a tough team to stop.”

The Ravens keep hoping for their offense to improve, but maybe the current formula can be enough. After all, it’s earned them a 6-5 mark to this point, which is good enough for a first-place tie with a Steelers team sporting a very good offense but a below-average defense.

Baltimore plays two of the next three at home against Miami and Philadelphia, who are formidable teams but hardly juggernauts. The surprising Dolphins have won six straight, but the last five have been by a single possession and they rely heavily on their running game, a favorable matchup for the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

Whether the Ravens will find enough wins over the final five games to make the playoffs remains to be seen, but Sunday was another reminder that it will probably look the way it has all season — a good defense, a frustrating and below-average offense, and the best kicker in football.

“If it ain’t tough, it ain’t the Raven way,” Suggs said. “I really wish we could have got off the field instead of scaring everybody and having Elvis make a fantastic play. But that’s the Raven way. It ain’t pretty, but we’ll take it.”

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Orioles thoughts on Wieters decision, Britton snub, Showalter as finalist

Posted on 08 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles gambled by extending a qualifying offer to catcher Matt Wieters last offseason and ultimately chose not to do it again.

Yes, they were able to keep the 30-year-old for another season when he accepted, but the $15.8 million price tag wasn’t cheap and likely altered the rest of their offseason plans. Wieters earned his fourth trip to the All-Star Game in 2016, but his .243 average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage were his lowest marks since 2013. In fact, his league-adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 87 was the worst of his career and he was worth a decent but unspectacular 1.7 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

Those are numbers unlikely to improve — or to be maintained — as he gets older.

It’s easy to point to Caleb Joseph’s abysmal 2016 campaign as validation for keeping Wieters last year, but there’s no telling how the backup might have fared had the latter moved on. Joseph had been acceptable at the plate with regular playing time in the previous two seasons, and the Orioles would have added another veteran catcher to the mix anyway.

We also don’t know what executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette might have done with an extra $15.8 million at his disposal last winter. As just one example, would the Orioles have been able to sweeten their multi-year offer to outfielder Dexter Fowler — the kind of player they needed at the top of the order in 2016 — to make him change his mind about returning to Chicago?

A year later, arguments for extending Wieters a $17.2 million qualifying offer with thoughts of fetching a compensatory draft pick were certainly valid. Another year removed from Tommy John surgery, the veteran backstop quelled concerns about his right elbow by playing in 124 games and throwing out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal, making him more appealing to potential suitors than he would have been last year. There’s also the reality of Wieters being the top catcher on the open market after Wilson Ramos suffered a torn ACL in September.

Observers have pointed to recent deals awarded to Russell Martin (five years, $82 million) and Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) as benchmarks for Wieters even though Martin is a superior defensive catcher with similar offensive production and McCann was substantially better as a hitter at the time of his signing.

But a qualifying offer would have also depressed Wieters’ value to other teams, who would have then been required to forfeit their first-round pick to sign him. Would that reality coupled with an underwhelming season at the plate have prompted Wieters and super agent Scott Boras to take another great one-year payout from the Orioles with thoughts of being in decent free-agent position again next year?

It’s hard to say, but you can understand the Orioles’ trepidation.

Replacing Wieters will hardly be a slam dunk, but the Orioles proved in 2014 that his presence isn’t the be-all and end-all of their success as they won 96 games despite him missing most of the season and Joseph and journeyman Nick Hundley handling the catching duties. Manager Buck Showalter and teammates have long praised Wieters’ leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff, but there’s also his below-average pitch-framing numbers, his struggles blocking pitches, and sometimes-questionable pitch-calling to consider.

Wieters does offer intangibles that are difficult to quantify, but the perception of him has always been better than the actual player who never met the unreasonable expectations laid out before he even debuted in the majors.

It will be interesting to see how an over-30 catcher already with 7,000 major league innings behind the plate will be valued in the open market without a qualifying offer attached to him.

A draft pick would have been great had Wieters rejected the qualifying offer, but the possibility of having to pay him $17.2 million was too risky with other needs to address and significant raises owed to younger players in arbitration.

He may have been the right player, but it wasn’t the right price.

Britton “snubbed”

I was surprised when All-Star closer Zach Britton wasn’t named a finalist for the 2016 American League Cy Young Award.

Considering the amount of discussion surrounding his candidacy over the last few months, I assumed he would sneak into the top three in the voting conducted at the end of the regular season. However, the Baseball Writers Association of America correctly concluded that very good starting pitchers are still far more valuable than an exceptional closer over the course of a 162-game season.

There’s no disputing that Britton had a historic season with a 0.54 ERA in 67 innings while going 47-for-47 in save opportunities, but the lefty also tossed less than one-third of the innings recorded by Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, or Justin Verlander and only 16 of Britton’s 47 saves came in one-run victories, meaning he was working with some margin for error in roughly two-thirds of those save chances.

That’s not intended to diminish what Britton did, but the context is necessary. A better argument probably could have been made with a bigger workload, but the 28-year-old pitched more than one inning just seven times.

None of the aforementioned AL Cy Young finalists posted an ERA below 3.00, but there’s a reason why virtually all relief pitchers are former starters. It’s far more difficult to succeed going through a lineup multiple times in an outing, and that should still be recognized despite no AL starter standing out with a truly great season in 2016.

Britton absolutely earned the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award and warranted far more consideration for the Cy Young than any relief pitcher in recent years. It would have been great to see him as a finalist, but I can’t go as far as saying it’s a travesty, either.

Showalter as a finalist

It’s unfortunate that Showalter being named a finalist for the AL Manager of the Year now looks like a punchline after his decision not to use Britton in the wild-card game cost the Orioles a better chance of advancing.

A club almost universally picked to finish in fourth or fifth place in the AL East this season qualified for the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, a reflection of the exceptional work Showalter has done since arriving in Baltimore in 2010. You can still consider Showalter to be an excellent manager while also believing he made a terrible move that he’ll likely hear about for the rest of his career.

Great doesn’t mean perfect as the Orioles and their fans painfully learned that night.

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Orioles make qualifying offer to Trumbo, pass on Wieters

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Facing Monday’s deadline to submit qualifying offers to their pending free agents, the Orioles settled on a split-decision with their two biggest names.

As expected, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette did make the one-year, $17.2 million offer to outfielder Mark Trumbo while passing on the opportunity to do so with four-time All-Star catcher Matt Wieters. Should Trumbo reject the offer, the Orioles would be entitled to a compensatory draft pick if he signs with another club this offseason.

While making the qualifying offer to the 30-year-old Trumbo was a no-brainer after he led the major leagues with 47 home runs this season, the decision with Wieters was more complicated. After accepting the club’s $15.8 million qualifying offer a year ago when he was still returning to full strength from Tommy John surgery, the 30-year-old Wieters appeared in 124 games but posted a .243 batting average and .711 on-base plus slugging percentage, his lowest marks since 2013.

With Wieters now considered the top free-agent catcher on the market after Wilson Ramos suffered a serious knee injury in September, this offseason likely represents his last best chance to secure a long-term deal. That reality led many to believe he would have rejected the one-year offer, which would have then led to draft compensation for the Orioles. However, a $17.2 million salary for 2017 would be hefty for a player worth only 1.7 wins above replacement this past season, according to Baseball Reference.

A two-time Gold Glove winner earlier in his career, Wieters threw out 35 percent of runners attempting to steal in 2016, but his pitch framing is rated well below average and he struggled to block pitches in the second half of the season. With early estimates already putting their 2017 payroll above $150 million with club-controlled players owed raises in arbitration, the Orioles ultimately didn’t want to risk having to make such a large one-year commitment to a catcher past his prime.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of Baltimore working out a long-term deal with Wieters should his market be cooler than anticipated, but super agent Scott Boras will be hellbent on finding the kind of deal he didn’t believe was out there a year ago when he accepted the Orioles’ qualifying offer.

It will be interesting to see how the market develops for Trumbo, who is coming off a career season that earned him the second All-Star invitation of his career. The offensive numbers speak for themselves, but his defensive struggles in right field negatively impacted his overall value as he finished with a 1.6 WAR, making him a better candidate to serve as a first baseman or designated hitter moving forward.

Though Trumbo is likely to reject the qualifying offer, he found a home in Baltimore and was very comfortable in the Orioles clubhouse after being traded three times in a two-year period.

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Britton named 2016 Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year

Posted on 29 October 2016 by Luke Jones

Despite never getting to pitch in the Orioles’ all-too-brief postseason run, Zach Britton made it to the field prior to Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night.

The two-time All-Star closer was named the 2016 recipient of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award after a historic season in which he converted all 47 of his save opportunities. The 28-year-old completed the third-longest stretch of consecutive saves to begin a season in major league history and posted a microscopic 0.54 ERA, the lowest by a qualified reliever since 1913.

Britton led the AL and was tied for second in the majors with his 47 saves.

“You’re only as good as the guys behind you on the field,” Britton said in a press conference at Wrigley Field on Saturday. “Me relying on ground balls, obviously we have a great defense back there, so a lot of the credit goes to the teammates and putting me in situations to be successful, too. The coaching staff really went out of their way to put me in situations to be successful.”

Throwing his nasty sinker a whopping 91.7 percent of the time, Britton posted a career-high 80 percent ground-ball rate while also striking out 9.9 batters per nine innings. The lefty allowed just one home run and 18 walks over his 67 innings of work to help Baltimore qualify for the postseason for the third in the last five years.

Britton’s 120 career saves rank third on the Orioles’ all-time list behind only Gregg Olson (160) and Jim Johnson (122). In August, he moved past Tippy Martinez for the club record for saves by a left-handed pitcher. Since 2014, Britton leads the AL in saves and ranks second among qualified major league relievers with a 1.38 ERA.

Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was named the 2016 Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award winner.

Both winners were selected by a panel of eight of the game’s all-time great relievers: Rivera, Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, John Franco, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, and Billy Wagner. The reliever awards were introduced in 2014.

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Showalter lets down when Orioles needed him most

Posted on 05 October 2016 by Luke Jones

You may not think so right now, but Buck Showalter is a very good manager.

To borrow a phrase he likes to use, I’ve got a long memory.

Without him, the Orioles wouldn’t be the winningest team in the American League over the last five years and wouldn’t have three trips to the playoffs under their belts, but that doesn’t change the truth about what happened in the AL wild-card game on Tuesday night.

He let his players down in the 5-2 loss to Toronto in 11 innings.

The story of the defeat that ended the season really should have been about an Orioles offense that continued its second-half swoon by managing only two runs and four hits in the biggest game of the year. Baltimore rarely made good contact and didn’t even register a hit over the final five innings against a mediocre Blue Jays bullpen. The offense falling off a cliff — not the pitching — was the biggest reason why the Orioles struggled to play .500 ball after the All-Star break.

It was frustrating to watch on Tuesday, but players don’t always perform the way you want them to. That’s just the way it goes sometimes in the athletic arena with the opponent trying to win, too.

But there’s no defending not using your best pitcher — the closer many believe could be the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner — with your season on the line.

The clamoring for All-Star selection Zach Britton began in the eighth inning when Brad Brach entered and continued when the right-hander got into trouble against the heart of the Toronto order in the ninth. Instead of turning to Britton to escape the jam, Showalter summoned veteran right-hander Darren O’Day, who missed much of the season due to injuries and had rarely even pitched since being activated from the disabled list in mid-September.

But the moves worked, whether you agreed with them or not. At the very least, you could concede that Showalter was showing trust in two individuals who had been All-Star relievers the last two years. Brach and O’Day have pitched in plenty of high-leverage spots and likely would have pitched if the game had stretched into one or two extra frames anyway.

That’s when any attempt to defend Showalter has to end, however.

Lefty Brian Duensing had pitched well in a handful of appearances down the stretch, but the journeyman with a career 4.13 ERA started the bottom of the 11th inning. Even so, he struck out Ezequiel Carrera to once again save face for the manager.

Now was finally the time for Britton with one out in the 11th and the top of the Blue Jays lineup coming up, right?

Right?

Instead entered the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez, who had pitched admirably over the last six weeks but fared poorly as a reliever earlier in the season. In reference to his unorthodox mechanics alone, he’s a high-maintenance pitcher who undoubtedly benefits from the lengthier warm-up session in the bullpen and the normal routine before a scheduled start.

Simply put, he was out of his element in a high-leverage relief setting and looked like it, giving up two singles and the game-winning three-run home run to Edwin Encarnacion on three consecutive pitches. Jimenez clearly didn’t do his job, but he was being asked to fulfill a role he wasn’t used to and hadn’t done well out of the bullpen earlier in the year.

That wasn’t the spot for him with better options available, and that’s on the manager.

This all took place as Britton — with his historic 0.54 ERA — watched from the bullpen and was forced to wait for that save situation that never came.

Inconceivable.

Showalter said after the game that Britton was healthy and available, the last morsel of information observers needed before crushing the Baltimore skipper. He preferred saving Britton while going to other options in the bullpen – inferior ones – despite the fact that the lefty had warmed up a few different times.

It’s true that using Britton in a tie game on the road deviates from the tired by-the-book way managers have handled closers for the last 25 years, but we thought Showalter was better than that. In fact, he had used Britton in the ninth and 10th innings of a tie game at Rogers Centre back on July 31, a contest the Orioles eventually won in 12 innings as Logan Ondrusek pitched the final frame.

If a game was important enough in late July to use Britton in a non-save situation on the road, how can you not use him with your season hanging by a single thread?

Maybe pitching him wouldn’t have mattered with the Orioles failing to generate any offense beyond Mark Trumbo’s two-run homer in the fourth, but you could more easily stomach Jimenez or Duensing or Tommy Hunter or Dylan Bundy – or even Britton himself — giving up the game-winner if they’d at least exhausted their best options to that point.

Instead, Showalter was too worried about not having Britton around later in the game if that save chance ever materialized. He’ll spend all winter pondering what might have been if he’d simply been more concerned with extending the game.

As a man often praised for being two steps ahead of the opposition, Showalter needed to be more in the now and not thinking so much about the hypothetical inning or two later in an elimination game. It was overthinking, not terribly different from the decision to leave Wade Miley in too long during Saturday’s costly loss at Yankee Stadium.

That failure late in Tuesday’s game coupled with the invisible bats ultimately cost the Orioles their season.

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