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Yankees reportedly express interest in Zach Britton

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If the hunt for starting pitching turns up empty, could Brian Cashman try to buttress the bullpen?

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Starting pitching stands out as the glaring need for the Yankees this summer. Should the price tags run too high, or the arms prove ineffective, one may suspect Brian Cashman to pivot to the bullpen market. It’s a path he’s taken many times over the last few years, and it could be an alternative leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline. According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees have shown interest in Orioles closer Zach Britton.

Britton, 30, returned from a ruptured Achilles tendon on June 12th. He’s struggled in limited time, pitching to a 5.06 ERA across 10.2 innings. His peripherals don’t inspire any confidence, either. Britton owns a 5.08 FIP, plus his strikeout (6.75 K/9) and walk rates (5.91 BB/9) are well worse than his career norms.

There’s a limited sample size here, so it’s tough to evaluate the southpaw on results alone. It instead makes sense to look at the quality of his stuff. A few red flags pop out when one begins to peel the layers back. First, he’s working with diminished velocity.

Credit: Brooks Baseball

The left-hander is averaging 94.28 mph on his sinker this season. That’s down from 96.36 mph last season. Losing that bite hurts because Britton worked with a bowling ball sinker. If hitters made contact, they probably wouldn’t have the strength to lift the ball in the air. This pitch helps explains his ridiculous 72.6 % groundball rate last season. This year, without the extra zip, he’s only generated groundballs at a 58.6% clip.

His curveball also suffers from a dip in velocity. Britton has averaged 80.95 mph on the pitch this year, well below his 83.78 mph mark in 2017. It’s not as tight as it has been in previous seasons either, with a much larger vertical break.

Credit: Brooks Baseball

Britton last worked with a loopy curveball in 2016, and the pitch got hammered. Batters slugged .400 on it that year. Granted, this is a secondary pitch, thrown only 6.13% of the time. It helps gets batters off the sinker, though, and the pitch isn’t doing the job this summer.

These struggles beg the question as to why the Yankees are interested in the 30-year-old. He comes with a pedigree of being one the game’s elite closers, but that pitcher hasn’t shown up in 2018. The Bombers also have a bullpen so stacked that Tommy Kahnle is pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. I suppose Britton could be a lefty specialist and replace Chasen Shreve, but that seems like an expensive effort.

There’s also the minute detail that Britton pitches for the Orioles. The O’s would be hard pressed to make a trade with New York. Owner Peter Angelos reportedly despises the Yankees, and I cannot imagine he would be keen on helping the Bombers during the stretch run.

I don’t doubt the fact that the Yankees and the Orioles touched base and talked Britton; Heyman is well sourced. The inclusion of Brad Hand in the tweet, however, has me thinking this leak is all about leverage. Cashman could mention he’s interested in Britton in an attempt to scare San Diego into lowering their asking price. Hand’s the superior pitcher and would make way more sense. Tis the season for gamesmanship, after all.