Bouncing between the eighth and ninth innings, called upon to close in the absence of Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton was everything the Yankees wanted out in 2020. Aside from a brilliant regular season, he was one of the few pitchers Aaron Boone trusted in the postseason, working four of the six Yankee playoff games, and that loyalty was reflected in an immediate offseason move.
2020 Statistics: 21 games, 19 IP, 1.89 ERA, 2.61 FIP, 11.8% K-BB%, 0.5 fWAR
2021 Contract Status: Under contract, $13 million AAV
It’s tough to write a report card for a pretty flawless year. Britton largely did what he always does - throw an incredibly heavy, low spin rate sinking fastball. Guys make contact with it, hit it into the ground, rinse and repeat. He consistently generates groundball rates above 70%, and because the ball is so “heavy” and often below the strike zone, it’s hard to make solid contact. Even in an infield with as poor defense as the Yankees have, 80 mph ground balls usually get turned into outs.
What has been interesting is seeing Britton triple his slider usage since coming to the Yankees:
You can see how, in those 2015/2016 “peak” seasons, Britton really only threw the sinker, often 90% or more of the time. Since coming to the Yankees, and using data to make decisions, he’s gradually incorporated more and more of the slider, and now throws it about a fifth of all his pitches.
Generally the slider is his put-away pitch - if he does get to two strikes, he likes to move the ball inside on lefties and try to get a swing and miss, which he generates about 64% of the time. It’s really a strong pitch and gives him a completely different way to approach hitters.
Britton’s continued effectiveness led the Yankees to take action on him early in the winter. By exercising his 2022 option, the team ensured he couldn’t opt out this winter, although a soft reliever market may have kept him in the Bronx either way. He’ll be 33 on Opening Day, but his pitch-to-contact approach should lend him to aging well, at least over the next two seasons. I trust him more than any other Yankee reliever, but I’d like to see him used as more of a security blanket rather than kept to the eighth inning.