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Yankees 2020 Season Preview: Zack Britton

Can Britton put in another good season in 2020?

2019 ALCS Game 1 - New York Yankees v. Houston Astros Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

After acquiring him in a deal at the previous trade deadline, the Yankees opted to bring back Zack Britton and signed him to a three-year contract in January 2019.

In the first season of the new deal, Britton rewarded the Yankees with an ERA under two and his best season since his otherworldly 2016. He followed that up by allowing just one run and two hits across seven appearances in the playoffs. He was arguably the steadiest reliever the Yankees had last season.

However, it is no longer last year, so what could be expected from Britton in 2020?

2019 Stats: 61.1 IP, 1.91 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 7.78 K/9, 4.70 BB/9, 0.44 HR/9, 1.14 WHIP, 0.9 WAR

2020 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 65.0 IP, 3.44 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 8.42 K/9, 4.33 BB/9, 0.61 HR/9, 1.36 WHIP, 0.9 WAR

The first thing that you may notice about his projections is the massive jump in ERA from 2019. Pretty much every projection system readily available also expects him to take some sort of his in that area.

On one hand, that’s understandable because 1.91 is a really good ERA and not something that can just be repeated easily. That’s also because some of his peripheral numbers don’t rate him that highly. Every year since 2016, Britton’s FIP has been at least half a run higher than his ERA, and in most cases it’s over a full run.

That has a lot to do with his groundball rate and the low BABIP he tends to have. Other than his 2017, in which he was dealing with arm troubles, Britton’s BABIP has been .230 or under every year since 2016. He’s managed to do that by getting a lot of groundballs. His strikeout numbers are nothing incredible, especially for a reliever. Those factors are going to cause his peripherals to be different and for projections to not completely trust Britton.

There’s also the fact that his fly-ball percentage is up from his 2015-17 seasons, while his barrel percentage nearly doubled last year. He is still getting plenty of groundballs, and his weak contact was still in line with his career norms, but it is something to keep an eye on.

One way he will likely try to alleviate any of that is an increased use of breaking pitches. Last year, he used breaking ball 13.6 percent of the time, nearly doubling his use of them in 2018, and the first time he’s thrown them more than 10% of the time since 2013. That usage wasn’t a season long thing. It first started to develop in July.

Baseball Savant

Probably not coincidentally, those were his best months in the season. From July through September, Britton had a 1.04 ERA, allowing just a .148 batting average and a .216 slugging. In the months prior to that, those numbers were 2.55, .207, and .281. Those are solid as borne out in his overall season numbers, but that’s also a noticeable difference.

There’s always the chance that this is the year that Britton’s peripherals catch up to him. The Yankees have had some really good luck with this over the years, but plenty of relievers just aren’t this good for this long. However, whether it be because of his new pitch use tendencies or just because he always does, it also wouldn’t be shocking to see Britton put in another good season in 2020.