Published On: Thu, Aug 25th, 2016

Is Zach Britton a legitimate Cy Young contender?

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theScore staff

1h ago

Mitchell Layton / Getty Images Sport / Getty

As the final month of the 2016 regular season approaches, it appears increasingly probable that Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton is going to force his way into the American League Cy Young award conversation.

Can the 28-year-old left-hander actually become the first American League reliever in more than two decades to take home the award? Our editors Jonah Birenbaum, Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb, and George Halim debate:

No chance

I may be in the minority here, but, to me, the best part of awards season is debating semantics. We know the Cy Young is given to the best pitcher in each league, but the BBWAA neglects to define what “best” means. Is it the pitcher who provides the most context-neutral value? Is it the pitcher who dominates the defense-independent stats? Or is it the pitcher who most increases his team’s chances of winning?

If we use that third definition, Britton is the clear-cut favorite – his 4.70 Win probability added is tops among all pitchers – but is it fair to reward Britton for doing what he does on a team that happens to have slim leads in the ninth inning with crazy regularity? If Britton had a 0.69 (nice) ERA but happened to play in Minnesota, you’d get laughed out of Target Field for suggesting he’s a legit Cy Young contender. This inconsistency doesn’t sit well with me. Value is value no matter what jersey you’re wearing, and with a workload less than one-third the size of, say Jose Quintana or Aaron Sanchez, Britton hasn’t provided nearly as much as one of the starters that’ll end up taking home the hardware. – Birenbaum


Let’s get this out of the way: Relievers have won Cy Young awards before. In fact, it’s happened nine times since the award was first presented in 1956. So there is some precedent to give this award to a reliever who’s having the kind of ridiculous season that Britton’s having right now, and that – along with his dominance and excellent numbers – could help him win some voters over.

But let’s look a little closer at those Cy-winning relievers. Of the nine pure relievers to win the award, only two – Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and Eric Gagne in 2003 – have done it since 1990. With the exception of Mike Marshall in 1974, who unbelievably made 106 appearances and was a 15-game winner as a closer – oh, how times have changed – and possibly Eckersley, most of the relievers won thanks to an over-reliance on the save statistic by voters, along with weak competition. Take Steve Bedrosian in 1987, who saved a league-high 40 games with a 2.83 ERA and diminishing strikeout numbers – yet still narrowly won the award and was 16th in MVP voting. Post those numbers in 2016 and you’d be lucky to get down-ballot consideration.

Britton’s having a better year than Bedrosian, of course, and thanks to a weak field and his minuscule ERA he’ll undoubtedly earn some support. But he’s a one-inning reliever, only pitching over 1 1/3 innings in five of his 55 outings. As both Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman can tell you, one-inning relievers just don’t get Cy Young consideration these days. If Britton wins, it’s deserving but still thoroughly surprising. If he doesn’t – which is much more likely – don’t act so shocked. – Sharkey-Gotlieb


The fact that so many people are saying Zach Britton doesn’t deserve consideration for the Cy Young Award is frustrating.

Here we have the back end of the Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen, made up by one man on a team that has helped turn the American League East into MLB’s powerhouse division like the good ol’ days. The Orioles are nothing without Britton, and if that’s not enough, ask the opposing hitters who are batting .150 off him.

I understand that starters are more valuable as they need to work through the order three, maybe four times in a game, and still find success. But if a reliever has won the award in the past, it’s ridiculous to say they can’t win it again.

While Aaron Sanchez, Corey Kluber, and Jose Quintana have been dynamite this season, they haven’t been inspiring enough for me to gift them a Cy Young. There’s no question Britton can’t do what his starter counterparts do, but the left-hander is more valuable, and better at his job than any other pitcher in the American League. – Halim

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