When Chad Green went down in 2022 and Zack Britton was expected to miss the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery late last season, the New York Yankees were luckily able to absorb the blow because of all the other emergences they witnessed in the bullpen over the last year. Jonathan Loaisiga had actually already taken his spot in the pecking order, and Clay Holmes emerged as a top closer! All was great.
Except … first Loaisiga regressed to an unserviceable degree. But wait! Michael King is now an unstoppable force! But then he fractured his elbow. While King and Holmes were running the show, all of Aroldis Chapman, Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge were either unpitchable or totally underwhelming. But for a while, it worked. Thankfully, Ron Marinaccio and Clarke Schmidt emerged as weapons.
Now? Complete and utter disaster. Holmes can’t put together a clean inning, even in the lowest-leverage ninth innings. Chapman has rebounded, but do you really trust him to hold down the fort in the postseason? Peralta and Luetge are “fine,” but nothing to be thrilled about. Marinaccio and Schmidt are back in Triple-A for some reason.
General manager Brian Cashman did acquire relievers Lou Trivino and Scott Effross at the trade deadline, but was that enough? Two guys with either limited high-leverage experience or MLB experience altogether?
Well, that depends, if you happen to think Britton’s eventual September return will help this team at all. The Yankees seemingly banking on production from the left-hander feels insane, though.
Are the Yankees really relying on Zack Britton to help the bullpen in September?
Britton’s elbow surgery wasn’t the typical Tommy John that knocks pitchers out for 12-18 months. Instead, the procedure featured the use of an experimental tape that holds the UCL together, which is expected to reduce the recovery period by ~six months.
In other words, though the timetable is improved, there’s no telling what might happen! This is the first time most of us had even heard about this even being an option, so how is anybody supposed to believe it’s going to help Britton return to form at the drop of a hat?
On top of only throwing 37.1 innings since the start of 2020, ever since arriving in New York, Britton’s heavily relied on ground balls for outs rather than strikeouts (he actually saw his career highs of K/9 drop from 10.8 and 9.9 in 2015 and 2016 to 7.7 with the Yankees).
The man heavily relies on his sinker location to get hitters out … and that’s about it. He walks far too many batters for anyone’s viewing pleasure (4.7 BB/9 as a Yankee!) and his 3.89 FIP since joining New York in 2018 shows he gets himself into far more trouble than you’d expect for an “elite” reliever.
And again, this was before surgery. Experimental surgery. If the Yankees are going to feed us with the whole idea that Britton essentially acts as another impact trade acquisition, we can just fast forward to the ALDS loss if the bullpen problems aren’t solved quickly and if Britton figures to be among the main solutions.