I don’t know that the Zach Britton rumor is any more legitimate than any other. Addison Reed makes more sense, I guess, but I’m always wary of spending significant dollars on a reliever who isn’t among the top echelon in the game. And that’s because relievers by their very nature vary wildly from year to year. By definition, they’re the worst players on your team. Other than the select few who have always been groomed this way, if they were really good they’d be starters. They have the shortest skillset, in that they basically throw one or two pitches really well and that can work for three-to-six hitters. And if one of those pitches goes off the boil, there’s no Plan B. That’s why these guys flash for two or three years, and then are sitting next to you drinking a beer in Section 318 a couple years after that. Nature of the beast.
Zach Britton seems an excellent candidate for that.
Obviously, there’s no arguing with Britton’s ’15 and ’16. But it’s not like it was other-worldly. It’s shrouded in a 0.54 ERA in ’16. But keep in mind that Britton always came in during a clean inning, the 9th, and that didn’t always involve seeing the other team’s best hitters. The most plate-appearances against Britton by batting order were the 6th, 7th, and 8th spots in a lineup. It was basically the same story the year before. And hey, Britton can only dominate what’s in front of him, and he did that.
Another issue with Britton is he didn’t have quite the strikeout numbers of other dominant relievers. While there’s nothing wrong with striking out a hitter per inning, Britton never reached the ridiculous heights of Miller or Jansen or Chapman, who were above 11 per 9 or over 35% or 40%. In ’16, Britton basically had the same K-rate at Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm.
But you can get outs in other ways. Britton was a ground-ball machine back then, and had an 11% line-drive rate against. You simply couldn’t do anything with his sinker. But when you’re relying on soft-contact more than others, it means your margin for error is smaller. And that apparently went away last year. Britton’s sinker lost some sink, his line-drive rate and hard-contact rate jumped up, and his ground-ball rate sank (though still was at a ridiculously high 72%). A 100-point jump in BABIP certainly isn’t all in Britton, but with a career mark of .291 it could be seen as a market correction.
Britton can still get people out, and most of them. But you don’t need to be giving up assets for a guy who just gets most guys out. And you don’t need to be paying him over $10 million, which is what Britton is slated for.
As for Addison Reed, this is just a personal thing. Reed used to be a guy who just threw hard and that was enough. He doesn’t throw hard anymore, And last year he was fine, though again he doesn’t have the strikeout-numbers of true dominance. The appeal is that he doesn’t walk anyone, but the Cubs aren’t going anywhere, pen-wise, if they don’t get the guys they have who do walk people to stop walking people. Bringing in a guy simply because he can find the plate seems a stretch. Reed’s velocity has been dwindling for three straight years, and you wonder how much more he can lose before it doesn’t matter what else he can come up with.
And if you’re rehabbing guys from their walk-happy ways, there are plenty of guys on the market for cheaper you could also try that with. I’m sort of intrigued by he idea of trying to turn Francisco Liriano into a reliever, but yeah, he’d have to find the plate a fuckton more than he does. If someone can get a leash on Dillon Maples you feel like he could be a revelation. Brandan Morrow carries his own risks, but at least he throws really hard and strikes people out. But Morrow only has this past season as a dominant reliever on his resume, and a bunch of “meh.”
Because when you go through the best relievers of past seasons, you only see a few names that last more than two or three years. Even Craig Kimbrel dropped off for a couple years. You can jus find these guys, ride them until they’re dust, and then find the next one. If it were me I would just throw numbers at it until you hit. Losing Jorge Soler for one didn’t really cost you anything. Losing Gleyber for another will eventually feel a little itchy, though it all worked out. I’m not really in the mood to lose anymore than that, especially as it might have to come off the major league roster to do so.