All bias aside, those representing the BBWAA in deciding the finalists for the 2016 Cy Young Award got it wrong in the most obvious, and embarrassingly horrendous way imaginable.
While Zach Britton’s phenomenal and historic 2016 season was far from a certainty in ending with the Cy Young Award in his possession, he was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the top three pitchers in the American League and as such, his omission from the list of three finalists revealed yesterday was one of the worst snubs I can recall in recent history.
The Orioles, who finished 89-73, were in a see-sawing wildcard battle right up until the final days of the regular season, and quite literally, the outcome of every game mattered. With so much on the line, night after night, the importance of Britton’s role in closing out games was second-to-none. He couldn’t afford to slip up, as that one poor outing could have brought the curtains down on the Orioles’ playoff ambitions. Yet despite all of the pressure resting upon his broad shoulders, the ground-ball loving lefty achieved a feat never even reached by the greatest closer of all-time – Mariano Rivera – in producing a perfect season where he was successful in all 47 save opportunities. Not only was Britton perfect in the save opportunities he encountered, his statistics were simply stunning as he worked to a 0.54 ERA through 67 innings of work. He allowed just 38 hits on the season, as opponents hit just .162 against him, and his 0.84 WHIP again sent statisticians heading for the record books. His 4.3 WAR highlighted his value to the team, as the Orioles snuck into the playoffs by just 2.5 games. Had Britton worked to success rate of just 94% instead of 100%, the Orioles would have missed the playoffs. Keep in mind also, that no other closer in the Major Leagues with at least 30 save opportunities achieved a greater success rate than 94% – that’s how far ahead of the rest Britton was in 2016.
Many baseball writers, analysts, and fans alike are extremely vocal in their unwillingness to see the Cy Young Award presented to a reliever, and while I respectfully disagree with this stance, I can still understand their perspective. After all, just four relievers have won the award in the American League, with the most recent being Dennis Eckersley with the Oakland Athletics in 1992. Eckersley’s season, which yielded 51 saves (from 54 opportunities) and produced an ERA of 1.91 was impressive, however even that fails to come anywhere close to what Britton achieved in 2016.
The 2016 finalists, Corey Kluber, Rick Porcello, and Justin Verlander, each had impressive seasons. Kluber tossed 215 innings, won 18 games, and worked to a 3.14 ERA as the Indians ultimately came within a game of being world champions. His value to the team throughout the season was of immense importance and he quite rightfully deserves to be one of the finalists. Rick Porcello produced similar numbers, tossing 223 innings, winning 22 games, and working to a 3.15 ERA. No doubt, winning 22 games in a season is special in its own right, however he was aided by a mashing Red Sox lineup which gave him six or more runs of support on a staggering 18 occasions – that’s certainly enough to boost the numbers in most pitchers’ win column. Justin Verlander struck out 254 hitters through 227.2 innings of work, and despite his 16-9 record, which was hampered by an inconsistent Tigers offense, worked to an ERA/WHIP combo of of just 3.04/1.00. There’s no doubt that each of the trio had seasons worthy of being named a finalist, as did J.A. Happ for that matter, however I truly don’t believe any of the three had seasons anywhere near as historic as Britton’s was, nor was their value to their team as important as Britton’s was to the Orioles.
Britton, an incredibly humble man who always puts his team’s achievements far ahead of his own, was typically classy in response to the snub last night, saying:
“Whether I was a finalist or not, it wasn’t going to change the way I feel about the season I had. I accomplished a lot of the goals I set for myself on a personal level. I figured I wasn’t the safe choice and it was going to be an uphill battle. Obviously I hope a reliever in the future has a better season than I had and gets recognized for it.”
Meanwhile, Orioles Manager Buck Showalter was a little more candid, having this to say:
“He should have finished in the top three in MVP. There’s nobody in baseball who’s more valuable to their team than Zach Britton was to the Orioles. Where do you think we are without Zach Britton? You know how many times we walked into the clubhouse this year with that feeling that we lost a game in the 9th inning? Not once.”
While the snub will anger Orioles fans, and leave many other general baseball fans somewhat bewildered, it will not detract from what Britton achieved in 2016, and that was the greatest season by a reliever in the history of Major League Baseball. He may not have the Cy Young Award in his possession, or even the honor of at least being named a finalist, however in the eyes of most who watched the game in 2016, Britton was by far the most dominant pitcher out there.