Zach Britton is the owner of a solid four pitch arsenal, even though the speed and exact drop differ with his sinker that it really should be a dual version two-seamer. For my purpose, and to limit confusion, I broke it down into two different characteristics.
The four seam fastball is the first pitch for every single pitcher at every single level. I think he has been off and on with his love of this pitch over his professional career and simply uses the pitch to keep the opposition honest. It was a live pitch out of the arm with a 92-94 mph shelf, but it came away flat at times. It was picked up on two solid line drives that fans go “whoa, that was a great defensive play.” He needs to work it in all types of counts and I would like to see him locate it better.
The two-seam fastball is the bread and butter pitch for this kid. He lives and dies off of it and it was apparent that it became a “clutch” pitch when facing power hitters. I see the two-seamer linked with his sinker, though they differ slightly in finger pressure and post hand rotation. These are treated with two distinct fashions, especially in his repertoire. Britton’s two-seamer has a ton of late life that rides in and down on right handed hitters, but with a noticeable snap because of the speed. He tries to force the outside pitch a bit too much. In the first three innings he reached a solid 90-91 mph with that late life. He not only should be touching the outside of the plate, but should be bringing it in and running it on the hands more often.
His sinker has down plane action and drops off the table at the last second. I will say right off the bat that it is something that can make him a lucrative pitcher if he can maintain the command. It simply looks like a fastball and drops on a dime. The great thing is the speed of the dip it takes and he can maintain its velocity between the upper 80’s to lower 90′s. Britton had so many hitters off on the front foot that he used this pitch to mask other areas of his game that were not at the best I have seen from him. His sinker is a pitch that he can honestly throw at any time and he needs to have faith that it can get him out of jams. I rate it a plus pitch for the table drop alone.
Slider & Changeup
He worked in a slider and change up at times, but not clearly enough that you can gauge the effectiveness. He did surprise Joyce with a change up, which sits in the low 80′s, that even caught me off guard. I would prefer to see Mark Connor work in a circle change, which would take a different path compared to the sinking fashion of most of his pitches. He needs a pitch that rides in on the left handed hitters and rides away from the right handed bats. His changeup did its job, but to become a guy that can really take the jump to the next level the circle change has to become a pitch of choice.
Britton was a little jittery and was pushing a lot of balls through the zone. He seemed to rush and work through batters quickly from the start. The side view would complete the story for me, but I feel he was limiting his stride at times. He also short changed his follow through indicating a slight stride issue; this combined with the rigid stiffness early showed us he was worked up a bit too quickly to pitch his first game (though the call-up was basically necessary). These things tell me he wanted the ball and was a kid on pixie sticks. Things really started to smooth out during the second round of the lineup and those last two innings Britton was relaxed and hitting his stride.
One thing I did like throughout the entire day was the effort on his pitches. He seemed like a cool cucumber and a skipping a rock on water. When you do this, you are getting solid push and using your body as the driving force in your throws.
I will hold off on thinking of his issues with command, as they were nothing more than nerves and built up pressure. He looked cool, but those things told me a different story today.
Britton was as good as advertised, but there are ways to improve.
He has the stuff to become a solid number two pitcher and could push to the top of the rotation. In order to be that top of the rotation pitcher he will have to learn pitches that work in different fashion and stop pushing the sinker. I witnessed him throw it four out of five pitches to Ben Zobrist.
His numbers indicated that he would pitch well against left handed batters, but he looked passive against them today — constantly throwing away from them. He really attacked the right handed hitters, but I did not see this approach against the left handed hitters. In order to reach the next level you have to work all angles and from both sides of the plate.
He needs to start out on the right foot and push strikes across the board. He nit picked corners and his stuff is too good to be using these tactics. It left him with a higher pitch count than he should have with the quality of his stuff. He should attack hitters, which will happen as he matures.
Even with these things said, he is a kid with an extremely bright future that should be a mainstay in the Orioles’ rotation for at least the next decade.
Quick Note on Matt Wieters
I am extremely impressed with the growth of Matt Wieters behind the plate. This is a catcher that was not clueless, but he needed a lot of work to learn his craft. He makes his mark with the approach and how he commands the pitchers and has that ability to keep pitchers even. A clear example was when Mark Connor went out to calm Britton down because of his walk issues and toward the later end of the meeting, you see Britton cracking a smile and laugh. Wieters told him something to quickly relax him and take his mind off of it. It worked and he instantly got back into his groove.