In what registered as a relative stunner in the baseball world, the three finalists for each of the four prominent Major League awards were announced Monday night and only one Oriole made the cut: Buck Showalter, one of three candidates for American League Manager of the Year.
That means closer Zach Britton, whose 0.54 ERA was the lowest in the history of baseball among anyone that threw at least 50 innings, was not named in the Top 3 by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
“It stuns me that they missed it by that much. Really, it takes away a lot of the credibility,” Showalter said. “Wow. That’s a head-shaker and a head-scratcher. It’s almost depressing they would miss that much.”
The three finalists for the AL Cy Young Award were all starters: Cleveland’s Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA), Boston’s Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15) and Detroit’s Justin Verlander (16-9, 3.04 ERA).
All three threw 215 or more innings in 32 or more starts while Britton pitched 67 innings in 69 games, while converting all 47 of his save opportunities. That workload, in comparison to the starters, is obviously what voters were considering when not choosing Britton as a finalist.
“There is nobody more valuable to their club than Zach was to us this year,” Showalter said. “He did it every day. These other guys did it every fifth day. And anybody that tries to make that argument (about innings versus appearances) doesn’t know the importance of those guys and what Zach does. Think about this: Not once this year did our team walk into the locker room after a game and have that challenge of losing the game in the ninth inning.”
In a text, Britton said he figured he was a longshot to win the award, but said he was still proud of his 2016 performance, which helped the Orioles reach the postseason for the third time in five seasons.
“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,” texted Britton, who won the AL’s 2016 Mariano Rivera Award, presented by MLB to the league’s best reliever. “I figured I wasn’t the safe (Cy Young) 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.”
Britton’s agent, Scott Boras, believes the writers sent a message loud and clear about relievers and Cy Young voting. And Boras said it was the absolute wrong one.
“Baseball writers have now excluded closers from winning the Cy Young. Ridiculous,” Boras texted. “Dominance is what the Cy Young is about. … (The selected) starters were very good, but by comparison to Cy Young starter winners of the past eight years, (they were) not dominant. Britton was dominant … and historic in his performance. (These voters did not) follow the performance evaluation patterns of past Cy voters.”
There have been nine relievers that have won the award since it was first established in 1956. The last closer was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Eric Gagne in 2003. The last to win in the AL was Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley in 1992.
Eckersley (1.91 ERA in 80 innings) and Gagne (1.20 ERA in 82 1/3 innings) pitched more than Britton did in 2016, and accumulated more saves (Eckersley was 51 of 54 and Gagne was perfect in 55 chances). Britton, however, allowed just one homer all season and his walks and hits per innings pitched ratio of 0.836 was better than Eckersley’s 0.913 and worse than Gagne’s 0.692. Britton also set a major-league record with 43 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run.
“This guy has maybe had the greatest year in history of relief pitching. He did it at home, he did it away. It was with a one-run lead, a three-run lead, when we got into a city at 4 o’clock the previous morning,” Showalter said. “I kept saying he’s got a mulligan in there somewhere, and it was, ‘Damn, he did it again.’”
Britton’s last six weeks have been particularly eventful. He and his family moved from California to Texas in October. His wife is about to give birth to the couple’s second child. He had to go to Chicago during the World Series to pick up the Rivera Award.
And then there was the way his season ended: In the bullpen as the Orioles lost to Toronto in 11 innings in the AL Wild Card game.
Showalter, who is vying with Cleveland’s Terry Francona and Texas’ Jeff Banister for 2016 AL Manager of the Year, was saving Britton for when his club got the lead in the Wild Card game. But that never happened, and the Orioles lost without Britton pitching.
It’s a much-criticized decision that will forever link Showalter and Britton, but it had no bearing on the AL Cy Young Voting. Two BBWAA voters from each of the 15 AL cities have to cast their Top 5 before the postseason begins. So, nothing that happens in the playoffs has a bearing on the vote.
Both AL and NL Cy Young Awards will be announced Wednesday, November 16. The ballots are made public after the announcement.