2016 Orioles preview: Zach Britton

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With Opening Day just two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2016 Orioles every day as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in five years this season.

March 1 – Adam Jones
March 2 – Chris Tillman
March 3 – Jonathan Schoop
March 4 – Brad Brach
March 5 – Nolan Reimold
March 6 – Yovani Gallardo
March 7 – Matt Wieters
March 8 – T.J. McFarland
March 9 – Dariel Alvarez
March 10 – Brian Matusz
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Mychal Givens
March 13 – Ryan Flaherty
March 14 – Ubaldo Jimenez
March 15 – Mark Trumbo
March 16 – Darren O’Day
March 18 – Pedro Alvarez
March 19 – Oliver Drake
March 20 – Mike Wright

RP Zach Britton

Age: 28

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

2015 stats: 4-1, 36 saves, 1.92 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 10.8 K/IP, 1.9 BB/IP, 3 HR, 65 2/3 innings

Why to be impressed: The 2015 All-Star selection not only increased his league-leading ground-ball percentage from 75.3 percent in 2014 to 79.1 percent, but he did it while elevating his strikeout rate from 7.3 per nine innings to a whopping 10.8 and lowering his walk rate (2.7 to 1.9). Most focus is on his nasty sinker, but his slider improved in 2015 and 20 of his 79 strikeouts came on that breaking pitch.

Why to be concerned: Britton was hindered by a sore lat muscle at the end of last season, but there have been no indications of lingering effects from that this spring. History isn’t favorable when it comes to the long-term durability of closers, but the lefty throws his sinker with such apparent ease that he’s been very durable in making his transition to a full-time relief role over the last two seasons.

2016 outlook: He may not receive quite as much praise as the likes of Wade Davis, Craig Kimbrel, and Aroldis Chapman, but Britton’s save conversion rate of 90.1 percent over the last two years has been very steady for one of the league’s best bullpens. It would be difficult for him to top what he did a year ago, but he remains one of the best closers in the AL and should pitch that way again in 2016.

2016 not-so-scientific projections: 4-2, 40 saves, 1.84 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.5 K/IP, 2.2 BB/IP, 4 HR, 68 innings

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