Home > Uncategorized > Orioles’ Zach Britton Has Become Historic From His Recent Futility

Orioles’ Zach Britton Has Become Historic From His Recent Futility

Here’s something that I am a couple of days late on, mostly because I spent the majority of the weekend exploring the Cal State Northridge campus. And my, it’s a purdy one. But I couldn’t pass this up because, as you may have noticed, I have a thing for talking about really bad first-inning pitching.

The New York Yankees defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 17-3, on Saturday in the second game of a doubleheader. The Yankees scored 15 runs in two innings, 12 in the first inning, and seven in between the time it took to record out No. 1 and out No. 2.

I wanted to examine all of that first-inning offensive craziness and where it stacks up in baseball history (when was the last time a team scored seven runs without an out being recorded? In the first inning?), but either Baseball-Reference doesn’t have such a tool or I’m the tool who’s not knowledgeable enough about the Play Index to get what I want. Either way, I moved on to the pitchers.

Zach Britton started the game for Baltimore, and that name sounded familiar. Oh, yeah — he was a part of that “first-inning pitching” link a couple of graphs above about starting pitchers giving up at least eight runs in less than one inning. Britton allowed eight runs — six earned — in two-thirds of an inning against the Red Sox on July 8.

Well, he did it again. Britton allowed nine runs — six earned — on seven hits and a walk versus New York. He recorded one out before getting the hook.

With that line, Britton became the only pitcher since 1919 — as far as B-R.com will let you go back for such a player search — to give up at least eight runs in two different starts in which he recorded two or fewer outs during a single season. The only other starter to allow at least eight runs twice in a season while pitching no more than one inning was one of the toughest left-handed pitchers of the early ’90s, Chuck Finley. By 2001, Finley had lost a lot, and at least he finished an inning. Britton didn’t even make it past two outs in either performance.

Only Earl Whitehill allowed at least six runs — earned or unearned — in less than one inning three times in a single season. That came in 1930. There are some nice names on that list of pitchers who did it twice in one year (Feller, Mussina stand out to me).

Moreover, Britton became the 10th starting pitcher in 92 seasons to allow at least six earned runs while getting no more than two outs. Before Britton, it was most recently “accomplished” by the Nationals’ Jason Marquis just last year with two starts that when combined gave him a nifty ERA of 351.00.

But also notice one special caveat of Britton’s failures: They came in consecutive starts. After that horrendous outing in Boston, Britton was sent down to Double-A for three starts with the Bowie Baysox of the Eastern League. He was re-called for Saturday’s doubleheader against the Yanks. You could really tell that trip to the minors did him a lot of good.

So who’s the last guy to give up at least six earned in consecutive starts of less than one inning? That would be the Hall of Fame pitcher, the last guy by all accounts to throw a legal spitball, none other than “Ol’ Stubblebeard” himself, Burleigh Grimes. He did it twice over three days in two starts for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1931. Of course, those numbers didn’t matter in the postseason when Grimes won two games in the World Series against the Philadelphia A’s, including Game 7.

I might remember Britton’s 2011 for these two starts — and by “might” I mean “will.” But he really has hung in there pretty well as a 23-year-old against the American League. If you take out the two starts that inspired this post, Britton has a 3.47 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP. Unfortunately for him, those numbers will be in the books forever. But maybe this awful two-start span has toughened him up for the future. The Orioles certainly hope so; he’s the best “futures” pitcher they’ve got.

I can’t wait for his next start.

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