Veteran left-handed reliever Zack Britton is officially retiring from Major League Baseball after spending parts of 12 seasons in the majors. He made the announcement in an interview with The Athletic.
"My last outing was against the Orioles. I threw a ball to the backstop as my last pitch; I think about that and it sucks," said Britton, who cited a desire to spend more time with his four children as a reason for his retirement. "It might not have been perfect from a career standpoint or going out on a high note, but you don't always get to pick. My gut was telling me it was time to see what life was like on the other side."
Britton, 35, was the Orioles' third-round pick in 2006 out of high school and quickly established himself as a starting pitcher in their farm system. By the spring of 2011, he was a highly touted prospect, ranked 28th by Baseball America and 17th by Baseball Prospectus. He wasn't able to stick as a starter in the majors but found his calling as a reliever in 2014.
As a closer, Britton was one of baseball's best reliever for a few years. He was a two-time All-Star, finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting in 2016, the year he won the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award.
In that season, Britton was 47 for 47 in save chances with a 0.54 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 74 strikeouts in 67 innings. He posted a 4.1 WAR that season, which is an absurd number for a reliever. For comparison's sake, only 10 pitchers in 2023 posted at least 4.1 WAR and they were all starters. Unfortunately, the lasting image from that season is Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion hitting a walk-off homer in the 11th inning of the Wild Card Game while Britton watched from the bullpen and the Orioles' season had ended.
In the next season, Britton would run his streak of consecutive saves without a blown save to 60, an AL record and second-longest in history after Eric Gagne's 84. Britton also was hampered a bit by an injury that season. Though he remained incredibly effective for years, he would never return to being an elite closer.
He spent the last 4 1/2 seasons with the Yankees, posting excellent numbers in 2019 and 2020 before injuries and poor performance hampered 2021 and 2022. The last pitch he referenced came in a game on Sept. 30, 2022.
In all, Britton worked 641 innings in 442 career outings. He ends with a 3.13 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 532 strikeouts. He had 154 saves against 20 blown saves and is second in Orioles history in saves behind Gregg Olson.
Britton finishes a career that will likely get him on a Hall of Fame ballot. He won't get many votes and certainly won't make the Hall, but that's no insult. Britton was one of the best relievers in baseball for a few years and a very good reliever for a while. It was a very admirable career.