Two-time All-Star relief pitcher Zack Britton is retiring following 12 seasons in the Major Leagues.
“My gut was telling me it was time to see what life was like on the other side,” Britton told The Athletic earlier this month about his decision.
The 35-year-old left-hander last pitched for the Yankees in 2022, but his career was defined by a dominant period as the Orioles’ closer a few years earlier.
A third-round pick by Baltimore in the 2006 MLB Draft, Britton debuted in 2011 and was a below-league-average starter for his first three seasons. He moved to the bullpen prior to the 2014 season. If he was unsuccessful there, perhaps his days as an MLB pitcher were numbered. Instead, Britton quickly established himself as one of the top relievers in the sport.
“When I look back at my career, I think what I’m most proud of is that offseason and how I handled a time that was make-or-break for me,” Britton said.
He saved 73 games and posted a 1.77 ERA over the next two seasons and earned his first All-Star nod with the Orioles in 2015. That was a precursor to a truly special campaign that saw Britton put himself in the MLB record book.
In 2016, Britton allowed just four earned runs across 67 innings while going 47-for-47 in save chances. His 0.54 ERA is the lowest by any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched in a single season.
Britton leaned heavily on his devastating sinker, throwing it 91.7% of the time during the year. But much like Mariano Rivera’s cutter, batters couldn’t square up a pitch they knew was coming. Britton recorded an 80.2% ground ball rate and limited hitters to a .201 slugging percentage. He finished fourth in the American League Cy Young voting.
Britton registered a 2.89 ERA and 15 saves during a 2017 season that was interrupted by injuries. On Aug. 23 against the A’s, he suffered his first blown save in nearly two years. That ended a streak dating back to Oct. 1, 2015, of 60 consecutive successful save opportunities, an AL record.
Britton was dealt to the Yankees prior to the 2018 Trade Deadline and posted a 2.14 ERA and a .538 opponents’ OPS in 111 appearances through the end of the shortened 2020 season.
“Putting on that uniform and walking into the clubhouse, the history of it hits you,” Britton said of playing with the Yankees. “The whole experience of being a Yankee is impressive. You are playing for one of the most recognized sports teams in the world; the way they treat you, and the things you get -- I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.”
But then the injuries started to mount. Britton missed the first two months of the 2021 season due to a bone chip in his left elbow that required surgery. Although he returned by mid-June, he had a 5.89 ERA in 18 1/3 innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery in September.
He returned to the mound about 12 months later, but made only three final appearances for the Yankees before being shut down with left arm fatigue.
“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,” Britton said. “I played a lot longer than I thought. A lot of it is luck, let’s be honest. There’s a lot of talented guys who don’t get to play for 12 years. So I’m very grateful for that. It was the journey, honestly, that was special. I was never great at being good at two things and now it’s time to be all-in on my family.”
Britton retires with a 3.13 ERA over 641 innings, 154 saves and a multi-year run as one of the best pitchers in baseball.