I never want to see an athlete injured. It’s a loss for the athlete, the team, the league and the fans.
That said, when I saw a report of another Yankee injury, my heart dropped assuming it was one of the players on the roster who can win an MVP. I’m not embarrassed to admit, when I saw the Yankees would be without Zack Britton until later this summer, I breathed a sigh of relief. Because from a purely numbers only, analytical standpoint, losing Zack Britton is not a big blow to the Yankees over the course of 162 games.
Don’t misunderstand: Britton is a very good relief pitcher and it always helps to have guys like that around, but if you’re thinking big picture this barely moves the needle on the Yankees 2021 season.
To begin with, relief pitchers in general are not as important as you think they are – nowhere near as important as starting pitchers or position players. You only think relievers are extremely valuable because when they screw up, it usually means the end of the game. Trust me, when your starter screws up in the 2nd inning, it’s just as bad as when your set up guy screws up in the 8th – it just doesn’t seem that way because we all love to place importance on the sequence of events.
I’ve written it here previously, but this is a good time to remind everyone: The last four World Series have been closed out with starting pitchers on the mound. That tells you everything you need to know about how teams view the value of relief pitchers.
Secondly, since Britton was acquired in 2018, his value to the Yankees comes out to between 1.5 and 2.0 WAR per 162 games, depending on how many innings he was going to pitch. Again, not insignificant, but replaceable. Whoever his replacement is, even if he isn’t as good as Britton, should pick up some of that missed WAR so we’re really talking about 1 team win per season over 162. (Incidentally, if you’re worried about not having a lefty to come in to face tough lefty batters, I’ve got news for you: Left handed batters’ OPS+ versus Tyler Lyons is lower than against Britton over their careers.)
Britton’s strength is that he’s a known and reliable commodity, which is why the Yankees are willing to spend $13 million annually on him instead of rolling the dice on a kid with great stuff who is untested.
But he’s also a great example, if I may get on my high horse and preach for a moment, of why WAR is a great stat and if you dismiss it you’re being silly. It tells you – not exactly but pretty damn close – how many wins over 162 games a player is worth to your favorite team. Knowing that, although we’ll miss watching Britton pitch, there’s no reason to get our pinstriped panties into a bunch over his elbow.
If Judge, Stanton, DJ or Cole – guys for whom an “OK” season is 4 or 5 WAR but if things are right are worth 7 or 8 WAR – get injured, then you panic.
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