Today, for the first time since September 20, 2015, Zach Britton headed to the mound with a save on the line and blew it. After 60 consecutive saves, the Baltimore closer’s run is finally over—though you’d be forgiven for assuming it had ended earlier this year, in an injury-plagued season that’s seen him pitching near his worst when he’s pitching at all.
Britton entered at the start of the ninth today with a two-run lead, which he promptly squandered. After allowing Oakland to tie the game off three hits with a sacrifice fly and a walk, plus a wild pitch that advanced a runner, Britton was pulled. It was the first time in his bullpen career that he’d been yanked after recording just one out. (Manny Machado bailed him out in the 12th inning with a game-winning home run.)
Britton’s streak of 60 consecutive saves is an American League record—the overall mark belongs to Eric Gagne, with his 84 saves for the Dodgers—and at this point, it’s mostly surprising that it managed to last so far into the season. Britton’s year began with a forearm injury he was rushed back from, followed by a stint on the 60-day disabled list to recover, and none of the playing time around that has held much promise. After two seasons as one of baseball’s most electric relievers, he simply hasn’t been the same this year.
For the first time since he moved to the bullpen in 2014, Britton has an ERA over 2.00 and a FIP over 3.50. He’s striking out fewer than 20 percent of batters and walking more than 10 percent, both career-worsts for him as a reliever. His previously ridiculous, unhittable sinker hasn’t looked much like it deserves either of those adjectives. (As he’s struggled this year, he’s continued to use his sinker more than 90 percent of the time, with a curveball used only sparingly to supplement.) This season, basically, has seen Britton go from somewhat superhuman to very far from it, and now the last ongoing statistical piece of his previous success has ended.