Zack Britton, as you have likely seen by now, will have surgery today and miss the start of the season. It is the first major blow to the Yankees in 2021 in terms of injury, even if it could have been much worse. (When you hear elbow, you immediately think Tommy John.) Still, it’s not what you want.
Anyway, this will have a number of impacts on the Yankees and I have some thoughts about all of that. Let’s get to them.
1. Missing Britton’s Performance: The Yanks will miss Britton. He is sometimes frustrating due to his high walk rates (13% in 2019, 9% in 2020), but the man has been an integral piece of the Yankee bullpen since he joined the team at the 2018 deadline. Britton owns a 2.14 ERA (3.62 FIP) with a 76.3% ground ball rate in 105 innings pitched in pinstripes, with an average exit velocity of just 87 miles-per-hour. This combination means he gives up almost no home runs (0.43 per 9 innings pitched) and limits the damage opposing batters can do against him: they hit just .182, with a .226 BABIP. That is elite performance. Britton has been all you could have asked for and more.
All of this is to say that Britton is a key cog in the dominant Yankee bullpen machine. He also brings a unique look, throwing 85% sinkers – the next closest Yankee regular over this stretch is Jordan Montgomery at 15% – and just 0.5% straight fastballs, the lowest on the team. While he still brings the heat and is by no means a junkballer, Britton is a new, different look every time he comes out of the pen. It will not be easy to replace his performance.
Now, the good news is that he will only be out a couple of months, barring no setbacks. It’s not clear when he will return – estimates vary, and the team didn’t say – but the New York Post says he will be shut down six to eight weeks. That puts us at a June return if all goes well. The good news is that this is a straightforward surgery. Gio Urshela just had it in December, after all, and he is fine now.
Still, the Yanks can and should play it safe. Britton just recently recovered from COVID and these are the best months to miss, if you have to miss any at all. It sucks, and the bullpen will suffer, but the Yankees can weather his absence for two-and-half months. The most important thing will be getting him back to full health and strength before the stretch run and postseason. That is really what’s most important here.