Zack Britton, the dominant left-handed closer who received two All-Star nods with the Orioles in the 2010s, has announced his retirement, according to The Athletic. Britton, 35, last pitched for the Yankees in 2022.
In his interview with The Athletic, Britton cited mounting injuries and his desire to spend more time with his wife and four kids as his reason for retirement.
“There’s a lot of talented guys who don’t get to play for 12 years,” he told The Athletic. “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.”
An Orioles third-round pick in 2006, Britton was once a struggling starter who reinvented himself as lights-out reliever. From 2011-13, the California native registered a disappointing 4.77 ERA across 48 appearances, most of them starts. But in 2014, a move to the bullpen turned Britton’s career around as the 26-year-old established himself as one of the most dangerous weapons in the game with his devastating sinker.
Britton recalled how the offseason before heading into 2014 was a critical juncture in his career, as he was out of options and his wife Courtney was pregnant. He worked his hardest that winter and spring training to make the team out of camp.
“Playing for the Yankees was special, being able to take my family to All-Star Games was really cool, too,” he told The Athletic. “But 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.”
Initially deployed as the set-up man for right-hander Tommy Hunter, Britton had moved into the closer role by mid-May and never relinquished it. With 37 saves and a 1.65 ERA, he cemented a bullpen that helped push the Orioles to their first American League East title since 1997.
After making first career All-Star team in 2015, Britton put together one of the most impressive seasons ever for a reliever in 2016. His sparkling 0.54 ERA and perfection (47-for-47) in save opportunities earned him both Cy Young and Most Valuable Player votes. But Britton’s season will be remembered more for the AL Wild Card Game against the Blue Jays, in which he was not called upon by manager Buck Showalter, who instead opted for Ubaldo Jiménez in the 11th inning of a tie game. Britton watched from the bullpen as Jiménez surrendered a walk-off home run, ending the Orioles’ season.
Baltimore’s struggles in 2017 extended to Britton, who missed time with injury and saw his ERA rise to 2.89. That December, he ruptured his Achilles tendon, keeping him out of action until the following June. By that point, the Orioles were in freefall, and Britton quickly became the subject of trade discussions. On July 24, then-general manager Dan Duquette shipped Britton to New York in exchange for three pitchers: righties Cody Carroll and Dillon Tate — who remains with the team — and lefty Josh Rogers.
Britton, whose first name was mistakenly spelled with an ‘H’ instead of a ‘K’ for years, re-signed with the Yankees before the 2019 season, inking a three-year, $39 million deal to stay in pinstripes. In 12 big league seasons, he registered a 3.13 ERA in 442 appearances and collected 154 saves. His 139 saves with the Orioles rank second in franchise history behind only Gregg Olson.
At his peak, Britton relied almost exclusively on his sinker, which he threw nearly 90% of the time between 2014-18. During his historic 2016 season, opponents hit just .160 off the pitch, which hovered around 97 mph, according to Statcast.
In a stroke of fate, the last appearance of his career was against the Orioles on Sept. 30, 2022.
“I threw a ball to the backstop as my last pitch; I think about that and it sucks,” he told The Athletic “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.”