Zach Britton was one of the highlights of the Orioles' 2015 season, and now it's up to a dream-closer panel to decide amongst themselves whether his season was good enough for Major League Baseball's most important awards-season recognition of relievers.
The Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award presented by The Hartford will be presented on Oct. 28, before Game 2 of the 111th World Series.
While there are no official "nominees" for these awards, likely candidates could include Britton along with Cody Allen of the Indians, Wade Davis of the Royals and Andrew Miller of the Yankees in the AL; and Mark Melancon of the Pirates, Jeurys Familia of the Mets, Aroldis Chapman of the Reds and Trevor Rosenthal of the Cardinals in the NL.
The awards are voted on by a nine-member panel comprised of Rivera and Hoffman, as well as fellow legendary closers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner. The group represents the four living relief pitchers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and it's inclusive of the top six all-time saves leaders.
As part of the balloting process, all nine voters will pick three relievers from each league based solely on regular-season performance; selections are not restricted to closers. From there, a 5-3-1 weighted point system is used to determine the winners.
The Hartford awards were first presented in 2014 to Greg Holland of Kansas City in the AL and Craig Kimbrel of Atlanta in the NL. This hardware replaced MLB's "Delivery Man of the Year Award," which was presented to one winner in all of MLB from 2005-13, and it continues a longstanding baseball tradition of honoring the game's top relief pitchers.
Britton was a runner-up last year behind Holland after a breakout 2014 campaign, and now it remains to be seen whether he can take a step forward. Britton tied for third in the AL in saves, converting 36 of 40 chances for Baltimore. He had an especially stellar first half, appearing in his first Midsummer Classic and going on to post a 1.92 ERA -- fifth among AL relievers.
"He's operating at a very high level and that's where the need is," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said during the All-Star break, when asked if the club would consider moving Britton back to the rotation in 2016. "Zach just wants to contribute, and his mentality fits well down there. Not that it wouldn't as a starter. I think Zach would be successful in whatever he does."
Britton's sinker contributed to a 31.8 percent strikeout rate, and he walked just 5.5 percent of batters faced. According to Fangraphs.com, his xFIP minus of 43 was by far the Majors' best, ahead of Miller (51), and Britton's 2.0 WAR tied for fourth among AL relievers.
Britton's saves total probably suffered a bit in September due to a stretch with a sore left lat muscle and a general lack of saves opportunities from teammates in the homestretch. But overall, there was a lot to like about Britton's 2015 season.
"Just wanted to thank the fans for their support this season," Britton tweeted his fans in the hours after the season finale. "Thank you for showing up and cheering us on until the very end."