Well, Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium is nearly upon us and with it comes one of the best pitching matchups you might see all season. The reigning AL Cy Young Award Winner, your very own Royal, Zack Greinke, versus the 3rd place finisher for the award, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.
This matchup is intriguing for several reasons. First, it will be interesting to see how Greinke will respond after being picked as the best pitcher in the American League last season. Not that the spotlight wasn’t on Zack during last season, but one would have to imagine that the media attention and expectations for his performance this season will only increase after his brilliant 2009 campaign. For a player who does not enjoy the limelight in the slightest, one has to wonder how he will deal with being under a finite microscope.
Secondly, Greinke and Verlander are both coming off of their best seasons as professionals and, ironically enough, according to Jason Beck* of mlb.com, haven’t matched up in a game since the 2007 season, adding another nice twist to Opening Day.
Here is Greinke’s stat line from last year**:
Greinke was damn near un-hittable for a good chunk of the 2009 season. He recorded 242 strikeouts in just under 230 innings, working out to 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. His 2.16 ERA was best in all of baseball and his 16 wins did not represent his dominance over opposing teams. He could easily have had 21-23 wins if the Royals offense had provided him any sort of support and the defense wasn’t so horrid behind him. Losing to the Angels in Anaheim 1-0 ring a bell? I remember thinking throughout the course of the season that if the offense was somehow able to conjure up two or three runs while Greinke was on the mound, we would walk away with a win. While this happened more times than not, there were definitely too many occasions when Greinke was denied a “W” because of our lackluster offense and defense.
Verlander was also one of the best in the majors last season. He compiled more wins than Greinke, 19 to 16, and also had more strikeouts with 269, averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. This was very impressive in his own right, considering Verlander has had some very good seasons in years past. In 2006, he went 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA and in 2007, he went 18-6 with a 3.66 ERA. He regressed in 2008, but clearly regained his dominance in 2009.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of this matchup is the similarity between these two pitchers. They are only separated in age by eight months and both are power pitchers who are able to get strikeouts when they need them most. Both have fastballs that touch the mid to high 90s consistently — Verlander occasionally is able to dial-it-up to 100 — and both have an assortment of awesome off-speed pitches. Greinke has an un-hittable slider when he is on and his curveball can make batters look silly. Verlander’s curve ball makes batters’ knees buckle and his changeup is a perfect complement to his fastball. Best of all, they both play in the AL Central and are locked up with their current teams for the next few years — Greinke is signed through 2012 and Verlander recently inked a five-year deal keeping him in Detroit through the 2014 season.
Last, but certainly not least (harnessing my inner GM here), is the fantasy perspective. Both of these guys are fantasy studs, as Greinke finished 2009 as the second ranked player overall, while Verlander ranked 25th in my head-to-head Yahoo league. Unfortunately, I was unable to snag Greinke in my recent fantasy draft (took Ryan Braun with the sixth pick, as Greinke was taken 10th overall), but was able to get Verlander in the 5th round, which I feel, was a steal. Both of these pitchers should be on par with their performances of last year. Greinke has worked the “kinks” out of his seldomly-used changeup, which was more of an experimental pitch for the right hander last season. Adding this to his repertoire only makes me think of how dominant he could be this season. As for Verlander, I believe that he will carry over his performance from last year and continue his flame-throwing ways in 2010. And so does his manager Jim Leyland, saying:
“He’s one of the best, no question about that. I don’t call him a young pitcher anymore. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s got as good of stuff as any of them. And the more he matures and learns a little more pitchability, there’s no telling what he can do. … He’s a tremendous, unbelievable talent.” (Here is the link to the rest of Jason Beck’s article on mlb.com)
While the baseball season is certainly a marathon, Opening Day will be a sprint for Greinke and Verlander to see who can the give their team the first victory of the season.