The Man Behind the Curtain

As anyone who pays attention to baseball would know, Zack Greinke had a phenomenal season last year when he was able to notch his first AL Cy Young Award. And while Greinke is off to a much more mortal start this year, there is another pitcher in baseball who is drawing comparisons to Greinke’s 2009 season — Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies. [...]

Through his first six pitching performances of this year, Jimenez has been dominant. He has compiled six wins in those starts, posted an ERA of 0.87, a WHIP of 1.02, and 44 strikeouts, including 13 in his last start against the Padres on May 3. Oh, and he also threw a no-hitter against the Braves in Atlanta on April 17th. Not a bad way to start the season, especially when said player is on your fantasy team!

Back in 2009, Greinke also started with six wins in his first six games, striking out 54, walking only 8 in just 45 innings of work. He simply looked untouchable, putting his mid-90s fastball, knee-buckling slider and his slow looping curve wherever he wanted in the strike zone. It was the most dominant stretch of pitching that I had seen in my lifetime and was incredible to watch.

After each sparkling performance, I remember watching the post game show while Greinke was being interviewed and one thing in particular always stood out to me. Greinke would ALWAYS give credit to Miguel Olivo for calling a great game and being a major part in his success. In the offseason, the Royals wanted to move in a different direction with their backstop, parting ways with both Miguel Olivo and John Buck and acquiring the veteran Jason Kendall.

Olivo went on to sign a one year contract with the Rockies with a club option for 2011. With the exception of Jimenez’s first start of the season, Olivo has been behind the plate for every other start, including the no-hitter, which he apparently called before the game.

While Greinke certainly hasn’t been bad this year — in fact, far from it, he just has absolutely no run support–he does seem to be missing the camaraderie he shared with Olivo, who is now helping Jimenez’s quest for the NL Cy Young. Olivo ended up catching 31 of Greinke’s 33 starts in 2009 and really seemed to help move Greinke along from a very talented pitcher to a Cy Young Award winner. Olivo also caught a no-hitter from Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez back in 2006.

Clearly, Greinke and Jimenez are both immensely talented pitchers who deserve most of the credit for their success. However, baseball is a game of camaraderie and relationships, more so between pitcher and catcher than perhaps any other position in the game. While Olivo has bounced around from team to team over his career (the Rockies are his sixth professional team), he has left his mark on younger members of the pitching staffs. From Anibal Sanchez to Zack Greinke to Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Olivo seems to be the man behind the curtain who helps take these talented pitchers to the next level.

Maybe it is sheer coincidence that Greinke and Jimenez are on virtually the same path to success and that Olivo just happened to be their catcher. That could very well be the case. But I doubt it. While Olivo was far from a great player with the Royals, I certainly think they misjudged his valuable impact on Zack Greinke in choosing to let him become a free agent.

Don’t be surprised if Jimenez is the NL Cy Young winner at the end of this season.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Kansas City Royals KC MLB Royals

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