The Real Real Zack Greinke

You may have read an article on The Hardball Times recently that wasn’t very kind to Kansas City ace Zack Greinke. It wasn’t quite a screed against the 2009 Cy Young Award winner, but the article was quite pessimistic about Greinke’s ability to be the starter he’s hyped up to be.

Much of the article is focused on the shift from 2009 to 2010, and to compare the two seasons, it’s obvious that his follow up season was a disappointment. But, as the article states in the opening, Greinke’s 2009 was the season with numbers that “come along only about once a decade” so that’s a tough bar to reach anyway on that standard.

The following is my defense of my favorite player in baseball, the enigmatic Donald Zachary Greinke:

First, it’s fair to express disappointment with Greinke’s 2010. I fell into the trap just like many. Once we saw the peak of Greinke’s abilities, we wanted more. It’s not a surprise to expect him to keep his magical run going despite a full offseason of teams scouting specifically to find a way to counter his tremendous skills.

Greinke’s ERA of 4.17 was right in line with the league average. When being average is a disappointment, you’ve got one of those good kinds of problems. However, despite that high ERA, Greinke’s component ERA (a formula devised by Bill James to try to limit the stat to measure just what the pitcher has control over) was 3.48, which is significantly better. Greinke’s strikeout rate of 7.40 K/9 wasn’t far off from his career 7.56 K/9 rate, though it’s a significant drop from his 2008 and 2009 seasons. He missed less bats overall and it shows in his hit totals. He gave up 219 hits in 2010 after only giving up 195 hits in 2009, though a lot of those would have probably been scooped up if he wasn’t saddled with an infield that consisted of Billy Butler, Wilson Betemit, and Yuniesky Betancourt.

One of the criticisms of Greinke is his pitch selection. That’s fine, though it’s a rough metric to follow, depending on the stadium in which pitches are charted, the individual charter, and all that fun stuff. One man’s slider is another man’s two seam fastball. After watching most of Greinke’s starts, I remember noticing that he seemed tentative, and seemed to try to throw more breaking pitches over for strikes, and didn’t use his fastball as much. Fangraphs, though, seems to think Greinke is pretty much within a normal range of the same pitch selection he used in 2009. One of Greinke’s goals going into 2010 was to refine his changeup, so he may have used it more, but the numbers don’t indicate much.

Greinke’s curve is in question too, but he’s adapted it to be less of a specialty pitch (like the slow eephus) and more of a pitch to mix in. He seemed to throw it to start an at bat more than usual, as a get-me-over pitch. His velocity didn’t seem to take a hit, though, as he ended up with an average fastball of 93.5 mph, good for sixth in the American League according to the Bill James Handbook.

Does this mean Greinke’s going to return to his 2009 levels of production? It’s not certain. But after a solid 2008, Greinke broke out in 2009. Would anybody be disappointed if he “only” went back to 2008 levels? I think not.

I really don’t get the fuss over Greinke’s struggles. Despite his average season, he still had a strikeout to walk ratio of nearly 3/1 and for his career he’s got a 3.18 K/BB ratio. That’s damn solid.

Am I worried about Zack? Not even close. I still think he’s among the top ten pitchers in the game today. Will he repeat his 2009? Maybe not to the extent of dominance – that 2.17 is awfully tough to maintain over a full season of starts – but he should approach it at least once more in his career as long as he stays healthy (which he should, since he has no problem with injuries in his history and a mechanically smooth, repeatable and easy delivery).

He’ll be fine.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Kansas City Royals KC MLB Royals Zack Greinke

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