April 14, 2013 posted by Paul Greco

Who Is Zack Greinke?

Who Is Zack Greinke?
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Who is Zack Greinke?

Zack Greinke is an ace. He’s an absolute stud whose bad luck precedes him. His expected ERA has been smaller than his ERA the past three years. In fact, despite that hurdle, Greinke’s ERA has decreased every season for the past three years. The easiest thing to point to in Greinke’s peripherals is his unfortunate strand rate. Greinke’s strand rate has dipped from 76% and 83% (2008-2009) to an average of 70% the past three years. Talk about bad luck.

What makes even less sense about Greinke’s dip in strand rate is the fact that his groundball rate has risen each of the past three seasons. Starting at 40% in 2009, it has gone up to 49% (2012), rising each year in the process. What’s more, Greinke posted a 52% GB rate in the first half before it regressed a tad in the second half. The increased ground-ball rate can definitely be attributed to Greinke’s inclusion of a sinker into his arsenal in 2011. The sinker wasn’t as effective as Greinke hoped it would be in 2011 when he began throwing it for the first time with a slash line of .300/.475/.158/.288 (BA, Slugging, ISO, True Average), but the sinker improved in 2012 as he generated ground-balls 12% more often than he did in 2011. He also had better success with the pitch overall as evidenced by his improved ISO against which went down to .087.

Greinke’s bad luck seems to proceed him however as the sinker was hit to the tune of a .317 BABIP in 2011 and .341 in 2012. That makes very little sense considering his 16% LD with the pitch in 2012. We should expect some regression to the mean for the sinker in 2013. Further cementing Greinke’s position as a bona-fide ace is the insertion of a cut-fastball into his arsenal in 2012 that saw him generate Whiff/Swings at a 23.03% rate. For those unfamiliar with the Whiff/Swing statistic over at Brooksbaseball, it means “for every time a batter swings, how often is he whiffing?” That 23.03% rate actually was 7% higher than his fastball generated.

Finally, Greinke’s best adjustment in 2012 came on his fastball. After a season in which Greinke’s fastball was absolutely smacked to the tune of a .330/.639/.300/.343 (again BA, Slugging, ISO, True Average), he responded with a .247/.422/.162/.263 in 2012. Greinke could have a season for the ages in 2013 where all of his impressive gains over the past few seasons consolidate and fall in line with his xERA. Upside- Cy Young. Ignore the elbow hype and go get this guy.

Who Is Zack Greinke? Zack Greinke is a low-end #1 starter/Top flight #2 starter with excellent stuff that continues to not translate into ERA’s that match his skills. What can we account his struggles to? Bad luck? The anxiety issues he has? Whatever the reason, Greinke has failed to pitch up to his expected ERA levels since 2009 when he had a 2.19 ERA in what was one of the most magical seasons we’ve seen in the last five years for a starting pitcher. Many people are quick to point to the strand rate of Greinke since 2009. Greinke has averaged a 70% strand rate over the past three seasons. Seeing as strand rate is one of the biggest indicators of ERA should we account for this by saying, “well, he’ll never reach his expected ERA because he has chronic strand rate issues”? The answer should be,  “Yes,” and the numbers back it up. His 2009 was a career year and Greike hasn’t been the same pitcher since.

2009 – S% of 83% wOBA xFIP BB% HR/9 K/BB Ratio
Bases Empty 3.06 3.36 6.0% 0.66 4.09
Runners On 2.23 2.79 5.0% 0.17 5.84
Runners in ScoringPosition 2.23 2.68 4.4% 0.17 6.67


2010 – S% of 67% wOBA xFIP BB% HR/9 K/BB Ratio
Bases Empty .304 3.65 5.2% 0.97 3.89
Runners On .314 3.55 7.1% 0.45 2.71
Runners in Scoring Position .343 4.05 9.6% 0.55 1.90


2011 – S% of 70% wOBA xFIP BB% HR/9 K/BB Ratio
Bases Empty .305 2.26 5.1% 1.08 5.82
Runners On .320 3.00 8.0% 0.88 3.17
Runners in Scoring Position .382 3.44 11.3% 1.54 2.11


2012 – S% of 73% wOBA xFIP BB% HR/9 K/BB Ratio
Bases Empty .284 3.11 4.2% 0.72 5.45
Runners On .305 3.37 9.4% 0.82 2.50
Runners in Scoring Position .340 3.44 13.2% 0.92 1.96

Amazingly, there isn’t even an overall trend for Greinke. Of the three seasons, (2010, 2011, 2012) his best season in terms of wOBA is 2012, for xFIP it’s 2011, for BB% its 2010, for HR/9 its 2010, and for K/BB ratio it’s 2011. The only consistency with Greinke is his overall inconsistency and his consistent ability for three years now to pitch worse with men on base and with men in scoring position than he does with the bases empty. That’s not conducive to a decreased strand rate.

If that’s not enough for you, spring training rumblings about an injured elbow and the fact that in the second half his K/BB ratio was 3.1, his HR/9 was 1.1, his HR:FB ratio was 13%, he posted a 21.6 K%, and a 70% strand rate. If you extrapolate all those numbers into full season totals, they would all be the worst numbers he’s posted in the past five seasons – except for K% (lowest in 2010 during which he had a 4.17 ERA), HR/FB (lowest in 2011 when his ERA was a full run higher than his xERA) and strand rate (lowest in 2010, again, during which he posted a 4.17 ERA). Combine the second half woes with the elbow noise and it all amounts to a situation that fantasy GMs shouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

Who is Zack Greinke? Well, it depends on who you ask. Each of the above arguments on Greinke could be stand-alone articles and very persuasive ones at that. The fact is, we really don’t know. Nobody knows. Zack Greinke doesn’t even know. So how can we project players better? What perfect stat is there? Well, we thought it was xFIP, but Kyle Lohse, Johnny Cueto, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmerman, and Mark Buehrle among others can make pretty good cases for why it’s not. Not to mention given what we now know about infield fly ball percentage and how some pitchers like Jeremy Hellickson can consistently induce weak contact to generate pop-ups on a consistent basis.

So for now we have to simply settle for the fact that we are still learning. We all are. Newer and better advanced statistics seem to be coming out every year. Hopefully we will eventually find a perfect stat. Until that happens, realize that stats can paint any picture we (the writer) want them to paint. Always keep an open mind and be willing to think and analyze for yourself. Think that just applies to fantasy baseball? Think again. It’s a life lesson.

Paul finished the 2011-2012 Fantasy Football season as the #1 Weekly Rankings & Projections winner of the 411Fantasy Expert Challenge. He also finished 2nd in the Expert Draft Accuracy Challenge in 2011. Top 10 Finisher in the FSWA Fantasy Football Draft Projections. Paul is also apart of baseballs elite as a member of Tout Wars. You can follow me on Twitter @PaulGreco

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