The age of the junk-baller is behind us. Many aspiring MLB stars are told that if they can’t hit the mid 90s with their fastball, being a professional pitcher may be a long shot. Baseball is an evolving sport and only the most fit will survive. While the likes of Mike Mussina and Greg Maddux are all but extinct, one remains: Zack Greinke. How does the the Model T continue to race with the Ferraris?
A Dying Breed
All of today’s stud pitchers throw heat. In 2010, over 30% of qualified starting pitchers averaged less than 90 mph on their fastball. As the velocity trend gained steam, less than 16% of qualified starters in 2018 were averaging under 90 mph on the gun with their heater. It has become all about velocity. There are only 14 other pitchers with at least 40 innings and one start this year that average below 90 mph on their fastball. Their combined ERA is 4.64, while Greinke sits at 3.08. Here is how Greinke stacks up relative to the more successful soft-tossers this year:
The most amazing part is that his four-seamer is actually one of his best pitches. Opponents are hitting only .218 with an XBA of .256 against 662 four-seamers this year. Greinke’s consistency and effectiveness makes him one of the most reliable pitchers in the league.
Performing with the Best
Despite the lack of velocity, Greinke consistently performs among the best. Let’s see how Greinke has stacked up next to some of the flame-throwing aces in 2019:
The former Cy Young winner continues to hang with the best even in his age-35 season. Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Gerrit Cole exemplify the new-school-type pitcher with high strikeout rates and nasty “stuff.” Scherzer, Sale, and Cole boast 33.8%, 35.4%, and 36.6% strikeout rates respectively, as opposed to just 22.4% in the case of Greinke. While the strikeouts may not be there, Greinke is always an ERA and WHIP machine. So how does he do it? An elite walk rate and pitch mix. Greinke has used eight different pitches in 2019 alone, keeping hitters off-balance. Would ya just look at that eephus!
A summary of Greinke’s 2019 pitch mix is below.
The curve is ridiculous. Greinke has touted his ability to mix pitches and command the zone his entire career. While he isn’t blowing his fastball by pitchers (16.7% whiff rate), he is making the opposition look silly with the curve (30.1% whiff rate). Greinke has toyed with his pitch mix over his entire career which he can attribute to his career 3.37 ERA.
Mr. Do It All
Not only can Greinke pitch like an ace, but he brings all-around value to his team. He was never just a pitcher. In his younger years, Greinke excelled as both a tennis and golf star. In high school, he was a stud shortstop allegedly hitting over .400 for his career. Today, the former multi-sport athlete has five Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger under his belt in the MLB, not to mention the multitude of pitching accolades. Greinke deserves to brag about his bat. Let’s see how he looks at the plate compared to former MVP Giancarlo Stanton this year:
Okay, I know that Giancarlo has been hurt much of the year, but in a similar sample size it is astounding the production Greinke brings from the plate. I am afraid the types of pitchers like Greinke have become few and far between. Pitchers have become automatic outs at the plate. As sports training becomes more advanced, young athletes are becoming specialized at early ages. This means they are playing fewer sports and losing the athletic benefits from playing multiple sports. Furthermore, the young pitchers are focusing solely on their craft and being told not to worry about hitting in order to avoid injury.
Can it Continue?
Every pre-season, there is the annual “Greinke can’t possibly do this again” discussion. “He is too old and throws too soft.” He has again proved the doubters wrong this year. Yes, at age 35, eventually father time will catch up and the wheels will fall off. But the hypothesis that only flamethrowers can be successful in the MLB has been refuted. Greinke will be able to continue his dominance as a top-20 starter as long as his arm is attached to his body. His superior athleticism and his ability to control the strike zone should keep Greinke in the discussion for 2019 and beyond. Continue riding the Model T.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)