Going Deep: Zack Greinke, The Last Standing Dinosaur

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:

 

Name ERA FIP WHIP WAR FBv
Zack Greinke 3.08 3.38 0.95 2.4 89.6
Kyle Hendricks 3.36 3.49 1.14 2.2 87.1
Marco Gonzales 4.38 4.14 1.38 1.7 88.6
Julio Teheran 3.94 4.54 1.34 0.8 89.9
Mike Leake 4.54 5.18 1.27 0.5 88.1

 

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:

 

Name ERA FIP WHIP WAR BB/9 FBv
Zack Greinke 3.08 3.38 0.95 2.4 1.25 89.7
Max Scherzer 2.52 2.98 1.03 4.6 1.73 95.0
Chris Sale 3.59 2.90 1.02 2.9 2.17 92.9
Jacob deGrom 3.25 3.04 1.09 2.8 1.86 96.8
Gerrit Cole 3.42 3.11 1.05 2.8 2.37 96.8
Noah Syndergaard 4.55 3.61 1.21 2.1 2.27 97.6

 

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.

 

Pitch % Usage MPH BA XBA BB% K%
Fastball 41.2% 89.6 .218 .256 4.0% 21.0%
Changeup 20.0% 86.9 .236 .236 3.3% 19.6%
Slider 17.1% 82.8 .296 .287 2.3% 19.8%
Curve 12.4% 70.7 .091 .162 2.9% 33.8%
Sinker 7.4% 90.1 .379 .305 3.2% 22.6%
Eephus 1.3% 63.8 .000 .232 9.1% 9.1%
Split Finger 0.3% 80.3 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Cutter 0.2% 89.3 .000 .000 0.0% 100%

 

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:

 

Name PA HR R RBI SB BA K% wRC+
Zack Greinke 41 3 7 6 1 .306 22.0% 153
Giancarlo Stanton 38 1 4 7 0 .290 34.2% 133

 

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)

Alexander Roche

Alex studied at James Madison University and works as a professional in finance. You can find him writing about his passion for baseball on PitcherList.com and cheering from the bleachers at Yankee Stadium. If you've got the twitter @alexroche_

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Comments


Wes

Great article. I took Greinke as my “ace” this year in a start up dynasty/keeper league for $15.00 and haven’t looked back. We have QS in addition to the standard five, so his value is even higher. At a $3 per year price increase to keep him, I’m going to roster him until he retires.

I think his stats could be even better this year, Torey Lovullo has left him in an inning too long a few times, costing him some QS.

theKraken

I am certain that there are more guys cut from the soft-tossing mold that could thrive in MLB, but it is really about who gets the opportunities. Hendricks isn’t bad either as a soft-tosser. I know I doubt Greinke every year.

You think kids are giving up on hitting earlier? I kind of doubt that. A kid with any talent at all will be one of the best hitters on his team even if it isn’t his thing. I don’t think children training to pitch actually happens as much as you might think. Almost every one of those high profile HS kids has TJ before they are 20 and there are legions of others that destroy their arms before HS is over – most are horrid busts and those are the best ones. My point being that I am sure there are people selling training to children, but I don’t think that is how it actually happens. I think that all baseball players play less baseball then they ever have before and that is why they struggle at on-field baseball (like pitcher hitting, base-running, beating an absurd alignment on defense, putting a ball in play). Modern players do drills as opposed to play baseball so they are good at a few thing, but they are relatively terrible at everything else.

William L.

Would you trade Josh Bell for Z. Greinke? With the nature of pitching this year, is it better to trade a power, avg, extra base stud like Bell for an arm like Greinke, who will reliably good but not great like Verlander or Max S.? Would you take Corbin over Greinke? Anyone can respond…

Alexander Roche

Whether this is the right decision is very contextual. But in a redraft, I think I would pull that trigger. Greinke is one of the few reliable guys out there. Greinke > Corbin for me. More proven.

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