Zack Greinke's Strike Out Pitch

Comparing Zack Greinke’s pitching line yesterday (7 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 10 K) to his 5.79 ERA on the season, you can be forgiven for thinking that his most recent performance was a sort of return to form for the twenty seven year old former Cy Young Award winner. That is assuming that you’re willing to forgive shallow and lazy analysis like that.

Greinke’s efforts so far this season are exactly the reason why one can’t rely merely on earned run average as a means of judging a pitcher. Despite a relatively high ERA, Greinke has been absolutely phenomenal through his first five starts. His 13.00 strikeout to walks ratio is Bautista like in its comparison to other starters in the league. The next closest K:BB ratio belongs to Roy Halladay with 6.62. Greinke also has the lowest xFIP in the league, as well as, not surprisingly, the most strikeouts per nine innings and the least amount of walks per nine innings.

So, why the high ERA? Certainly a high .348 BABIP compared to a league average of .285 isn’t helping matters, but the really unlucky thorn in Greinke’s side is his 52% left on base number. That means that 48% of players who get on base against Greinke end up scoring. This number almost always regresses back to 70% – 72%, and the league average this season is 72.9%, while Greinke’s career average LOB is 72.2%

What does that mean without all of the numbers? If I was a little bit more lame, I might say something like, Zack Greinke has got it going on. Don’t let the early poor results fool you into thinking that his process isn’t among the best in the league.

So, how does a pitcher strike so many batters out without walking a ton of batters? The answer is simple to observe, but incredibly hard to pull off. It’s a really good slider that suddenly got better. In fact, comparing Greinke’s slider in 2010 to the one he’s used in his five starts this season, we see that in shaving off a couple of miles per hour of the velocity, the pitcher has taken all of his really good sliders from last season and decided to do away with all the above average ones.

Look at how far down in the zone the majority of his sliders, which averaged 86.8 mph, were landing last season.

And compare that chart to the average vertical movement on his 2011 slider, which is averaging 85.1 mph.

Now let’s take a look at some of the damage that slider can do. In yesterday’s game Greinke got five of his ten strikeouts on swinging strikes from sliders, making veteran batters look absolutely foolish. When looking at where his sliders end up compared to the strike zone, keep in mind that a Major League Baseball player swung at these pitches.

The first two swinging strikeouts on sliders were to Ivan Rodriguez.

Now, you might say that it’s no big deal making Ivan Rodriguez chase a pitch outside the zone. Well, Greinke does the same thing to Jayson Werth who has only swung at 19.6% of the pitches he’s seen outside of the zone compared to the league average of 28.9%.

This at bat against Mike Morse was positively cruel. Look at that fifth pitch up in the zone as a strike and then he follows it with a slider at his shins that probably looked like it was going to the same place as his previous pitch.

This is perhaps my favourite of Greinke’s strikeouts on the day. He managed to whiff Rick Ankiel without throwing a pitch even remotely close to the strike zone.

In conclusion, Zack Greinke is to opposing hitters as Barrack Obama’s birth certificate is to Donald Trump’s ridiculous accusations.