Zack Greinke became something of a nerd cult hero when he won the Cy Young award in 2009 despite a meagre win total, due in large part to playing for the hapless Kansas City Royals. Greinke grew from “good cause” to “ONE OF US!” Internet cause célèbre when he paid some sweet lip service to the value of DIPS theory, telling the New York Times he tried to “keep his FIP as low as possible.”
The good people at Baseball Analytics pointed out last week that, perhaps, Greinke takes his devotion to FIP and fear of walking hitters a little too far. Their sweet heat maps show Greinke as a pitcher who simply refuses to walk anyone.
Three home runs allowed yesterday to go with seven strikeouts and zero walks? Looks like Zack Greinke’s reputation precedes him.
Greinke lasted only five innings Sunday due to his pitch count and the solo home runs which plagued him, keeping the game close enough that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke pulled his starter with the game tied. Outside his gopher balls, Greinke dominated the Diamondbacks, getting 16 swinging strikes in just 86 pitches.
Saying Greinke struggled is a misnomer. But he did get hit pretty hard when the Snakes managed to get the bat on the ball. Of the 15 balls in play, 8 went for hits. And of those 8 hits? They all came with the count even or the batter ahead.
Not exactly nibbling. Greinke comes straight after the hitters when the count is even, let alone behind. The only “serious” hitters count represented here is Chris Young’s home run, which came on a 3-1 fastball pretty much right down the middle. Gives some credence to this note from the previously-mentioned Baseball Analytics post, “Greinke’s not trying to fool batters, he’s trying not to walk them.”
Is this a problem for Greinke? Clearly not. He’s one of the very best pitchers in baseball, owner of the best xFIP of all qualified starters this year. Did the Big Inning haunt him during the year? Could this proclivity of pitching to the score (so to speak) come back to haunt the Brewers? Getting runners on base against him is easier said than done.
The solo home run won’t break your back but even Greinke’s season splits tell the story of a pitcher being perhaps too fine. His second half saw batters reach base at a slightly higher rate (.302 OBP compared to .292) but doing far less damage (.362 SLG in the second half compared to .472 in the first.)
If Greinke can find a good internal balance of limiting walks without giving in to hitters, the Brewers playoff opponents are in for series of long, October nights. Greinke just needs to realize there is more than one way to beat yourself.