December 20, 2010
Zack Greinke Switches Leagues
It was inevitable that Zack Greinke would be on the move in time for the 2011 season once it was made apparent that he didn't want to be part of the Kansas City Royals' current rebuilding process. On Sunday the Milwaukee Brewers jumped in on that deal as a final stamp on their revamped rotation, and while the deal is loaded with various fantasy implications, let's stick with the Greinke portion of them for today.
In 2009, Greinke was the American League Cy Young in a season where the young hurler whiffed 9.5 batters per nine, walked just two per nine, and kept the ball in the park. Despite pitching in front of the porous Kansas City defense, which finished the year last in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, Greinke stranded over 79 percent of his baserunners. While Greinke is a great pitcher, he is not immune to the effects of DER, so in 2010 his good fortune went missing and balance returned to the universe: he stranded just 65 percent of baserunners, seven percentage points below the league average for a Royals' team that was also below the league average, and ranked once again near the bottom of the league in Defensive Efficiency.
Blaming the entire two run increase to his ERA on the defense behind him wouldn't be telling the whole story or a truthful one though. Part of the problem was with Greinke himself. While the increase in his walks was minimal, the more concerning aspect was the drop in strikeout rate to 7.4 per nine. To look at it another way, Greinke faced four more batters in 2010 than he did in 2009 in 9 1/3 fewer innings, and while he struck out 26.4 percent of them in 2009, he punched out 19.7 percent of them in 2010.
Where did those whiffs go to? A look at his pitch f/x data tells some of the tale: in 2009, his slider and curveball, his second- and third-most oft used offerings, were thrown for strikes more often than the league average, and the slider was devastating in terms of inducing swings-and-misses—it was 10 percentage points over the league average in that respect. His changeup wasn't great at being thrown for a strike or for causing hitters to whiff, but it was his fourth pitch and used considerably less often than his fastball and the two breaking balls.
In 2010, Greinke saw a dramatic difference in the results for his out pitches. He began to throw a two-seamer more often in addition to his four-seamer, which increased his groundball rate enough to move him out of the realm of flyball pitcher, and also saw nearly a doubling of his groundout rate despite the horrible gloves behind him. He threw his slider and curveball less often and utilized his changeup more—while the change still wasn't great at causing hitters to miss, he did have better command of it. The same cannot be said for his breaking balls, as his curve picked up less than half the rate of misses it did in 2009, while his slider caused fewer whiffs and was also thrown for a strike 60 percent of the time rather than the above-average 65 percent from the year prior. His control was still spot-on, as evidenced by the 2.2 per nine unintentional walk rate, but his command was not at the same elite level that was on display during his Cy Young season.
That being said, a 4.17 ERA in front of one of the league's worst defensive units, for a pitcher who was putting fieldable balls into play more often, is hardly worth complaining about. His SIERA was 3.70 in what is being perceived as a down year, but is, in reality just more in line with his non-2009 work in terms of results. Those results are ones that all but a small percentage of the league's starting pitchers can be jealous of.
Moving to the Brewers will not help him with the defensive side of things—the team directly behind the Royals in the 2010 Defensive Efficiency rankings, with all of .001 points of DER separating them, was Milwaukee. Greinke will however see an increase in run support, which is important when considering the fantasy side of things. The Royals scored 4.2 runs per game in 2010, and the Brewers scored 4.6 per contest. Greinke also gets to face one fewer hitter thanks to the pitcher hitting rather than the designated hitter in the National League, and while Cincinnati and his own club have productive offenses, the rest of the NL Central makes the AL Central look like the AL East. Now he gets to face multiple lineups as inept as the one that used to support him.
If you had Greinke in a keeper league that uses wins, and were concerned about the defense failing him once again, I'm sorry to say that this trade isn't going to remedy that aspect of his game. The extra offense and the less painful league environment should help make up for that though, which makes a very valuable starter that much more important.
All pitch f/x info from texasleaguers.com.