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The lead up to the Winter Meetings involved a flurry of free agent signings, headlined by Zack Greinke's decision to change uniforms yet stay in the NL West.

Before we dive into baseball's richest salary, I wanted to make a quick note regarding the “verdict” section of each analysis. Mainly, I would like to acknowledge that free agent dollars are a different animal, and whether a signing is perceived as relatively strong or weak is dependent on team context as well as this man's opinion on how their stuff and mechanics are likely to age. The market for free agent pitching is dicey and every pitcher carries a significant risk of injury, with the longer deals magnifying that risk, but sometimes free agency is a club's best recourse in order to address a team need. I expect that players will make a lot more money on the open market than when signing an extension, for example, such that a pitcher doesn't have to be better than Clayton Kershaw (despite having that level of cost) to be perceived as a good investment for the team.

The Player: Zack Greinke

The Terms: Arizona Diamondbacks for 6 years, $206.5 million

Greinke's shiny new contract ostensibly makes him the richest man in the game on a per-year basis, even with enough deferred money to make the present-day value of his contract down to $194.5 million (per MLB's calculation). He fell one year short of the Price deal but is two years older at the time of signing, with the Diamondbacks taking on his age 32-through-37 seasons. It's the same length of contract that he originally signed with the Dodgers before the 2013 season (for $147 million), but with an additional $60 million to pay for the backside of his career and minus the opt-out that made Greinke a free agent this offseason. The mercenary Greinke has made no bones about the fact that he'll play for the highest bidder, so in that sense we can all be relieved that he signed with an NL team so that we can all enjoy his skills at the plate for the next several years.

Career Stats

GS

IP

ERA

WHIP

H%

HR%

BB%

K%

323

2094.7

3.35

1.184

22.9%

2.3%

5.9%

21.9%

Greinke has been relatively healthy throughout his career, missing time for brawl-inflicted wounds and off-season mishaps but avoiding the DL for anything involving his throwing arm. 2015 stands out on his resume due to the low ERA of 1.66, which came on the heels of a career-low .229 BABIP (career BABIP of .298) and his resulting 0.844 WHIP. He also managed the lowest walk rate (4.7 percent) since his rookie campaign. Prior to his outlier campaign of 2015, Greinke had been a steady source of solid stats for most of his career, and odds are that last season was an outlier rather than the new norm.

The right-hander has a longer track record than first-time free agents Price and Zimmermann, as Greinke has been re-released into the wild after exercising the out clause in his contract with the Dodgers. With 33,000 pitches on his MLB resume. Greinke's extra mileage has to be a concern for Arizona, who is paying him record amounts of money for the foreseeable future and who will likely need him to be worth every penny in order to sniff contention.

The Stuff

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

FB Velocity

94.0

93.6

93.4

93.0

92.4

92.6

92.3

FB Frequency

59.4%

60.5%

56.0%

52.7%

54.9%

53.7%

50.9%

CH Frequency

5.9%

13.3%

8.6%

6.5%

12.4%

16.4%

21.2%

SL Frequency

21.2%

15.9%

19.6%

12.2%

12.7%

19.4%

19.0%

CB Frequency

13.5%

10.4%

15.8%

16.6%

12.7%

10.5%

8.9%

CUT Frequency

12.1%

7.3%

Greinke's velocity is taking the slow route down slope, but this is less of a concern for a pitcher who relies on his ability to vary pitch-speed rather than overwhelm opposing batters with it. There is nothing egregious about his velo decline (1.7 mph over six years) and one would expect further decrease as he ages through his thirties, as he has experienced a gradual decline rather than one filled with sudden jumps or dips. A continuation of his trend would put Greinke at somewhere just north of 90 mph by the time that his new contract ends (assuming a linear decline, which is unlikely), a modest value that is simultaneously low for a $30 million pitcher and yet completely within reason for a hurler in his late thirties.

His “slow curve” (avg. velocity 65 mph) has been bunched with the mid-70s version for the frequencies in the above chart, as Greinke's extensive pitch mix has allowed him to take advantage of Effective Velocity to upset batter timing for much of his career. The changeup has become a more prevalent part of his repertoire in recent seasons, effectively replacing some curveballs and heaters as el cambio has become more than just a platoon weapon, including a 10-percent usage frequency against like-side hitters in 2015 (a career high).

The Mechanics

Mechanics Report Card

2012

2013

2014

2015

Balance

60

60

60

65

Momentum

50

50

45

50

Torque

55

55

55

55

Posture

50

50

50

50

Repetition

60

65

65

70

Overall

B –

B –

B –

B

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Greinke has a solid delivery that reflects his stuff in the sense that he lacks flare but makes up the difference with consistency and a knowledge of his craft. His mechanics grades have remained virtually the same over the last four years, with modest power grades yet exceptional scores with respect to balance and repetition, the latter of which hit new heights last season. The posture has always been a bit weaker than one might expect given the plus balance that Greinke exhibits on a regular basis, due to very late spine tilt as if the head is getting out of the way as the throwing arm whips into release point.

Keep in mind that we might have been a bit spoiled by the first few pitchers under the microscope of this Free Agent Roulette series, as pitchers such as Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, and Zack Greinke are renowned for their consistency over time. This is not typical by any means, and helps to underscore their relative value at a position that can be the most unpredictable on the diamond. I should also remind the audience that not everything is weighted equally on the mechanics report card, and a pitcher that increases both balance and repetition to a 65 threshold deserves a B overall grade, as those are the two most critical grades on the report card.

The Verdict: Too rich for my blood

Even given the caveats of the intro, it looks like the Diamondbacks will be regretting this contract in short order. Greinke is a stud, make no mistake, but he is apparently getting paid for an outlier season that is now in the rearview mirror. It doesn't help that the Diamondbacks have had some financial issues in the past, including last season's trade of Touki Toussaint in order to shed the salary of Bronson Arroyo, so it seems like an odd fit that they would throw such massive piles of money at another arm. The contract that Greinke signed with the Dodgers back in '13 was a bargain compared to what he just received, but Arizona thought it worth an extra $60 million to have his ages 35-to-37 seasons. Greinke personifies the bulldog mentality on the mound, a trait that occasionally gets him into trouble (Carlos Quentin says hello), but which indicates that the new regime's appreciation of grit is not so different from the Kirk Gibson era.

The Player: John Lackey

The Terms: Chicago Cubs for 2 years and $32 million

Lackey was severely underpaid last season thanks to a clause in his previous contract that required him to work for the league minimum. He will be better compensated for the next two seasons, making $16 million per campaign to essentially match his salary from 2011-14, thanks to a solid 2015 season that ensured confidence that Lackey can hold down the number-three spot in a rotation.

Career Stats

GS

IP

ERA

WHIP

H%

HR%

BB%

K%

387

2481.3

3.92

1.314

24.2%

2.5%

6.7%

18.6%

Lackey was one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball last season, giving up three or fewer runs in 20 of his last 21 starts and finishing with a 2.77 ERA that ranked seventh in the National League. The peripheral numbers are hardly mind-blowing, and a bit of regression in the batted-ball department will result in a higher ERA, but for the last three seasons Lackey has been good for a 3.5-to-one ratio of strikeouts to walks over 605 innings of work. He is exactly what every team is looking for in the middle of a rotation, particularly a ballclub that is drenched in upside and volatility on the offensive side of the ball.

The Stuff

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

FB Velocity

92.0

91.8

92.1

92.5

92.7

92.5

FB Frequency

58.9%

58.4%

50.8%

58.0%

63.4%

67.6%

SL Frequency

13.5%

17.6%

25.0%

30.0%

23.9%

22.9%

CB Frequency

24.4%

17.7%

16.7%

9.7%

9.9%

7.3%

CH Frequency

3.1%

6.2%

7.4%

2.3%

2.8%

2.3%

Lackey did not pitch in 2012 due to injury, a detail that triggered the MLB-minimum compensation of last season and which breaks his recent past into two discreet chunks. Since that injury, however, Lackey's velocity has returned to levels not see since his twenties and has held firm during the right-hander's age-34-to-36 seasons. He has become increasingly fastball-dependent over the past few years, a necessary adjustment given that the breaking pitches were getting hit hard and the fastball—which is typically hit hardest from the standpoint of opposing batters' OPS—has been his most effective offering. Hitters might catch on to Lackey's adjusted approach, so it will be interesting to see if the cagey veteran makes another change to his approach in order to stay ahead of the advanced scouts.

The Mechanics

Mechanics Report Card

2012

2013

2014

2015

Balance

60

55

55

Momentum

45

45

50

Torque

55

55

55

Posture

55

55

55

Repetition

65

60

60

Overall

B –

B –

B –

There's nothing that stands out as exceptional about Lackey's delivery, but he has a slightly above average delivery in nearly every aspect of the report card, and he repeats the motion with regularity. There is a bit of flail into release point, giving the impression that Lackey's delivery is less-balanced than t is, but the grades emphasize his delivery from first movement through release point. His ability to repeat the timing and positioning of his motion is the only aspect considered plus and the overall grade is teetering on the border between a C+ and a B-, but Lackey's mechanics are a feather in his cap to encourage two more years of solid performance.

The Verdict: Solid if unspectacular signing

Going into the 2015 season it was widely believed that the Cubs would follow their signing of Jon Lester with another high-profile arm from this winter's free agent class, but that was before Jake Arrieta had ascended to one of the best pitchers in the game. With Arrieta now penciled into the top spot in their rotation, the Cubs focus may have shifted to finding anchors for the middle of the rotation rather than expensive, long-term anchors for the top of it. With most of the big-name free agent pitchers now signed, the Cubs may have little choice than to stick with the middle market, but the team is set up well to make the most of Lackey's skill set.

Thank you for reading

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GeorgeKimmet
12/08
Hi Doug, I'm really enjoying this series. I read somewhere that Lackey altered his arm slot later in the season. Did that change have any effect on your mechanics report card?
tombores99
12/09
Thanks, George.

I didn't notice any major changes to his arm slot, so it didn't have any impact on his mechanics report card. His release point height was virtually the same throughout the season according to the data at Brooks, which seems to confirm what my eyes are seeing. The slot was lower on his sinker (by nearly a half foot), but that was true for the entire year and was specific to that particular pitch.

I would be curious to learn if he felt that he was lowering his slot, so let me know if you come across where you read about it!
GeorgeKimmet
12/09
That's interesting. Maybe he wasn't lowering his slot, but Sahadev's transaction analysis said that a number of Cubs players said that he changed his delivery by the time the playoffs rolled around:

"The change in release point is something Lackey actually messes with throughout the season, as many Cubs told me during the playoffs that his arm angle was very different from when they faced him in the regular season. They bemoaned how difficult it was to prepare for a change like that."