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Last season, Zack Greinke allowed more than three earned runs just twice in 32 starts, and each of those games involved five earned runs allowed across 6.0 innings. One of the games was in Colorado, which further excuses that particular blemish on an otherwise clean season that culminated in a 1.66 ERA that was the lowest mark in baseball in the last 20 years. He also threw 6.0 or more frames in every start last season.

So of course he gave up seven earned runs across 4.0 innings in his first game of the 2016 season. Adding insult to injury, he did so against a Rockies lineup that sustained heavy losses over the offseason and which tends to struggle away from Coors Field. At more than 1000 feet elevation, Chase Field offers a slight reprieve for the mile-high Rox when on the road, but that slight detail does little to deter the shock value of Greinke's first game in a Diamondbacks' uniform.

Tyson Ross' 3.26 ERA last season was solid, though it lacked the glimmer of Greinke's overall mark. Ross' game log might have been even more impressive, in a sense, seeing as the Padre right-hander never once gave up more than four runs in any individual start. The streak is marred somewhat by his short outings, as Ross walked a ton of batters and was unable to complete the sixth inning in 9 of his 33 starts. One thing he did not do was get lit for a bushel of runs; naturally, he gave up eight runs (seven of them earned) over 5.1 innings on Opening Day.

It didn't take long for the 2016 baseball season to flip the lessons of last year on their collective head, as a couple of the most steady pitchers of last season were pummeled on Opening Day. Let's dig a bit deeper to see if we can piece together what happened early in the week.

Zack Greinke vs. Colorado Rockies, 4/4/16

There was no way to match the 2015 campaign for Greinke. Last year was a perfect storm that resulted in an impossible-to-repeat ERA, so it was inevitable for Greinke to take a step backwards. It was the giant leap in the wrong direction that was so surprising.

It came out after the game that Greinke was dealing with flu-like symptoms, and that he made the start despite feeling under the weather because it was Opening Day with his new ballclub. Given the results, maybe the D'backs would have preferred if Greinke stayed in bed.

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 4

4.0

7

9

3

1

2

82

Greinke didn't give up his third home run of last season until May 11, his seventh start of the year, but he got an early jump on the homer count for 2016. He struck out just two of the 22 batters that he faced, a total that he surpassed in 31 of his 32 starts from last season, and he only invoked seven empty swings on the day.

Greinke was fine in the first, setting down the top of the Rockies lineup in order and finishing it off with a strikeout of Carlos Gonzalez to finish the frame. In the second, Mark Reynolds fought off an outside pitch for a bloop single the other way, but the inning was otherwise nondescript. Where things unraveled was in the third inning, starting with eight-hole hitter DJ LeMahieu.

LeMahieu singled on an elevated fastball. Opposing pitcher Jorge de la Rosa then managed an infield single when he pulled back a bunt attempt and slapped a grounder to the left side. Greinke threw a beautiful changeup down in the zone to Charlie Blackmon, who perfectly placed a line drive as if the baseball was a like-poled magnet with the shifted fielders, plating LeMahieu and putting runners at second and third with zero outs.

Then, this happened:

Rookie Trevor Story, in his second major league at-bat, went the other way with a deep fly that just cleared the fence-line in right field, and suddenly Greinke was down 4-1 with only six outs in the books. The pitch in question was an 0-1 fastball on the outer black to the right-hand-hitting Story, who lofted the ball over the right field fence.

At that point, Greinke had allowed four consecutive hits, and he went 3-2 on Carlos Gonzalez as Greinke tried to battle back, but on the seventh pitch of the at-bat he floated a changeup at 89 mph right at the letters (the target was low and away), and CarGo made him pay with the second home run in a row, this one a deep line-drive that was hit to right-center and left the yard in a hurry. The ball was hit into the pool at Chase, and a swimming kid threw it back on the field.

The first pitch to the next batter, Nolan Arenado, resulted in another deep fly to right-center field (this one being caught), but then Gerardo Parra liked the first pitch that he saw and launched a rocket off the batter's eye in center field, resulting in a double on a knock that would have been out of most parks. The pitch was hit off of a flat curveball that was left up in the zone, right in the middle of the no.2 on the strike zone keypad. Parra would steal third and come around to score on a LeMahieu single, digging Greinke into a 6-1 hole and sealing the fate of this being his worst game in three years. He would give up another home run to Story in the fourth (this one on a low slider that hit the no. 8 on the keypad), in addition to long flyouts by Gonzalez and Arenado, after which the book was closed on Greinke's day.

His fastball velocity was right in line with the past several seasons, averaging 92.4 mph on the heat. He has been remarkably consistent with his velo in the recent past, averaging somewhere between 92.3 and 92.5 mph in each campaign, so the radar gun was unable to detect any signs of fatigue in his day. One of the three home runs came against his fastball, while the other two homers were hit off of a changeup and a slider, respectively. The problem wasn't velocity, but location:

Opening Day 2015 (left); Opening Day 2016 (right)

The above charts are taken from the catcher's point-of-view, contrasting Greinke's strike zone plot from Opening Day of last year to his game Monday against the Rockies. The glaring difference is the number of pitches that finished outside the strike zone to the arm-side, an indication that he was releasing the pitches early in the kinetic sequence, before reaching full extension. His release point was also more volatile, as revealed by the following charts:

2015 (left); 2016 (right)

Greinke lives on the edges with pitch command being one of his greatest weapons – things can go south in a hurry when that weapon is blunted. The raw components of his delivery are pretty simple, and he stayed true for the most part. His momentum was down a bit and his timing was impacted, and one could tell that he was struggling to find the timing of his trigger of trunk rotation, toying with the delay between foot strike and the trigger. Pitchers fall into traps when command is compromised.

Interestingly, news comes out on Tuesday of Greinke pitching with the flu on Opening Day, this after his manager ripped the media for over-hyping the game. The illness might help to explain the command issues, or it could be fluff used to excuse a bad day, but the apparent dysfunction in Arizona makes it tough to get a read on that angle of the story. It's great theater out in the desert, and the fact that his velo was in midseason form is a good sign, but it's possible that it will take a couple of starts for Greinke to hone his timing.

Tyson Ross vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 4/4/16

Ross has ridden his slider up the ramp from serviceable starter to Opening Day ace, drawing the call in the first game of the season for the San Diego Padres. He was facing the stout offense of the Dodgers, a team that he limited to three total runs across two starts last season. The results were a bit different this time:

Game Stats

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

April 4

5.1

8

9

0

1

5

94

Seven of the eight runs scored against Ross were of the earned variety, and though his strike zone indicators (Ks and walks) were strong, opposing batters had a field day at the plate, peppering the Padre defense. He kept the ball in the yard, so the poor outing wasn't a case of ill-timed home runs stockpiling the runs count, but rather a continual rash of base hits that included four doubles among them, creating a carousel of base runners that pranced around the bags.

Unlike Greinke, the trouble started very early for Ross, including back-to-back doubles to the first two hitters that he faced. The first double was of the Texas League variety, but he also missed his spot by at least a foot as the ball drifted inside to the lefty-hitting Chase Utley. Corey Seager followed with a double of his own, this one a rocket off the base of the wall in left field, and Seager would later come around to score on Adrian Gonzalez's base hit. Things got adventurous for Ross again in the third frame, in which his command completely deserted him, resulting in the trifecta of a walk, a hit batter, and a wild pitch in just that inning. He escaped the third with a 3-0 deficit, which is where it would stay until the sixth inning.

The wheels came off in the sixth. Ross got the first out before allowing five consecutive batters to reach base, including an RBI single by Kershaw that that made the score 6-0 and sent Ross to the showers. All of the hits against him came on groundballs, including the above double by Joc Pederson that scored Yasiel Puig and opened the floodgates to a five-run inning for the Dodgers. The game would finish as a laugher, with the Dodgers taking it in a landslide victory at 15-0. Given that the Dodgers had the ultimate ace, Clayton Kershaw, to start game no. 1 of the season, it's understandable if the Pads wrote the game off early, but rarely is there an excuse for such a thorough demolishing.

Again unlike Greinke, Ross was able to miss a few bats. He had 13 whiffs on the day, 10 of which came courtesy of the slider that has become Ross' trademark. He threw 33 sliders on Monday, and the 35.1-percent usage pattern was actually a step back from the 40.9-percent frequency of the past two seasons combined.

Overall, his outing was more indicative of poor outcomes on balls in play than anything systemic about his underlying performance. His velocity was actually up from last season's average pitch-speed, an unexpected but positive spin on Ross' first outing, and the command was not as bad as the stats would seem at first glance, with 2 HBP's and one wild pitch. The pitch that hit Chase Utley in the third was a slider that hit his back foot when Utley refused to move out of the way. The plunking of Yasiel Puig was on a fastball up-and-in, which Puig leaned into before getting tagged.

All told, I would chalk it up to a bad day at the office for Ross, whose stat-line from last season (league-leading walk total despite just 3.3 BB/9 and just nine homers allowed) is screaming for correction. I'm not sure what to expect from Ross in 2016, but I'm pretty sure that what was on display on Opening Day is a poor indicator.

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lipitorkid
4/09
To my untrained eye it seems that Ross' delivery is fairly low effort, but could stand to use a little more of his lower body in the delivery. It looks like it's all arm. Does he drive off the rubber at all or was it just this GIF?
tombores99
4/09
Great observation. Ross has a very slow delivery, whether pitching from the windup or the stretch, which is likely linked to his giving up the 2nd-most SB's and attempts in baseball last season (50 attempts, 37 successful), behind Jon Lester. This is part of my issue with the general perception of "effort," and you hit the nail on the head - he is perceived as "low effort" because he's slow (low momentum), but in doing so he's costing himself a bunch of functional benefits, including the use of his legs to generate kinetic energy. Funny enough, what we see today is an improvement over his Oakland delivery. He used to have the shallowest stride that I have ever seen at the MLB level, and not just out of a guy that was 6'6". He had 20-grade momentum back then, he's got it up to a 35-grade now, even scraping 40 at times. It's not all arm, as he does have some solid torque, but I agree that he could benefit from more momentum. The good news is that it is getting better, albeit slowly.