Zack Greinke: Beyond the Distractions

By: Ryan Smith

Zack Greinke is a really good pitcher.

The previous statement might seem like one of the most obvious statements I could write. Nevertheless, I thought I had to point out the obvious because his impressive 2012 is being overshadowed by Milwaukee’s day-to-day struggles and trade rumors surrounding the enigmatic right-hander.

Brewers fans might not be focusing enough on what Zack Greinke is doing this year.

The fact of the matter is that baseball, like any other professional sport, is more enjoyable to watch when you are watching the best players. At the plate, I’m not sure I enjoy watching anyone more than Ryan Braun, meticulously adjusting his batting gloves, doing that little double-elbow flick, and puffing out his cheeks as he exhales right before he steps in to the box. On the bases, Carlos Gomez is right up there with rookies Bryce Harper and Mike Trout as far as entertainment is concerned. When Gomez hits a ball out of the infield, magic happens. He turns singles into doubles, doubles into triples, and has been known to score from first on a bunt.

On the mound, Greinke is right at the top of my must-see list.

He has multiple pitches that he can consistently throw for strikes. He understands the importance of using his fastball early in games so he can bust out the breaking stuff later on. If he gets in a jam, you know he’s going to turn to his filthy curveball to make hitters look foolish. Greinke is a surgeon on the mound, methodically carving up opposing lineups almost every single time he steps out there.

That last paragraph still doesn’t do justice to the season that Greinke is currently having. Luckily, Fangraphs provides numerous statistical categories that allow us to take a deeper look into how Greinke is dominating on the mound in 2012.

First, let’s look at some of the traditional stats to help us evaluate how strongly Greinke has performed this year. In 16 starts, Greinke has compiled a 9-2 record. Those nine wins are tied for fourth-most in the majors this year. In the world of ERA lovers, 3.00 has long been considered the level expected and required from the league’s top starters. Greinke currently has an ERA of 2.82, which comes in well below that level. In 13 of his 16 starts, Greinke has pitched six or more innings. He has also given up three or less runs in 13 of his starts. Greinke is sporting a 1.17 WHIP, a 9.00 K/9, and a 1.94 BB/9. To the traditional stat-lover, Greinke is having a very impressive year.

In his 16 starts, Greinke has had two duds, giving up eight runs in 3.2 innings against Chicago and allowing seven runs in 2.1 innings against the Diamondbacks. In his other 14 starts, Greinke has pitched 96 innings, allowing 17 earned runs, striking out 94, and compiling a 9-0 record. Frankly, those numbers are ridiculous.

Now, if you’re a sabermetric nerd like me, those numbers just don’t tell you enough. If we take a look at some of Greinke’s advanced stats, we can get an even better idea of just how well he has been pitching this season.

For starters, FIP and xFIP are good indicators of the effectiveness of a pitcher based solely on what the pitcher can control. ERA, WHIP, and HR/9 can all be influenced by team defense, park variances, and official scoring difference. FIP and xFIP try to eliminate those factors, instead focusing as much as possible on the pitcher’s execution from the mound. These stats are also good indicators of what we can reasonably expect from a pitcher going forward. Greinke has an xFIP of 2.72, which is the second-best mark in the majors in 2012, while his 2.22 FIP is the top mark in baseball this year.

Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP, is another advanced stat that can shed some light on Greinke’s performance this season. BABIP focuses on at-bats that result in pretty much anything other than a strikeout or a walk. The average pitcher will often have a BABIP between 2.90 and 3.00. If a pitcher has a number noticeably higher than that, it typically means that the pitcher in question has suffered from defensive lapses or general bad luck. Greinke’s BABIP of 3.29 is the ninth-highest total in baseball this year, which should come as no surprise considering the injury to Alex Gonzalez and the regression that seems to have overcome Rickie Weeks in 2012.

Finally, WAR simply takes a look at a player’s overall impact on team wins. While it is not a perfect stat, WAR at least tries to establish how many wins a player is worth to his team when compared to a league-average replacement-level player. A full-season WAR of 6.0 is considered to be MVP-level, and we are only approaching the halfway point of the season. As of right now, Greinke’s WAR of 3.6 is tied with Detroit’s Justin Verlander as the top mark among all pitchers.

It doesn’t matter how you look at it; right now, Zack Greinke is having one of the best seasons of any pitcher in baseball right now. That’s saying quite a bit considering that we are in the middle of a pitching renaissance.

Sadly, Brewers fans haven’t been able to truly enjoy Greinke’s artistry on the mound because the team has struggled to perform on the field. Instead of getting pumped up for every one of his starts, fans are too busy flooding twitter with updates about which team has scouts at the game to watch Greinke.

There’s a very strong possibility that Greinke finishes the year in another uniform. I, for one, feel that it would be in Milwaukee’s best interest to trade him sooner rather than later in order to get the best possible return for the pending free agent. Don’t get me wrong; I would love to see Greinke finish up the year in Milwaukee and then sign a long-term extension in the offseason. But I also have to be honest with myself. If Greinke was going to sign an extension with the team, I think it would already have happened.

As long as Greinke’s still in Milwaukee, Brewers fans should cherish every time he takes the mound.

In the mean time, let’s just enjoy what he brings to the mound pretty much every time he steps out there. Let’s cheer him on every time he gets two strikes on a hitter. Let’s ignore the struggles of the team every fifth game. Let’s tune out the trade rumors unless they become something more than just rumors.

Instead, let’s give our undivided attention to what Zack Greinke is doing in 2012.

After all, he deserves it.

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2 thoughts on “Zack Greinke: Beyond the Distractions

  1. There’s one other nonstatistical measure we can use to gauge how good a pitcher is, and it factors heavily into Hall of Fame voting: All-Star appearances. Despite Greinke’s absolute domination you’ve described, there are apparently eight other SP more deserving of that honor. I’d call that a snub.

  2. I already hinted a few weeks ago that I view the entire ASG process as a complete joke. Yesterday’s roster announcements did not prove me wrong.

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