Zack Greinke and the 2011 Cy Young

Though it’s far too early to make any assessments about the NL Cy Young award (remember Ubaldo Jimenez last year?), I noted yesterday that certain of Zack Greinke’s numbers were actually better than they were at the end of his 2009 Cy Young season.  Taking into account his latest start, the numbers just got better, so I thought I’d expound on just how well he’s pitching.

Greinke had by far the best year of his young career in 2009, going 16-8 and ending with a 2.16 ERA, good for first in the American League.  He was also first in WHIP (1.07), third in K/9 (9.50), and second in strikeouts (242) , shutouts, and complete games.  Greinke walked only two batters per nine innings, gave up only .43 HR/9, and stranded nearly 80% of baserunners. His fielder-independent pitching (FIP) ERA, one measure of a pitcher’s true skill, was 2.33, higher than his standard ERA, which means his defense bailed him out a bit.

Greinke is again having great success this year, but the Brewers’ defense isn’t doing him any favors.  He’s rocking a 5.79 ERA, but his FIP is only 2.76.  Combine that with his unlucky batting average on balls in play (.348), and you can see why he’s not getting credit for being an elite pitcher yet.  But other peripheral stats say Greinke’s as good as he’s ever been.  He’s striking out more batters (12.54 K/9) and walking fewer (.96 BB/9) through five starts than he did throughout his 2009 season.

There are a few troubling stats.  In his four Miller Park starts, he’s given up four home runs, and through five he has a 1.61 HR/9 ratio, as opposed to 2009’s .43.  He’s also inducing about 5% fewer ground balls than he did in 2009, and 11% fewer than in his down 2010 season.

So, three things need to happen for Greinke to have a shot at another Cy Young, only one of them he can control:

  1. He has to keep the ball down, especially at Miller Park.
  2. The Brewers defense needs to pick it up behind him.
  3. He needs to have a little luck go his way.

But make no mistake, even though it might not look it from the surface stats, the Brewers are getting the Greinke we thought we were.

Greinke does it all

That’s Zack Greinke at left, and Jonathan Lucroy does not have his hand on Greinke’s rear end just because he fanned ten in seven innings of three-run ball (though Greinke also did that).  Nope, Lucroy is giving Greinke the gentleman’s pat because of his prowess at the plate; in the fifth inning, it was Greinke who racked up the go-ahead run on a solo shot to left.

It wasn’t a cheap shot, either.  Greinke got all of it and the only question was fair or foul.  Thankfully, it stayed fair, and BOOM!  Career home run number two.

On tonight’s Tony Bruno show, John Axford said he’s sure the bullpen will never hear the end of it. He’s probably right.  “They hear me talk about [my hitting skillz] all the time,” Greinke said.  “They’re all upset now because they think I’ll talk about it even more.”  Watch out for this guy, Yovani.

Of course, Greinke continued to dominate on the bump, too.  Actually, you might be surprised at how well he’s pitching.

You remember that Cy Young award Greinke won in 2009?  Well this year, Greinke is actually striking out more batters per nine innings (12.43) than he did in ’09 (9.50).  And he’s walking fewer batters per nine innings (2 vs. .86).  And although he’s giving up more home runs and his ERA isn’t stellar, he’s been the victim of the Brewers’ poor defense and a lot of bad luck (.370 BABIP). 

No joke; if Greinke continues to dominate on the mound like he has, and if his luck evens out as the season progresses, he still has the potential to put up Cy Young-type numbers.

But what’s really amazing?  Said Greinke, “I feel pretty good, but I can get better.”