Zack Greinke Getting By Without His Best Pitch

greinke_colorado_2013-07-03Zack Greinke tossed shutout baseball at the Phillies over 7.1 innings last night, dropping his ERA to 3.02 and pushing his record to 11-3. I mention those otherwise not-too-useful surface stats because that’s what so many tend to look at, and at this rate, he’s going to have what some will consider “one of the best years of his career”. Over his last eight starts, he’s allowed more than two earned runs just once, allowing nine earned runs in 56 innings. It’s not at all difficult to think that he’ll get that ERA into the twos for only the second time in his career, and that’s damn impressive.

But I find it interesting that he’s going about it a little differently this year, because his FIP is 3.57, higher than he’s had since 2007. Now, I’ve said more than a few times that judging just about anything of his full season this year is difficult, because thanks to the right elbow pain that ruined his spring and the Carlos Quentin-inflicted broken collarbone that destroyed his April, it’s been a more than unusual first season in Los Angeles for Greinke, and I’m inclined to give him a pass on just about anything.

Still, it’s not exactly the same Greinke you’d have expected. He struck out only three Phillies, and his 6.91 K/9 would be his lowest mark since 2005, when he was putting up a 5.80 ERA as a 21-year-old for Kansas City. Pair that with a BB/9 rate that’s higher than any he’s had since 2007 (though only slightly, and still good), and his K/BB is only 2.59. That’s not exactly great news, but he’s obviously making it work, despite a BABIP that’s a bit under average but not absurdly so.

The good news, anyway, is that after the total mess that was March through May for him — including almost certainly returning too soon from the collarbone injury as the Dodger season was circling the drain — he’s clearly managed to get his arm into top shape, as you can see in this velocity chart from Brooks Baseball:

greinke_velo_2013

That’s 91.42 MPH on the heater in April, as compared to 93.94 now — and you’ll notice the gray on top of the black there, and that’s a sinker that’s touching 94.

But you’ll also notice the red line that just sort of stops in May, and that’s his slider. In past years, he’d thrown it between 15-20% of the time; this year, it’s just 2.9%, and that will keep dropping as the season goes on. Instead, he’s replaced it with more cut fastballs and changes. (The red dot shows that he may have used it briefly yesterday, but until we see more of a trend there I’m considering it a potential classification error in the data.)

Why? Over his career, the slider has been an incredibly effective pitch for him. It’s one of five pitches he’s thrown at least 1,500 times (via FanGraphs), and the results are stunning:

greinke_pitch_usage_2013As you can see, his slider is nearly unhittable. Over the years, he’s allowed just a .199 wOBA on it, far better than any of his other pitches. Despite throwing it just 15% of the time over his career, 35.4% of his career strikeouts have come off it. It’s his put-away pitch, and he’s not throwing it. That’s supported somewhat by the fact that Greinke is still missing bats, with a 9.9% swinging-strike percentage that’s above his career average, he’s just not putting them away with strike three.

There’s more than a few recent studies that point to slider usage being a concern for elbow health, and as we know Greinke dealt with exactly that problem this spring. My guess here — and that’s all it is — is not that he’s still feeling pain and therefore can’t throw it, but that he’s attempting to head off any future issues by avoiding it. (Again, total speculation there.)

But without his slider, he’s not getting lit up — far from it. Really, the takeaway from this for me is that Greinke is even more impressive than I thought he was. How many pitchers can you think of who could simply stop using their most effective pitch and still keep runs off the board in the way he has? He may not pile up the strikeouts in the way that we’d hope, but he’s more than making up for it. Incredible.

717 comments
KMT59
KMT59

Mike likes the midnight hour

Tired Math Cat
Tired Math Cat

GAME OVER, BITCHES. GAME. MOTHER. FUCKING. OVER. BAM.


FUCKING GOD DAMNED FINALLY MOTHER FUCKING SHIT GOD.

KMT59
KMT59

Pre-game is already up and running on MLB audio....game threat????

nsxtasy
nsxtasy

Shouldn't Mike be putting up a new topic about now?  Miiiiike.... wake uuuuuup...  :)

nsxtasy
nsxtasy

The Dodgers are 18-2 in their last 20 games.  And both of the losses were Kershaw starts.

Lobo
Lobo

How's it hanging everybody?

Tired Math Cat
Tired Math Cat

JEEZZ ALFKJALS;KKJRVEFJLWARVHLM;AER GJMCGRMLCHLMICGHKLCHKLMCCREGRHKLAEGRKMGHJKLFZK.JKNBJK.DFSBJK.CFFBFSDFREIOW4ERWRWE





FUCKING COMPUTERS

Lobo
Lobo

@Cochito Commish @Lobo Fun.  Got fairly badly sunburned (in the peeling stage now, not fun), hung out with old friends, the usual stuff

Tired Math Cat
Tired Math Cat

@Mike Petriello @SpaceDodger (optimistic math lion) This project I've been working on for fucking ages? I FINALLY get a computer to work. Went to someone's house who I didn't want to go ask for help to use his computer. But his computer wasn't even recognizing my device. So after a full day of trying to get his computer to recognize my device, he asked, "so did you actually need my computer or did you just want to spend time with me?" 


I was so offended because I've been working on this shit for so god damned mother fucking long, cleaning up so many fucking computers to get this to work that I went ahead and started asking for help from people who I don't know. I finally have a computer. It took me 30 minutes. 30 fucking minutes, and it works. 

Lobo
Lobo

@Cochito Commish @Lobo Greek Orthodox church camp.  Heavier on the camp part than you would generally think when you hear "church camp"