Man, I wish I knew what was going on with Zack Greinke.
I’m sitting there last night, watching the game, trying to figure out exactly what was happening. What was different.
My conclusion: Hell if I know.
Whatever is happening, I think we can all agree that the magic of 2009 is gone. I realize I could get my internet baseball writing card pulled for this, but watching Greinke pitch this year feels different. Last summer we all felt like there was a strong possibility we’d see something special. A no-hitter. A game with 15 strikeouts. A shutout. Something. Because anything was possible.
Now we’re left hoping he can turn in a performance close to something from last year. That’s kind of a big difference.
First, the good news:
– Greinke seems to have rediscovered his slider. That was last year’s key pitch. In his dominant April from 2009, he had hitters swinging at 64% of his sliders. Of those swings, they missed 24% of the time and only put 11% in play.
Early in the season, hitters were laying off his slider, swinging just 48% of the time and missing on those swings, just 14% of the time. Move forward to his two June starts, hitters are swinging at 56% of his sliders. They miss on 23% of those swings.
Early in the season, I felt the key to Greinke rediscovering his dominance would come once he got hitters to chase that slider again. It looks like he has that pitch working, but the results haven’t followed.
That leads us to the bad news:
– His curveball has lost it’s effectiveness. In April of 2009, he would get a swing and a miss on 18% of his curves. This month, he’s gotten a whiff on just 5% of his curves. Even more troubling, a whopping 38% of all curves have been put in play. And according to Fangraphs, the linear weight of Greinke’s curve is -2.9 meaning his curve is almost 3 runs worse than the average curve this year. It’s a measure that basically says the curve is Greinke’s least effective pitch this year.
His curve has never been his strong suit, despite the wicked break and the crazy variations in velocity. Last year, the linear weight of his curve was 0.5. The fastball/slider combo has always been his bread and butter.
Overall, he’s throwing fewer curves and is now mixing in more change-ups than before. Last year, he threw a change just 6% of the time. This year, he’s doubled up on that and is throwing a change 12% of all pitches.
Remember back in spring training, when Greinke said the change was the only pitch he was working on as he prepped for the season? The dude loves to compete and has that perfectionist streak that drives him to get better. Knowing this, it makes perfect sense that he would chose to attempt to develop his change since it was his least effective pitch last summer. However, we all have limitations. They say that you can’t taste success until you’ve tasted failure. At the same time, you have to realize you can’t do everything. His change is a decent pitch, but it will always be far from his best.
Lately, it seems Greinke has realized this and has reverted back to his sequences of 2009 – More sliders and fewer change-ups with a few curves sprinkled in to keep hitters on their toes. He’s been doing this his last few starts. The results haven’t been there, but given the fact he’s still tinkering with his approach at this point in the season, we need to have patience.
(I’m sure some of you will not be happy that we’re in June and Greinke is tinkering. Relax. While I wish Greinke stuck with what works, he’s always going to be messing around, trying new things. We know this. It’s how he’s wired. And if he’s going to play on your team, you have to accept this.)
So I’m not ready to flip the panic switch. Yet. Let Greinke get a couple more starts under his belt with a few 2009-like pitch sequences. I think he’ll settle into the familiar groove and by the end of the month we’ll see some vintage Greinke.
At least I hope that will happen.