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« Searching for Jayson Werth's Weaknesses | Main | A Better Home Park »

Greinke's Curve

Zack Greinke followed up his 2009 Cy Young performance with a league average 2010 season. His ERA jumped two points from 2.16 to 4.17. He struck out 61 fewer batters in 2010, while yielding 7 more HRs than in his 2009 season. He also saw a bump in his overall numbers across the board.

Greinke’s 2010 K/9 rate was not a tremendous decline compared to his career average (7.4 to 7.6). But it was noteworthy considering his K/9 was rising every year since 2005. From 2007-09, he struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings, with a high of 9.5 in ‘09. A loss of 2.1 strikeouts per nine innings in consecutive seasons is certainly significant.

Zack Greinke’s K-Rate

One of the biggest areas of decline for Greinke in 2010 was his curveball. As you can see, his K-Rate for the pitch dropped over 15%, while his other pitches saw only a slight decrease. Batters also made better contact on Greinke’s curveball in 2010.

Zack Greinke - Opp. Contact%

Again, while the rest of his pitches saw a relatively minor change in contact%, batters squared up Greinke’s curveball much better in 2010.

What was the result of this increased contact?

Zack Greinke - Opp. SLG

By far, of all his pitches, Greinke’s curve saw the greatest jump in SLG in 2010. In 2009, he threw his curve for 15.1% of his pitches. This dropped to 10.8% in 2010, yet it accounts for 5 of his 17 HRs on the season. In 2009, he yielded all of one HR on his curveball.

So why was his curveball so much less effective in 2010? In 2009, his curveball averaged 6.1 ft/sec of horizontal movement crossing the plate, and 18.2 ft/sec of downward movement. These numbers dropped to 5.4 ft/sec and 16.8 ft/sec, respectively.

Is this enough of a change in movement to create the problems he saw in 2010? It’s tough to determine, but we can look at his pitch movement by month to see if there was any correlation.

Zack Greinke 2010 Curveball
August 825.3-17.178.8%.385

Greinke appeared to have better results with his curve as the season went on (until September, that is). But we can’t really draw any link from an increase/decrease in horizontal movement(PVX) or vertical movement(PVZ) to the effectiveness of his curve overall. It's important to note that these numbers include all pitches in an AB. He may have been getting good movement on his curve early in counts while floating others over for base hits. So he may have primarily been getting beat on curves with less movement, while curves with more movement that weren't swung on kept his PVX and PVZ numbers from dropping much in a given month. And given the sample size, it wouldn't take many pitches to skew the movement numbers much. But the bottom line is that the overall movement on Greinke’s curve dropped in 2010 which may partially account for why the pitch was less effective for him.

Another issue contributing to his curveball troubles was location. Here’s a look at how Greinke spotted his curveball last season compared to 2009.

Zack Greinke Curveball Location for LHB

Zack Greinke Curveball Location for RHB

Against lefties, Greinke was very efficient at locating his curveball down and away in 2009. As you can see above, his curve began to float up in the zone in 2010. As a result, lefty SLG% increased .486 points against his curve in 2010.

Against RHB, you can see that the heart of his curveball location drifted up and out over the plate more in 2010. The result: a .199 jump in RHB SLG%. These location problems might be a result of a drop in movement, or the two may be unrelated. It’s possible that Greinke was missing his spots because he wasn’t getting as much break on his curve. However, its also possible he simply had less control over the pitch in addition to less movement. Either way, it’s obvious that his 2010 curve was nowhere near the same pitch as his 2009 curve.

While 2010 was certainly a down year for Greinke, it would be hard to imagine him not bouncing back next season. He has the skill set to dominate, as 2009 proved. It will be interesting to see if he works on his curveball this offseason in order to get it back to 2009 form. If he can do that, it would go a long way to a run at a second Cy Young.

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