Zack Greinke's megadeal with the Dodgers made him the highest paid pitcher on an annual basis, at $24.5 million per season. The second-best arm on the market, Anibal Sanchez, seems likely to settle for something closer to $15 million per season. Is there really a $10 million per year gap in performance between these two 29-year-old righties, though? When it comes to the holy trifecta of pitcher skills -- whiffs, walks and preventing homers -- Greinke and Sanchez are much closer than you might think.
Over the past three seasons, Greinke has gotten hitters to miss 22.2% of the time that they have swung. That's well above the 20.2% average for major league starters. Sanchez, however, has actually induced more whiffs (23.3%) over the same time frame.
Greinke gets many of his whiffs on pitches thrown below the knees and out of the strike zone...
Greinke's contact rate by pitch location, 2010-12
...Whereas Sanchez does a better job of limiting in-zone contact...
Sanchez's contact rate by pitch location, 2010-12
Greinke has managed to rack up a higher strikeout percentage (23.3% of batters faced from 2010-12), but Sanchez (21.1%) isn't too far behind.
Sanchez has thrown more strikes (64.8%) than Greinke (62.9%), whose rate is actually somewhat below the 63.4% average for starters. Sanchez pounds the zone, throwing a much higher percentage of pitches over the plate (52.5%) than the MLB average for starters (48.7%):
Sanchez's pitch location, 2010-12
Greinke, by contrast, throws more arm-side pitches out of the strike zone. He has tossed 46.3% of his pitches in the zone from 2010-12:
Greinke's pitch location, 2010-12
When you take intentional walks out of the equation, Sanchez has issued just slightly more free passes (6.7% of batters faced) than Greinke (6.1%).
Both hurlers have progressively scorched more earth, with Sanchez (47% ground ball rate) and Greinke (48.1%) besting the 45.5% average ground ball rate for starters. Sanchez and Greinke both get grounders on pitches that go below hitters' knees or tail in on their hands:
Sanchez's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010-12
Greinke's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010-12
With above-average worm-burning skills, Sanchez and Greinke have each allowed 0.8 home runs per nine innings pitched.
Overall, here are the totals for Sanchez and Greinke over the past three seasons:
Sanchez: 587 IP, 3.70 ERA, 3.40 FIP
Greinke: 604 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.16 FIP
You can certainly make the argument that Greinke deserves more dough. The most serious item in his injury history is some cracked ribs suffered during a pick-up basketball game, while Sanchez has Tommy John and shoulder surgeries in his past. Greinke also has the lower Fielding Independent ERA, suggesting he may reverse Sanchez's edge in ERA in future seasons. But the gap between Greinke and Sanchez hardly seems worth $10 million per year. Considering how close his resume is to Greinke's, Sanchez could be a bargain if he ends up signing for something like five years and $75 million.