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Entries in Zack Greinke (10)

Sunday
Jul142013

Zack Greinke: Fastball-Cutter Combination Sparks Success

Zack Greinke produced his fifth consecutive win of the season last Saturday night, tossing a complete game shutout that included nine strikeouts, two hits and one walk at home against the Colorado Rockies. This outing generated the highest game score (91) of his career.

Missing a large portion of his season with a broken collarbone, the Dodgers have patiently waited for Greinke to pitch up to the level of the six-year, $147 million contract he signed with the club last December. Over his last five starts, the former Cy Young Award winner has certainly performed up to that billing, at least compared to the outings preceding his victories streak.

Since his streak began on June 22, Greinke has a 2.50 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Prior to the streak, Greinke had a 4.22 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

Something has clearly changed for the veteran 29-year-old over his past five outings.

It's all started with his fastball-cutter combination against right-handed opponents.

Greinke's Improved Command

Fastball pitch frequency vs. right-handed hitters

At the beginning of the season - Greinke struggled to command his fastball within the zone. His zone rate sat at 51.4 percent and his called-strike rate settled at a meager 31.7 percent.

Over the last five games - His fastball has been consistently placed low-and-away to right-handed hitters  and with it he has witnessed his zone rate increase to 58.2 percent and called-strike rate to 47.5 percent.

Results of Greinke's improved fastball command

 

April 5 - June 16

June 22 - July 13

In-play%

42.6%

42.6%

BABIP

.425

.120

SLG%

.438

.246

  • Right-handers have tallied just one extra-base hit vs. Greinke's fastball since June 22, en route to a .246 slugging percentage that's nearly half the .412 league average.

Change in approach

Greinke's cutter is commonly mistaken for a slider and because he's commanding his fastball more consistently within the zone, both pitches become more effective..

Pitch Frequency of Greinke's cutter vs. right-handed batters

  • Though Greinke commanded his cutter well -- locating the pitch for a called strike on the outer-ish belt-high portion of the plate or low-and-away far corner -- prior to his wins streak, unsurprisingly he did not induce many swings-and-misses with the pitch, evidenced by a miss rate of 42.9 percent chase rate.
  • During his wins streak, though, opponents have missed a remarkable 63.6 percent of cutters located out of the zone. The league average over that span is 36.3 percent.

Changing Results

Comparing results of Greinke's cutter

 

April 5 – June 16

June 22 – July 13

In-play %

37.1%

28.6%

BABIP

.455

.250

SLG%

.654

.154

  • Right-handers' in-play rate against Greinke's cutter has decreased substantially to 28.6 percent during his streak, considerably lower than the league average of 46.6 percent.
  • A product of that dwindling in-play rate, right-handers' BABIP has decreased to .250 and their slugging percentage has decreased to a lowly .154.

Key to Success?

Because Greinke has spotted his fastball more consistently within the strike zone against right-handed hitters during his wins streak, his changing cutter approach has coaxed righties into expanding the strike zone at a more frequent rate, leading to more swings-and-misses with his cutter out of the zone.

This two-pitch tandem will be key to Greinke's success moving forward, and could play a deciding role in the Dodgers' run at an NL West title.

Saturday
Apr062013

Greinke Plays Keep-Away in Dodgers Debut

Zack Greinke looked like $147 million well spent during his first start with the Dodgers last night, striking out six, walking none and allowing just two hits as L.A. shut out the Pirates 3-0. Greinke struggled with an elbow injury during spring training, but he showed superb command against the Bucs. Just ask manager Don Mattingly:

"I think it's rare to have that kind of touch with his breaking stuff. He was pretty amazing, really," Mattingly said. "He was like Felix [Hernandez]. I've seen both those guys pitch when they were 19, and both of them had great command early and great touch with their off-speed stuff early, and you don't see that."

Greinke avoided the fat part of the plate last night, throwing just 17 of his 92 pitches (18.5%) to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. For comparison's sake, the MLB average for starters is about 24%. The Dodgers' free agent prize confounded the Pirates by playing keep-away. Check out his pitch location last night:

Greinke's pitch location vs. Pirates left-handed hitters

 

Greinke's pitch location vs. Pirates right-handed hitters

 

Greinke threw 63% of his pitches to the outer third of the plate against Pittsburgh, and Pirates batters went 2-for-14 with four strikeouts against those offerings. Playing keep-away is nothing new for Greinke, though. He has thrown the second-highest percentage of outside pitches among starters since the beginning of the 2012 season:

Highest percentage of outside pitches among starters, 2012-13

He's got 118 strikeouts on pitches thrown away from 2012-13, a tally topped only by Justin Verlander Yovani Gallardo and Max Scherzer among starters.

Most strikeouts on pitches thrown away, 2012-13

Looks like the elbow's just fine, thanks.

Wednesday
Dec122012

Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez: Closer Than You Think

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.

Whiffs

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.

Walks

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%).

Homers

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.