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Greinke

It’s just a one word title. I suppose I could have entitled this post Zack to give it a little more oomph, but quite frankly I think we have all the oomph we need. Oomph. I just like the word. Sorry.

Before I begin, I’d like to point out that we’re a Rays win away from me being 4-4 so far on my playoff journey. Could someone take over for patting me on the back? My arm hurts.

Back to Zack. For those who don’t know the story…wait…how are you reading a Royals blog and don’t know the story? Fine. First round draft pick, flew through the minors, had a solid rookie year, terrible sophomore season, quit baseball in Spring Training the next year, came back in September, was a reliever in 2007, broke out in 2008, won the Cy Young in 2009, had what many believed to be a mediocre season in 2010. It wasn’t a mediocre season, though. It was a good season. Not amazing like his 2009, but eerily similar secondary stats to his 2008 “breakout.”

A bit of an aside here that will lead me to my point. There are only so many factors a pitcher can control. The rest are out of their hands and allow their numbers to deviate from year to year. Defensive performance behind the pitcher is one of those factors. Obviously a pitcher mostly cannot control what goes on behind them. I say mostly because you could argue that a pitcher who works too slow has a defense that isn’t always in the game or a pitcher who can’t throw a strike will leave their defense on their collective heels as well. Luckily, advanced statistics have a way to show us what the pitcher would do with the benefit of an average defense. Thus, it should be concluded that a pitcher who plays for, say, the 2009 Red Sox would have an ERA better than their FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and a pitcher who pitches for, say, the 2010 Royals should have an ERA worse than their FIP.

That brings us back to Zack. By all accounts, his 2009 season was head and shoulders better than his Cy Young follow-up campaign. His ERA was a full two runs higher, he struck out 60 less batters in just 9 innings less (we’ll get to this), he gave up more homers (this to come, too), but those were about the only physical things different from his 2009 and 2010 season. Well that, and here’s one of the most important things, he left 15% less runners on base. This number probably connects directly to the strikeouts, which as I mentioned before, were down. The batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for balls hit is about .300 +/- .020 for a given pitcher. The BABIP on strikeouts is non-existent! In a jam, the strikeout is your best friend. Duh.

Back to FIP, normalizing Greinke’s numbers for an average defense and average luck, his FIP this season was 3.34. 2009’s FIP was 2.33. We knew he wasn’t as good this past season as he was in 2009, but you also got the sense in watching him that he wasn’t as much worse as his raw stats indicated. His WAR was actually 5.2 this season, which means that he was 5.2 wins above a replacement player. To further simplify this, if the Royals had replaced Greinke in the rotation with a guy like Bryan Bullington, they would have won 62 games. Interestingly enough, people thought Greinke was getting hit harder, but his line drive percentage was the lowest of his career and his ground ball percentage was the highest of his career. The biggest difference was strikeouts. Playing in front of the Royals sub par defense requires Greinke to be a great strikeout pitcher in order to have the success he experienced in 2009.

Performance is only half the story, though, with Zack. He’s not terribly happy with the direction the team is going. He made some comments to the press in August stating that he didn’t want to be a part of another rebuilding process. When reminded about all the prospects in the pipeline, he made sure to make people aware that prospects don’t typically hit the ground running. This led many to question Zack’s effort down the stretch, myself included. Having had a chance to step away from the situation, I think he did lose focus and he didn’t necessarily give 100% as he should, but I think there was another factor involved. Fatigue. It looked like he hit a bit of a wall. He was able to amp it up for his last start, but that had to be at least partially because he knew he would get all winter to rest his arm. My guess is we’ll see a 3.20 ERA, 220 innings and 200 strikeouts out of him next year.

The problem, though, is where will he be pitching in order to reach those numbers? As I mentioned, he’s made it clear that he isn’t pleased with the rebuilding. I’m not a big fan of him complaining about this the way he did. He signed a contract. Nobody put a gun to his head. I used to be big on the argument that he owes the Royals something for sticking with him in his darkest baseball hour, but the more I think about that, the more I realize he paid the Royals back and then some with his amazing 2009. The only way he could pay them back any more would be to lead the Royals to a World Series victory. Ironically, as soon as he paid off his debt to the team in that manner, he’d want to stay forever probably.

So really there are three options* with Greinke: Trade him now, trade him later or hold onto him and let him go into free agency. Trading him now gets the best haul in return. It allows the Royals to go to a team and ask for three top prospects as well as one or two lower level talented guys. It would allow the Royals to ask the Rays for Jeremy Hellickson. It would allow the Royals to ask the Cardinals for a Shelby Miller. It’s a decent option. Trading him later might get a little bit less, but a team in the playoff chase would give up a ton for a legitimate ace who has a year and a half left on his deal. And letting him walk in free agency gives the Royals two draft picks.

*I guess there’s a fourth option of resigning him, but that’s the no-brainer because the only way they’re resigning him is if they’re winning and in the playoffs. If they’re in the playoffs, they probably don’t need all the help that a trade for Zack would bring in. Very complicated stuff here.

Before I bore everybody with the different trade solutions, my solution is to see what happens this season with the team. As I mentioned above, the haul you get in July probably won’t be signficantly less than what you’d get in January. And who knows? Maybe the prospects come up and actually do hit the ground running, Greinke gets excited and signs an extension and is here for another five seasons. It’s worth waiting to find out exactly what could happen because aces like Zack don’t come along all the time, even if he did have a down year. Remember, though, it wasn’t as down as you think.

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  1. October 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

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