Greinke’s Debut For the Brew Crew

First impressions are important. But they aren’t everything.

The sentiment rings especially true in sports: An impact player might not meet expectations in his first game with a new team, and a mediocre player can initially outperform his true talent level by miles. Heck, if first impressions were really that important, Jeff Francoeur would be a perennial MVP contender, and the Phillies would have sought to rescind the Roy Oswalt trade last summer. What happens on the field often lends itself to narratives both preformed and developed, but taking a step back and examining what fuels a hot or a cold start can help keep everything in perspective.

In other words, Brewers fans shouldn’t be overly concerned about Zack Greinke‘s shaky debut on Wednesday.

Though Greinke’s acquisition was overshadowed by big-money contracts doled out to Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth, the former Royals’ ace was thought to vault the Brewers to the top of the National League Central. A rib injury sustained during a pick-up basketball game delayed the 27-year-old’s official debut, but his presence on the mound stood to spark a team that was off to a rather slow start. Especially with Yovani Gallardo struggling lately — an 8.89 ERA and 1.044 opposing OPS in 26 1/3 innings over his past five starts — the Brewers faithful yearned to see their shiny new ace dominate in his grand unveiling.

Greinke’s night was done after four innings, four runs, five hits and a home run. The Braves scored four more times after Greinke was removed, beating the Brewers 8-0 and sweeping the double-header. Given the situation — a team not meeting expectations that stood to lose two games in one day — it’s easy to focus on Greinke’s negatives. But Brewers fans and fantasy owners should take solace in the fact that there were several positives portending success.

He issued only one walk and struck out six batters. Of the 15 balls put in play, eight were on the ground. He threw roughly two strikes for every ball. He hit 94 mph on the gun and sat around 92, throwing the four-seamer with movement similar to last year. He threw a faster curveball — 79 mph compared to the average 74 mph to 75 mph over the past several seasons — though it remains to be seen if that yields positive results. It’s definitely something to monitor during his next few starts. The results can improve but it wasn’t as if Greinke toed the rubber with a flat arsenal. Greinke’s first start was essentially a spring training start for him, since he couldn’t pitch in March and made only three minor league rehab starts before returning.

Given that we can agree on Greinke’s improvement, a more interesting discussion centers on which pitcher the Brewers will get: someone with results in the vicinity of his spectacular 2009 campaign, or the still-great pitcher in 2008 and 2010? Greinke’s luck indicators weren’t otherworldly even in his Cy Young season — it wasn’t as if he posted a .232 BABIP or 92% strand rate. He threw far fewer pitches in the strike zone and induced more swings out of the zone than before. Batters also swung feebly at his offerings, which resulted in his highest swinging-strike rate.

The primary difference between that and his 2010 stat-line is the rate of contact made on his out-of-zone offerings. His O-Contact increased from 56% to 68%, and his swinging strike rate dropped from 9.9% to 7.5%. Part of these dropoffs can be attributed to a change in his pitch allocation: His fastball dominated the league in 2009 and helped set up a devastating off-speed slider/curve combination. Last season he cut back on breaking balls and opted to throw a bevy of changeups.

The changeup didn’t fool hitters, and though I might be forming my own narrative based on speculation, it’s possible that his pitch sequences failed to keep hitters as off-balance as in the prior year. Making adjustments is a necessary part of sticking in the big leagues, but Greinke probably didn’t need to adjust as much as he did.

Most certainly, pitching in the National League will improve his numbers. Starting pitchers capable of throwing 180+ innings who go from the AL to the NL historically experience an ERA improvement of more than a half of a run. Their peripheral numbers also improve — facing Joe Blanton is much easier than Jim Thome or David Ortiz.

The 2009 Greinke was probably a mirage. It was an all-time season unlikely to be replicated. But he can still tally 5-6 wins above replacement this season, a fantastic total only disappointing when measured against the aforementioned all-time season. When the regression associated with his peripherals crosses paths with the switch to National League, the numbers below the surface should improve quite a bit as well. Greinke’s first start might have been a bit rocky, but he still showed signs that he is Zack Greinke. There’s nothing to worry about.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

27 Responses to “Greinke’s Debut For the Brew Crew”

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  1. puffy says:

    “There’s nothing to worry about.”

    I disagree. His velocity was down significantly and he was largely a 2 pitch guy for his first outing, with max velocity of about 93 mph. While you can explain this by raising the fact that it’s his first start, you factor in that his career is spotted by lots of time missed and the massive price they paid for him, there’s plenty of reason for concern.

    Sure the results were still solid, but they didnt pay for solid. They paid an ace price, whether the public realizes this or not. Greinke’s ceiling is a guy who can make the ball do anything between 57-97 mph. If you would watch a game once in a while, you would realize that the Greinke we saw in his last outing was a distant cry from his ceiling. The potential for this being his new normal is plenty of reason for concern.

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  2. LionoftheSenate says:

    To call the 2009 season a mirage really diminishes baseball. Nobody has ever won the Cy Young every single year. Nobody is the best pitcher in baseball every single year of his career.

    Fact is, humans have good days and bad days…..ball players can have great seasons and good seasons.

    Many very good pitchers do indeed have that great season, once, sometimes twice, now and then a guy will have a third great season. Why use the term mirage? These kinds of seasons are possible. Nobody thinks Grienke is a Cy Young pitcher every single year… pitcher is.

    Stat geeks take the fun out of baseball with their hyperbolic terminology. Calm down and get out of the fetal position occasional and enjoy the game and find a better way to communicate what is happening on the field because what Grienke did in 2009 was certainly no mirage, it really happened.

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    • lexomatic says:

      How do you explain the consistency of a Roy Halladay?

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      • LionoftheSenate says:

        Halladay in case you haven’t noticed spent 10 years as a good not great pitcher…..

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      • LionoftheSenate says:

        Nearly every player that wins a CY Young or MVP is having an anomaly season.

        The stat geeks are inarticulate. Less dismissing and more explaining…..please.

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      • LionoftheSenate says:

        He has just 2 Cy Young’s in 14 seasons…….that’s called a mirage folks.

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      • Help me, I'm curious. says:

        Which 10 years?

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      • Old Hoss says:

        “He has just 2 Cy Young’s in 14 seasons…….that’s called a mirage folks.”

        And Tom Seaver had 3 in 20 seasons. What’s your point?

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      Actually, I think that this comment took the fun out of baseball.

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    • Piccamo says:

      Don’t bring up FIRP or that WAR hootenanny or any of that peripheral-whats-it. Just tell us if he’s a gamer or if he knows how to win. Maybe you could tell us if he’s a force on the mound or if he’s a bulldog. Just be sure to avoid any hyperbole like mirage please, lest you offend the non-stat inclined.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        I honestly have no idea to respond to those comments. Part of me thinks its trolling. The other part thinks its someone who legitimately feels that way and is posting at the wrong site for such a mindset. Part of me thinks its shtick. IM SO CONFUSED.

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      • Piccamo says:

        Ideally he will have an open mind and learn why the stats we use actually matter. He’s on the wrong site if he thinks he’s going to persuade “stat geeks” that they’re wrong. If he is trolling, we will figure it out soon enough when he posts more.

        The article was well written and informative. Obviously too early to tell how Greinke’s season will go, but good stuff for those of us who don’t follow the Brewers.

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    • shibboleth says:

      Mirage is perhaps not the best word to describe the season, but all-time certainly fits. I’ll go with that one. And no worries here about Greinke… he’ll be in excellent form by mid-season. No good reasons to expect otherwise.

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  3. shibboleth says:

    just awful. go, and never darken this door again.

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  4. Jim says:

    Hey Eric, I have a script in the works about a baseball writer who starts every post with a series of mind-numbingly obvious observations, do you know anyone who’d be interested?

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  5. Jim says:

    Have you guys taken the Seidman challange?

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  6. glassSheets says:

    Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong for Greinke did in his first inning, and yet his numbers were still “ok”.

    In the first inning there was an error, catcher’s interference, and a slow rolling single. Uggla was out in front trying to pull an outside offspeed pitch that rolled between third and short. That is three “undeserved” baserunners in one inning.

    The next three innings he pretty much deserved his numbers, though. But two errors and a catcher’s interference will rack up the picth count.

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    • Dealer A says:

      What about the first out, which should have been a safe call? That was sort of a break if you don’t include the fact that he would have been out anyway if Fielder could actually field.

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      • glassSheets says:

        I thought about that, but he should have been out anyways. The umpire calling him out was a break given that Fielder blew the play, but Prado should have been out based on the ball he actually hit. Greinke beat him to the bag by a quite a bit too, not sure why Fielder didn’t flip it to him.

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  7. ctt8410 says:

    Everyone just assumes that the move to the NL Central means that Greinke will be facing easier competition this year compared to last. The reality is that last year the average hitter Greinke faced had a line of .265/.334/.415. The average Brewers starter last year faced an average hitter of .268/.335/.421.

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  8. Antonio bananas says:

    I don’t think Brewers fans should be concerned yet, but if he doesn’t improve within 2 months then I think they should. He’s kind of a head case and the likelihood of him ever winning another Cy Young is pretty low. There are just 16 pitchers in history who have won the award multiple times. I realize that he doesn’t have to win the Cy Young award to be productive, that he can be really good and it’d be worth it.

    Right now I’m unsure of Greinke. He has been really inconsistent throughout his career. He might end up like an emo version of Zambrano. Inconsistent but brilliant when he gets his shit together.

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  9. Ice Cube Makers says:

    I would expect his velocity to be up tonight, if not I would be concerned.

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  10. slash12 says:

    One thing you didn’t mention, his LOB% last year was an abyssal 65%. Which is incredibly low for a guy with his skills. This helps explain the difference between his ERA (4.17) and his FIP(3.34), and xFIP(3.6). Even if he continues with his peripherals from last year, without improving back to his 2009 Strikeout rate, he should be in line for more of a low 3′s ERA.

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