Greinke’s Start Shouldn’t Surprise

Without thinking or checking, name the top four pitchers in WPA!

For the very few of you that correctly named, in order, Cliff Lee, Joe Saunders, Shaun Marcum, and Zach Greinke, I’ll e-mail you a personalized congratulatory eCard. Lee has been chronicled just about everywhere and Dave profiled Saunders not too long ago. I will take a look at Marcum this weekend but, for now, let’s talk some Zach Greinke.

Greinke has been the ace of the young Royals staff, posting the following numbers in his eight starts:

4-1, 1.93 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 2.75 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, 1.75 WPA, 17.47 BRAA

As mentioned above, his 1.75 WPA ranks fourth amongst all major league starters. His BRAA total of 17.47 and REW of 1.69 also rank fourth. I have received some questions with regards to REW so, to sum it up, REW produces a similar output as WPA but does so with the changes in run expectancy rather than win probability.

Greinke’s hot start has surprised many but a closer look at some recent statistic shows that it really should not be that shocking. He made 14 starts last year, with seven to open the season and seven to close it off. His first seven starts last year were subpar to the tune of:

0-4, 5.71 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 1.45 K/BB, 4.95 IP/GS, -0.301 WPA

Pitching out of the bullpen for the next 38 games helped Greinke as he seemed to regain confidence and improve his numbers. Moved back to the rotation at the end of the season, here are his numbers from the final seven starts:

2-2, 1.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB, 4.91 IP/GS, +0.864 WPA

The innings pitched per games started stayed very close but this was primarily due to Zach having to pitch himself back into starting shape; in the beginning of the season it had more to do with being ineffective. It does not take a rocket scientist, however, to deduce that his numbers at the end of the season were leagues better than at the start. Now, let’s put his final seven starts of last season next to his first eight this year:

2007: 1.85 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.18 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB, 4.9 IP/GS, +0.864 WPA
2008: 1.93 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 1.11 WHIP, 2.75 K/BB, 7.0 IP/GS, +1.750 WPA

Despite some subtle differences he is essentially building upon his success at the end of last season, my major reasoning for why his hot start should not come as a surprise to those paying full attention. One of the important areas not mentioned, though, deals with Greinke’s percentage of runners left on base. From 2002-2007, the highest two LOB% belong to Jake Peavy and Randy Johnson. In 2004, Peavy posted an 83.9 LOB%; in 2002, Johnson came in with 83.0%.

Greinke currently has an LOB% of 91.4, slightly ahead of Edinson Volquez and the aforementioned Cliff Lee. Unless Greinke plans on vastly outperforming pitchers this decade in that area, his LOB% is very likely to tail off as the season progresses, meaning more runs will score.

His balls in play rates have shifted recently, as well. In his career he has a LD/GB/FB of 21.7/36.9/41.3. Over his last 15 starts it is 15.9/41.3/42.8. Greinke may be able to turn in a great season but his significant shift in balls in play rates, coupled with his insanely high LOB%, tends to suggest he will not finish the season as rock solid as he currently looks.

Still, for a guy who battled depression and questioned whether or not he should continue to pitch, it is very fun to track his development as a major league pitcher.

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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.

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