The Zack Greinke Alternative

There’s not a whole lot of question right now regarding just who is the top free-agent starting pitcher available. When in doubt, follow the Dodgers. It was thought that re-signing Zack Greinke would be the Angels’ main offseason priority. They’re still interested, but they might be priced out. The Dodgers are in there and flashing their wallets. The Rangers might be just as interested. The Nationals are involved to some kind of extent. Greinke is the available free-agent ace, and everybody else is, at best, second-tier.

For the teams looking for quality starting pitching that miss out on Greinke, there are alternatives, who could be signed or traded for. Ryan Dempster is a free agent, and a good deal older than Greinke. Kyle Lohse is a free agent and he’s going to cash in to some degree. Among trade candidates, R.A. Dickey could be tremendously valuable, James Shields could be similarly valuable, and Jeremy Hellickson might or might not be extremely valuable, depending on your interpretation of his statistics. But there’s another quality free agent, the same age as Greinke, who could be of nearly as much value for a considerably lesser cost.

The way people are talking about Greinke, he could surpass the CC Sabathia contract. The way people are talking about Greinke, the Dodgers might end up paying whatever it’ll take. Contrast that with this, from Jon Heyman:

#tigers a few weeks ago offered anibal sanchez $48M, 4 yrs. Agent told them that offer would insult anibal. Seeks 90M/6

Without question, Anibal Sanchez is in demand, and his reported asking price is way up there. But he’s not going to get the Zack Greinke contract, meaning this could be an opportunity for a team looking for a quality starter to land a relative value.

As young as Greinke is, Sanchez is four months younger. Sanchez has the more extensive injury history, and that involves a labrum operation, but that was all years ago, and over the past three seasons, Greinke and Sanchez have faced the same number of batters. When it comes to durability, it’s true that Sanchez has more question marks, but he’s used the last three years to prove himself. One does not take for granted that Sanchez will end up on the disabled list.

A raw 2010-2012 comparison:

Pitcher ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Greinke 96 79 78
Sanchez 93 85 92

Greinke’s wound up with better peripherals, but it’s also no secret that Greinke hasn’t always pitched up to his peripherals. The last three seasons, just by simple run prevention, Greinke and Sanchez have basically been equals. That’s not a concluding point on its own, but it’s information to consider.

Here’s some more information to consider, also 2010-2012:

Pitcher K% BB% Strike% Contact% Zone%
Greinke 23% 6% 63% 79% 47%
Sanchez 21% 7% 65% 78% 52%

Continuing, Greinke is showing signs of gradual velocity loss. His fastball is down a tick from a few years ago, which is not unexpected, given how pitchers tend to age. Sanchez, though, has gained a little velocity, perhaps picking up strength as he gets further from his shoulder operation. Sanchez throws his fastball nearly as hard as Greinke does, now, and that isn’t the only evidence that Sanchez has been picking up steam and/or simply improving.

Anibal Sanchez strike rate:

2006-2009: 61 percent
2010: 64 percent
2011: 65 percent
2012: 66 percent

As Sanchez’s strikes have climbed, his walks, accordingly, have dropped, as they do. We don’t know if this is a sign of improved command or just improved control, but it’s a promising trend. So often, by the time they reach free agency, players have already peaked. With Sanchez, we don’t know that for sure. One at least shouldn’t be worried about immediate decline.

And there’s another factor, one I can’t help but discuss since I’m hopelessly in love with the research. I never pass up an opportunity to talk about catcher pitch-framing, and one guy the research highlights is Jonathan Lucroy. He hasn’t achieved the Internet fame of Jose Molina, but he’s achieved similar results. Lucroy’s spent a lot of time catching Zack Greinke of late. Since 2010, as a Brewer, Greinke walked six percent of batters, and struck out 26 percent of batters. Since 2010, as a Royal and Angel, Greinke walked six percent of batters, and struck out 20 percent of batters. There’s the American League/National League difference, of course, and there’s the possibility this is meaningless noise, but if Lucroy is an exceptional pitch-framer, it makes sense that Greinke might have benefited. And Greinke would have to be evaluated independent of his catchers, to whatever extent that would be possible.

Sanchez hasn’t spent much time throwing to allegedly awesome pitch-framers. Both Greinke and Sanchez threw a few months in the AL last season, and Sanchez was just as good. That oversimplifies things and throws out too much other worthwhile information, but again, it’s information to consider.

Zack Greinke is considered the cream of the free-agent crop, and he deserves to be. All things being equal, you’d rather have him than Sanchez, and everyone else. But all things aren’t equal, and Greinke will cost a good deal more than Sanchez will. Perhaps by too much. I won’t go so far as to say that Anibal Sanchez looks like a potential bargain, but the difference between him and Greinke might not be as large as the difference between the contracts they’re going to sign.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

22 Responses to “The Zack Greinke Alternative”

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  1. Justin says:

    What about Edwin Jackson? Barely older than both of them and will be much much cheaper…Not really Greinke-light by any means but definitely could be a better value

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    • Steve says:

      Agree about Jackson, slightly worse and a little older but quite the steal…

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    • Zaza Harvey says:

      Whether EJax is a value play depends on which guy shows up.

      The guy with a 1.438 career WHIP or the guy that posted a 1.218 WHIP in 2012. If he’s anything close to his 2012 numbers, then yeah, he’ll be worth the money. Most other years the guy has been a mediocre option with hit rates and BB%’s much to high to justify any kind of big contract.

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  2. Jaack says:

    I don’t know about the article, but I would so go to a show entitled The Zach Greinke Alternative.

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  3. bender says:

    Let’s look at the defenses Greinke’s pitched in front of before we even consider using ERA- on him

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    • Marcus A says:

      I don’t know if you can use this argument when he’s being compared to someone who pitched in front of Detroit’s defense this year.

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      • Chris says:

        Couldn’t be any more right: The Brewers came in at 20th in UZR/150 last year at -1.3, the Tigers came in at 29th with -5.8.

        The fact that Grienke also spent time with the Angels, who had the second best UZR/150 last year and Sanchez started the year with the Marlins who were #21 also doesn’t bode well for that argument and their peripherals after their trades were very similar.

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      • Spit Ball says:

        The ERA- table above covers the seasons 2010-2012 over which time Sanchez made 12 starts with the Tigers and 82 starts with the Marlins. You may have an argument but don’t cherrypick one based on such incomplete data.

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  4. Chickensoup says:

    I think Sanchez has the ability to be the steal of the free agent pool this year. For a starter, he isn’t really asking for a ton in AAV but some teams (read: Brewers) might shy away because of the 6 years he wants.

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    • bsally says:

      The AAV would have to be awfully low for me to consider Sanchez as a good move if we’re talking 6 years…

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  5. chuckb says:

    If I was in the market for a free agent starting pitcher, Sanchez is the guy I’d be targeting. There’s no reason to get into Greinke for 7 years and $150+ M when Sanchez will cost half that or less.

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    • Chickensoup says:

      Sanchez supposedly told the Tigers he was seeking 90/6 so more like 60ish% but the point is taken, especially for cost conscience GMs he is a relative bargain

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        Seeking 6/90 can mean accepting 5/70.

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      • chuckb says:

        Yeah, “seeking” is the upper end. He won’t get 6/90. IMO, that notion tells you that at least he’s not “seeking” an AAV > $15. So 5/70 sounds about right to me.

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  6. BillWallace says:

    I don’t see what the big deal with Anibal is. He’s pitched below his peripherals in all 3 full time years. Even regressing his – BIP-wins a bit I have him as worth 2.8 wins next year and then declining. I have him worth about 5/55 or 6/58.

    Even 5/70 would be terrible imo.

    Greinke is a much better bet. Yes over the last 3 years they are somewhat similar. But you can’t just ignore Greinke’s strong prior record. Although he’s a tough call with his fip and era discrepancies, I have him at 4.5 wins next year and declining… worth about 6/120. He may get more than that, but he’s worth more than double Anibal I think.

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    • John Galt says:

      Amen. Look at Sanchez’s splits. Sure he’s tough on lefties but righties hit .291 against him. And that goes with 20 HR allowed. Greinke is vastly superior and Jackson is by far the better fallback.

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  7. binqasim says:

    What about number of innings? Greinke has posted 3 out of last 4 seasons above 210 IP (two above 220 IP) and Sanchez has topped out at 196 IP. Then look at injury history. Sanchez has had more problems with his pitching hand than Greinke. I am not sure how comfortable GMs would be giving six years to Anibal.

    A team that needs a number one starter, Greinke is the answer not Anibal.

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  8. G says:

    i would like to see Edwin Jackson come back to Detroit as a two inning type closer

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  9. Joebrady says:

    I wouldn’t sign either, but I don’t see the interest in Greinke. Not bagging on the various pitching stats used, but after a while, ERA is more accurate. He had exactly one season as anything but a #2 SP. He was an all-star one time, in the top 20 in ERA exactly one time, finished with -0- CY votes every year but one. His ERA over the past three years is #50 among qualifiers.

    At what point do you stop thinking he will revert back to his theoretical ERA instead of his real ERA?

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  10. Andre the Angels Fan says:

    If the Angels passed on Greinke and signed Edwin Jackson and Anibal Sanchez for, combined, less than what Greinke gets from the Dodgers or Rangers I will be happy. Anibal at 5 years 65 mil, Edwin at the same, sounds like a much better bet to take them to the playoffs than just Grienke at $175 mil.

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