One of my favorite* old writer techniques was when people would try to analyze Zack Greinke‘s decision-making process based on the fact that he had social anxiety disorder. It was as if the condition made Greinke more understandable, as opposed to less. “Greinke would never want to play in a large market,” people would assert. “He wouldn’t be able to handle it.” Zack Greinke, most recently, has been a free agent. Zack Greinke just reportedly signed a six-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers for $147 million. As markets go, Los Angeles is pretty big.
* least favorite
Greinke was the market’s best available free-agent starter, so in that sense it’s not a surprise that he wound up with the Dodgers, since the Dodgers have all of the money. Even your money is the Dodgers’ money now. They even took your laundry quarters. In recent days, this wasn’t so clear, though, as it was down to the Dodgers and the Rangers, and there were indications that Greinke preferred Texas. But those indications were just rumors, and the smart bet would’ve been on the team with all of the money. The team with all of the money was and is the Dodgers.
Early on, there was speculation that Greinke would sign the biggest contract ever for a pitcher. He didn’t — he fell short of the CC Sabathia deal — but Greinke does have the biggest contract ever by average annual value, by a hair. This ignores inflation, which of course you should never do because it’s silly and unforgivable. You have to wonder just how high the Rangers were willing to go, since this contract is well shy of ridiculous, and it’s possible the Dodgers were well in the lead all along. One also recalls that at one point Greinke was the top offseason priority for the Angels. A year ago, you wouldn’t have thought the Angels could be priced out on a player they wanted. A year ago, these Dodgers were inconceivable.
The Angels might serve as a useful example, as it happens. The Dodgers, right now, are in line to open 2013 with the highest payroll ever, and it’s hard to imagine them stopping with the spending spree. But they do have limits, even if they haven’t reached them, and the free spending can’t continue forever. After acquiring Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson last offseason, this offseason the Angels have focused on the lower tiers. It’s going to be interesting to see if and when the Dodgers become more responsible.
But I guess it’s not like the Greinke contract is irresponsible in isolation. Maybe a better word would’ve been “restrained”. Greinke is somewhat newly 29 years old, which is not very old for a free-agent starter. His only stint on the disabled list in recent years was due to an injury sustained playing basketball. You can count on Greinke to have a good number of strikeouts for every walk, and in 2009 he won the American League Cy Young Award. Last year and the year before, he reached 200 strikeouts.
Which is not to say that Greinke isn’t mysterious. Over the last three seasons, Greinke’s put up a 96 ERA-, barely better than average and equal with James Shields, Scott Baker, and Jake Peavy. Over the same span, he’s put up a 79 FIP- and a 78 xFIP-. The former ranks between Felix Hernandez and David Price. The latter ranks between Felix and Adam Wainwright. There’s some question over whether or not Greinke is one of those guys who doesn’t pitch to his peripherals, so he’s at least pretty good, and he’s at best amazing.
Additionally, in Greinke’s exposure to the National League with the Brewers, he was caught by some exceptional pitch-framers, and the numbers suggest that Greinke derived a considerable benefit. The purest evaluation of a pitcher isolates him from all other variables, and catchers are among them. We don’t know nearly enough about this to say that Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado helped Greinke by X runs, but there might be something there. A.J. Ellis‘ framing numbers, by comparison, are not good. It’ll be better for Greinke to pitch in the NL Los Angeles instead of the AL Los Angeles, as it was better for him to pitch in Milwaukee, but the catchers are going to be different.
That’s all getting pretty granular. Most simply, here are things we can say:
- Greinke is, at least, a good starting pitcher
- There are not pressing questions regarding Greinke’s durability
- Greinke is getting paid like a #1
- It’s unclear to what extent Dodgers contracts should be evaluated like other contracts
- As a rule of thumb, many long-term contracts for pitchers end up disappointing
- Greinke doesn’t seem like a particularly bad gamble
The immediate consequence is that Zack Greinke is a Dodger, pending a successfully completed physical exam. The secondary consequence is that this should allow the rest of the market to play out, at last. Almost everybody was kind of waiting on Zack Greinke to make a decision, since his decision affects many other decisions. With Greinke signing a contract, Anibal Sanchez and the other free-agent starters have a better idea what they can expect. With Greinke going to LA, Texas could remain in the mix for Josh Hamilton as a fallback. Hamilton’s market affects Nick Swisher‘s market, and Michael Bourn‘s market. The Rangers can now turn their attention to landing a different starter, maybe spurring the R.A. Dickey market, or the James Shields market, and so on. Everything isn’t going to settle itself in a matter of hours, but things may now begin to settle themselves, with Zack Greinke having settled. The dominoes were lined up, and the Greinke domino just toppled over. We’re about to see a flurry of activity.
The most interesting thing is that Zack Greinke will pitch for the Dodgers for a while. The second-most interesting thing will be observing the Rangers’ response to this. Here that comes. So, so much yet to be determined.