For lovers of baseball statistics, Zack Greinke is a gift. Like no other pitcher of his time, he is an endless source of intrigue, anomaly, and fascinating quirks. And just before the 2012 season came to a close this past fall, Zack gave us one more statistical prize when he left the mound in Anaheim on September 26th. With all the drama and commotion of the final week of regular season play, we almost let this rare and beautiful gem zip right passed us unnoticed.
|Zack Greinke, W (15-5)||5||7||1||1||2||13||1||3.42||24||110||70||25||21||24||4||5||3||0||60||0.159||1.24||1.3|
Greinke struck out 13 Mariners in just 5 innings that day, or 54% of all the batters he faced. This is a remarkable feat on it's own, but it only gets stranger. He additionally allowed just 2 walks and one HR, for a daily FIP of just 1.69. So, according to DIPS, Greinke had himself one hell of a fine performance that evening. But it wouldn't be a Greinke Gift, of course, if he didn't also allow 75% of his Balls in Play to sneak in as Hits.
At no other point in the past decade has a starting pitcher gone at least 5 innings with a FIP under 2 given up so many hits per ball in play. This may seem almost typical of Greinke at this point, but, as it turns out, this sort of FIP/BABIP discrepancy was exceptionally rare not just for Greinke, but also for recent baseball history:
Highest BABIP games with FIP below 2.0 since 2002
*FIP values do not include IBB
Strangely, Stephen Strasburg's outing on the evening of May 10th this same very season is the only sub-2 FIP game to feature a BABIP almost as bad as Greinke's. Strasburg also struck out 53% of the Pittsburgh batters he faced over the course of 6 innings that night, but when the Bucs made contact they reached base over 70% of the time.
When we think of a pitcher being 'on', it typically involves striking out a significant percentage of the batters that come to the plate, while also limiting his walks and homeruns to at least a respectable rate. We assume that weak contact typically follows great stuff, and therefore low Hit rates and BABIP. But every now and then, baseball sneaks in one of these wonderfully strange statistical gems, which we may not appreciate at first glance.
Consider that there has only been one sub-2.0 FIP performance since 1950 where a pitcher has allowed a higher BABIP than Greinke's 9-25-2012. And to find it, you'll need to rewind the clock all the way back to 1966 when Sam McDowell took the mound against The Detroit Tigers.
Highest BABIP games with FIP below 2.0 since 1950
*FIP values do not include IBB
McDowell's excellent fielding-independent skills were enough to combat the poor BABIP he endured during that outing (whether it was the result of poor defense or just dumb luck). The same can be said for Strasburg and Greinke's performances in 2012, as all three pitchers managed to exit the game with just 1 earned run charged to their name. But the baseball gods were not nearly as kind to Chris Bosio on April 18th, 1993. Bosio similarly struck out an exemplary 12 opposing batters over the course of 6 innings, but surrendered 6 runs on 10 hits in that time as well. That adds up, of course, to a 9.00 ERA in 6 innings, while boasting a remarkable FIP of just 0.49. Of this group, only Kevin Millwood's game from June of 2008 was more of a disaster.
Millwood just barely sneaks under the arbitrary 2.00 FIP cut-off at 1.93, but that doesn't mean his performance that night was pedestrian. Well, at least not from a DIPS standpoint, that is. Millwood struck out more than a batter an inning, allowed no home runs, and walked a reasonable amount of the batters he faced (7%)-- all evidence that Millwood was on his game that evening. But he was hit hard for 7 runs on 12 hits all amounting to a miserable 12.60 ERA and an astonishing 10.7 disparity between his ERA and FIP that game. Amazingly, Millwood's gargantuan 10.7 "E-F" that game at the hands of that wickedly evil .706 BABIP ranks just 64th in E-F games from 1950-2011.
Of course the in-game sample of just 5 or 6 innings can never presume to tell us much about a pitcher's performance, so keep in mind these strange statistical events aren't worth much more than entertainment for those of us who are (for whatever nerdy reason) entertained by such things. But having said that, does it surprise you at all to learn that Zack Greinke, of all pitchers, ranks at the top of a list measuring a FIP and BABIP disparity? A clear and confident "No" is the only possible answer to that question.
God bless you, Zack, you continue to fascinate me.
Thanks to Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference for the data.
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