As much coverage as a certain Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher has gotten in these pages (and others) in recent weeks, there are other good stories coming out of Chavez Ravine. Zack Greinke, even if he had to resort to hitting a home run to escape Clayton Kershaw's monstrous shadow this week, has been quietly having another solid year.
Greinke, whom the BtBS staff will always have a soft spot for thanks to his early endorsement of FIP, is currently posting K/9 and BB/9 rates better than his career marks (9.33 to 8.11 and 2.00 to 2.26) and basically the same HR/9 (0.88 to 0.87). While his lifetime stats are a bit deceiving because of his three terrible seasons at age 20, 21, and 22, the 2014 numbers are still nothing to sneeze at: his K/BB is 15th in the majors. And while Greinke may swear by FIP, he's actually outperformed his peripherals, with a 2.64 ERA (11th in the majors) and 3.02 FIP (15th).
The tweet below, from BtBS's own Kevin Ruprecht, is eye-opening.
Greinke has near identical K%, BB%, BABIP, and LOB% as his amazing 2009 Cy Young season. He will get no Cy Young consideration. #Dodgers— Kevin Ruprecht (@KevinRuprecht) September 15, 2014
In 2009, he posted a marginally better K/9 and the same BB/9, but only a 4.5% HR/FB rate as opposed to 12.5% this year. Here's his summary pitching numbers for then and now:
That's right, 5.7 wins difference. Some of that is the changing offensive environment, but it's pretty tough luck for a guy to post a better xFIP than when he won the Cy Young and lose almost six (6!) wins above replacement. Even with some bad luck, he's still been a well-above-average pitcher on a team fighting for the best record in the NL.
So what's allowed Greinke, at age 30, to continue pitching late into games (6.1 IP/start this year)? Not surprisingly, he's been leaning on finesse more than power. His fastball velocity has declined every year since the start of PITCHf/x, from a high of 95.2 in 2007 to 92.5 this year. Meanwhile, he's relied on his changeup more and more, even as the difference between it and his fastball wanes. He's throwing it 16% of the time in 2014, more than any previous year. Greinke's velocity profile is rather interesting: his fastball and sinker, which together account for 53% of his pitches, both clock in at about 92.6 mph, while his changeup is a hard one at 87.8. However, his wide, looping curveball – which has taken a backseat to his change this year – only averages 73 mph. With such a variety of speeds, Greinke has succeeded in confusing batters all season long.
Now, we come to the other part of Greinke's value to the Dodgers: his hitting. He's excellent as far as pitchers go, with a .270 wOBA lifetime. In fewer than four full National League seasons, he's put up 2.3 fWAR, with 1.9 of that coming in the last two years. He put the cherry on the top of a 17-0 Dodger victory over the Giants with this blast last Saturday:
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Maybe he's not an ace anymore (and he certainly isn't THE ace, what with Kershaw in town), but Greinke is still a very solid pitcher. He was excellent in the postseason last year, going 1-1 with a 1.71 FIP. The Dodgers are not far enough ahead in the NL West that they'll be able to set up their rotation optimally, so it's possible (and likely, according to Scott Lindholm's playoff predictions) that Greinke will be in line to start games 1 and 5 of the NLDS, possibly matching up against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.
So yeah, Greinke's not the best pitcher in Los Angeles. He has no shot at winning the Cy Young (and probably won't get any votes). But the combination of his stuff and his moxie hasn't been diluted one bit, and with a little luck, he could play a much louder second fiddle to Kershaw in the playoffs and beyond.
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Steven Silverman is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and a student at Carnegie Mellon University. He also writes for Batting Leadoff. You can follow him on Twitter at @Silver_Stats or email him at Steven@SilverStats.com.