One had to wonder how Zack Greinke’s current contract would look long term when he signed it three years ago. He was 32 years old and had just signed a six-year, $206.5 million with the Diamondbacks. Despite his age, the time could not have worked out better, as he was able to opt out of his deal with the Dodgers after posting a league-leading 1.74 RA9 and 9.1 WAR in 2015.
One would think that teams would have been a little scared off considering his .228 BABIP and mediocre strikeout rate, not to mention that there was no way he was going to repeat that performance. That being said, Greinke had excellent command and a great track record of health and production.
The biggest knock on the contract was not the years or the dollars or even Greinke’s age, but why a team that won only 79 games the year before was investing in a top-tier free agent. Even if you go by their Pythagorean record of 82 wins, they were in need of more than a few extra victories to make the playoffs. The Dodgers won 92 games in 2015, and the Cubs won the second Wild Card with 97 wins!
Dave Stewart was a pretty bad GM, but the Greinke contract was one of the few things he did right. There might have been some cause for concern when his microscopic 1.74 RA9 from 2015 skyrocketed to a 4.54 RA9 in 2016. However, some of that was the ballpark, and some of that was regression. He was still worth a solid 2.3 WAR.
Greinke improved over the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and now he is having one of the best seasons of his career at the age of 35. No, he is not going to top his 2015 season or his Cy Young winning 2009 season — a historically good season, by the way — but he does have a 2.75 RA9, 2.64 DRA, and is on pace to crack 6 WAR. Though his strikeout rate is mediocre, his command might be better than ever, as evidenced by a walk rate below four percent.
Not unlike his 2015 season, Greinke is getting a ton of BABIP luck (.238) and is benefiting from a high strand rate, though strangely he had a high strand rate last year, too. What is really impressive is the fact that he is pulling this off with an average fastball velocity that has dipped below 90 mph, because otherwise, he really is not doing anything differently than he was before.
The stats say that Greinke should see regression soon, and he very well might, but he has never been an ordinary pitcher. He is one of the smartest pitchers in the game, and few have better command than he does. He is no stranger to defying regression or DIPS theory.
The question is what do the Diamondbacks do with Greinke right now? He has about $90 million left on his contract through 2021, and while the Dbacks are surpassing expectations at 38-35, they have no shot at winning the division. FanGraphs give them only a 20.6 percent chance at a Wild Card. Yes, they are only two games back of the Wild Card, but so are the Cardinals and Rockies, and the Padres and Mets are nipping at their heels.
Some might want to point out that the team’s Pythagorean and BaseRuns records have them at four and three games better, respectively. The problem with that argument is that those metrics are actually not predictive, even though they are frequently used as such. When a record derived from run differential differs from the actual record, it is because of sequencing. The thing is, as much as projectionists would love to do so, you can’t predict sequencing.
By parting with Paul Goldschmidt this past winter, the Diamondbacks clearly signaled to the baseball world that they are rebuilding. The good news is that their farm system is in good shape, as ESPN’s Keith Law ranked it eighth in baseball, and there is fair chance that the system will improve further after having drafted eight players in the top 80 picks of the most recent draft.
Now, one could argue that the Dbacks should accept a meager return in talent in exchange for dumping as much of Greinke’s salary as possible to a contending team. It provides “financial flexibility,” as front offices are so fond of saying. The problem is that teams rarely ever use that flexibility: it is usually code for lining the owners’ pockets.
Even if that were not the case, the truth is that the money doesn’t matter. Talent is far scarcer than money in today’s game. If the Diamondbacks do decide to trade Greinke, they should eat as much money as possible in order maximize the return in talent.
Regardless of what the Diamondbacks decide to do, Greinke has been a great signing so far. He has been worth 15.4 WAR in less than three-and-a-half seasons. In fact, he might just end up in Cooperstown some day...
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.