Zack Greinke: Diamondbacks Ace Returning to Form for Stretch Run
By Randy Holt
We tend to spend a lot of time focusing on the negative aspects of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting rotation. And given the injuries and inconsistencies some of their starters have experienced, it’s typically valid. But how about a little praise for a change?
That praise can be primarily directed toward Zack Greinke. The Diamondbacks’ staff ace had an extremely average 2016 campaign before getting back toward his fringe Hall of Fame form in 2017. However, a mediocre start to 2018 threatened to undo all of the good that he did last year, at least in the eyes of fans and local sports radio. Especially fans (and certain local broadcasters) who have been vocal in their criticism of the move to sign him, given their somewhat limited financial resources moving forward because of it.
Greinke’s first month of the year featured an ERA of 4.50. He gave up hard contact about 40% of the time. Three of his first five starts featured outings of at least four runs allowed, two of those being five allowed. His first 36 innings allotted 18 runs to the opposition. On the surface, not especially ideal. He was still posting strong strikeout and walk numbers, but it wasn’t until the months that followed, up to today, that the numbers really reflected what he has been this year: an ace.
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On the season, Greinke has gone for an ERA of 2.96, good for 13th in the league among qualifying starting pitchers. His strikeouts per nine, at 9.42, ranks 20th, with a BB/9 mark of just 1.58, which trails only Corey Kluber. He’s generating whiffs at an 11.3% rate, which ranks 27th (it’s worth noting that Patrick Corbin ranks fourth and Zack Godley ranks 18th in that category). He’s stranding over 83% of baserunners as well, which is the second highest mark of his career, trailing only his 2015 figure with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s not as if Zack Greinke is doing anything remarkably different, either. An ability to locate his pitches obviously goes a tremendously long way. Especially when his average fastball velocity has dipped to under 90 MPH. He’s relied on his changeup over 20% of the time, with his slider and curve combining for 27% of the time, according to Brooks Baseball. Not that Greinke has always been a high velocity guy, but he’s had to adjust his usage as he’s aged. This is a strong example of a savvy veteran doing what is best to suit his performance on the mound. And the Diamondbacks are seeing the benefits of having such an arm atop their rotation.
Not only is Zack Greinke performing at one of the highest levels of any starting pitcher in baseball, he’s serving as an anchor for a Diamondbacks team that is in need of every win it can get. Nine of Greinke’s last 11 starts have ended with him getting a win. Record obviously is not an indicator of a pitcher’s ability, but in the case of the Diamondbacks, he’s showcasing how essential he is to the NL West race by going out, shoving, and taking home a win. Six of those starts have seen Greinke pitch into at least the seventh. As good as the backend of the Diamondbacks bullpen is supposed to be, there is not a more ideal scenario.
When it comes down to it, this is some of the best we’ve seen from Zack Greinke in his entire career. His strikeouts are at the highest point since 2011. His walk rate is the lowest it’s ever been. His ERA is at the lowest it’s been since he put on a Diamondbacks jersey for the first time. This is the Zack Greinke that the Snakes are paying for, and it could not come at a more crucial time for this team.