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Zack Greinke: 2011 NL Cy Young Candidate

Step aside, Yovani Gallardo, there’s a new ace in town.

With his recent trade to Milwaukee, Zack Greinke becomes the unquestioned leader of a suddenly strong Brewers rotation, and with one of the better lineups in baseball backing him up—something he’s never known in his years in Kansas City—Greinke is primed for a bounce-back 2011 season.

Greinke has always been an emotionally driven player. We all remember his fall from grace in 2006, when bouts of depression threatened his career, and we can certainly recall his triumphant return to the mound with a historic 2009 campaign in which Greinke asserted himself as one of the game’s most talented pitchers.

However, 2010 was a struggle. Greinke never seemed to get things going like he had the year before. He posted an ERA under 4.00 in just one single month last season (August), and at times he seemed disinterested, simply trying to make his way to the off-season. Kansas City committed to trading their ace, and after rejecting a deal that would send him to Washington, Greinke agreed to be a Brewer. Winning means something to him, and for the first time in years he’ll have a chance to compete.

And that’s great news for anyone fortunate enough to end up with Greinke this season.

2011 Fantasy Outlook

A move to the National League only boosts his elite fantasy status. On a good team with a good offense, Greinke should end the season in the 16-18 win range, and he has proven that he’s already a solid strikeout contributor. Despite only amassing 181 strikeouts last season, he did rack up 242 in 2009. Assuming he pitches 220 innings (and I’d be surprised if he didn’t approach that total), Greinke should end up with around 200 strikeouts this season.

Walks have never been an issue for Greinke, owner of a career 2.21 BB/9, but he does allow his fair share of hits. His opponents’ batting average has only once been below .260 (about the MLB average) and that was during his stellar ’09 season. Rejuvenated and moving to the NL, Greinke should have a better season on this front, and I’d expect his WHIP to drop accordingly. He’s probably not the 1.07-WHIP stud we saw during his Cy Young season, but anything in the 1.10-1.20 range is likely.

Unfortunately, the Brew Crew bullpen is a question mark in my eyes. John Axford proved to be a Godsend last year, and all of the additions to the starting rotation will end up pushing someone—likely Manny Parra—to the bullpen, but I’m not wholly confident in LaTroy Hawkins, Zack Braddock, Takashi Saito, and Kameron Loe. Yes, Braddock, Saito, and Loe had ERAs under 3.00 last season, but Saito is 40 and Braddock’s WHIP was 1.46 last year. Hawkins himself is 37, and his 2.13 ERA with Houston in 2009 seems more like an outlier than anything else. Of course, Greinke never had a good bullpen backing him up in Kansas City, either.

Despite the bullpen’s shortcomings—again, in my eyes—Greinke finds himself in a vastly improved situation this season, and those who take a gamble on him rebounding will be handsomely rewarded.

2011 Fantasy Projection

16-8 | 2.92 ERA | 1.13 WHIP | 203 K | 8.40 K/9 | 218 IP

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About the author: Bryan is the co-founder of Baseball Professor and works as a consultant specializing in operational metrics and efficiency analysis. When he’s not working, blogging, or tending to basic human needs, he enjoys pondering the vastness of the universe, rewatching episodes of Breaking Bad, and avoiding snakes. (@BaseballProf)

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