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Player Profile #73: Zack Greinke | SP | LAD

In the last three years Zack Greinke has posted FIPs no higher than 3.34, yet his lowest ERA during that span is just 3.48. He’s been one of the most “disappointing” pitchers by FIP standards with only Luke Hochevar, Derek Lowe, and Ricky Nolasco posting larger gaps between ERA and FIP over the last three years (among the 71 SP who’ve average 150 innings per season). That’s not great company.

I read that as Greinke having some of the best stuff in baseball with mental toughness that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Perhaps I’m being unfair — after all, we already know that Greinke battled depression early in his career — but strand rates in the 60s in two of the last three years and a career mark that’s only league average show that Greinke hasn’t dominated in tough spots like an ace should.

To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, it should be noted that for Greinke’s career he has a better opponents’ average with men on base than he does with the bases empty (.261 vs. .247), but to play Devil’s Advocate’s Advocate there’s more to holding runners on base — inducing specific types of contact, getting timely strikeouts, limiting sacrifice flies, etc. — than just preventing hits.

You might notice below that we project Greinke for his best season since his Cy Young 2009, and despite the badmouthing that just occurred we do like him in fantasy leagues. I believe LA is a good situation for him, though we’ll have to see if the money goes to his head, and I’m optimistic he sort of puts things together again and gives us a borderline elite season.

73_zack_greinke

At a Glance

  • Strengths: W, L, ERA, K, QS
  • Neutral: WHIP
  • Weaknesses: erratic ERAs

Player Comparisons

  • Best-case scenario: CC Sabathia (NYY)
  • Likely scenario: James Shields (KC), Gio Gonzalez (WAS), Yu Darvish (TEX)
  • Worst-case scenario: Jeff Samardzija (CHC)

Zack Greinke 2013 Fantasy Projection

Greinke’s two biggest strengths are his durability and strikeout potential. Together, those two things will keep him inside the top 100 overall as long as he doesn’t implode to the tune of a 4.00+ ERA, which would be quite a feat given how stably low his FIPs have been.

What prevents Greinke from really being an elite starting pitcher is his WHIP, which hasn’t been better than 1.20 since his Cy Young 2009 season (1.07) and sits at just 1.25 for his career. Despite possessing true swing and miss stuff, Greinke is way too hittable. His opponents’ line drive rate was 22.0% in 2011 and 21.7% last year, both of which were higher than the league average, and his infield fly rates have been worse than the league average for the last six seasons. In short, Greinke is plagued by high BABIPs and his great walk rate isn’t enough to fully make up for it. Expect another season right around 1.20.

The biggest challenge for Greinke will be living up to our projected 3.20 ERA, especially considering he’s only once been below 3.47. Sadly, though, that puts Greinke at just 73rd overall and it’s unlikely he’ll really finish much better in the rankings because of that WHIP, so unless he breaks out for 20 wins or dominates again like 2009 — neither of which you should bank on him doing — I wouldn’t consider drafting him at his 42.6 ADP right now.

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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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