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Zack Greinke may not be worth all of the fuss

Nov 4, 2012, 9:46 PM EDT

Zack Greinke Getty Images

There’s a pretty good chance that Zack Greinke is going to get the biggest contract ever given to a right-hander within these next six weeks or so. Yet he’s hardly been a spectacular starter these last three years.

Here he is compared to the other top seven starters in this winter’s free agent class:

Z. Greinke…: 3.83 ERA, 582/154 K/BB in 604 IP – 106 ERA+

A. Sanchez..: 3.70 ERA, 526/182 K/BB in 587 IP – 109 ERA+

K. Lohse……: 3.76 ERA, 308/115 K/BB in 491 IP – 101 ERA+

E. Jackson..: 4.10 ERA, 497/198 K/BB in 599 IP – 100 ERA+

H. Kuroda…: 3.26 ERA, 487/148 K/BB in 618 IP – 120 ERA+

D. Haren….: 3.75 ERA, 550/125 K/BB in 650 IP – 104 ERA+

R. Dempster: 4.04 ERA, 552/220 K/BB in 591 IP – 102 ERA+

S. Marcum..: 3.62 ERA, 432/141 K/BB in 520 IP – 113 ERA+

Knowing nothing about any of these pitchers other than their names, one still might say Greinke is the best bet of the group, since he does have top best strikeout rate of the bunch. And, of course, this three-year span doesn’t include Greinke’s Cy Young season in 2009.

Still, it’s three years of quality, but hardly awe-inspiring, pitching for a guy who is almost certainly will earn north of $20 million and maybe as much as $25 million per season in his contract.

And I’m just not at all convinced that he’s worth it. The Angels could have kept Haren for $12 million and gotten another pitcher from this list for about what they’ll spend on Greinke next year, assuming they’re even able to re-sign him. Greinke is going to be bid on as though he’s in the same class as Matt Cain and Cole Hamels, and he hasn’t been. Cain, whose $127.5 million deal with the Giants is currently the biggest ever for a righty, has a 123 ERA+ the last three years. Hamels, whose deal is worth $144 million for six years, has a 134 ERA+.

One other thought: Kuroda has outpitched Greinke three straight seasons. How is he not worth more than $20 million on a one-year deal? It’s pretty crazy that a few teams are going to be willing to guarantee Greinke at least $20 million-$22 million six years out, yet Kuroda might end up settling for $13 million-$15 million on a one-year deal.

  1. ultimatecardinalwarrior - Nov 4, 2012 at 9:54 PM

    As for the Kuroda thing, I chalk it down to a little Japanese modesty (they’re so shy!) and a lil’ racism on the part of GMs and scouts. “What? Are you saying that Japanese fella is better than Greinke? Zack Greinke from Florida? No effin’ way!”

    • Alex K - Nov 5, 2012 at 8:52 AM

      Kuroda is also more than 8.5 years older than Greinke. That has a lot to do with it.

    • somekat - Nov 5, 2012 at 8:59 AM

      Show me the pticher who has been given a massive, long term deal when he is going to be 38 when the season starts?

  2. vallewho - Nov 4, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    Crazy indeed!

  3. willclarkgameface - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    Be careful with these types of blog entries. You will get random acts of thumbs down because EVERYONE else around these parts seems to think Greinke is a fucking new version of Pedro Martinez circa 1999/2000.

    Greinke is NOT worth $20 million and if any team signs him for that they are chumps and should have talked to Theo Epstein about fan pressure to sign just about anyone on the open market. It’s not worth it.

    Greinke will FAIL and fail big in big situations. Watch Mike Rizzo pony up for this joker.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:31 PM

      Be careful with these types of blog entries. You will get random acts of thumbs down because EVERYONE else around these parts seems to think Greinke is a fucking new version of Pedro Martinez circa 1999/2000.

      Or maybe some of us are smart enough to realize that if you eliminate a pitchers best year, his stats take a turn for the worst? Why Matt choose to go only 3 years, rather than 4, intentionally makes Greinke look worse. If he wanted to, he could have regressed that year, maybe did a 25/50/75/100 think across the board, but that would involve work and the 3 year thing is just being lazy. Here’s a full 4 year breakdown:

      https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ApZZhwNFk6sYdGZKTllydFVLUVlZZC1wOWUxUWZTU2c&hl=en#gid=0

      However, your point stands. Greinke isn’t Pedro circa 99/00, no one is save maybe Koufax.

      • somekat - Nov 5, 2012 at 9:05 AM

        so it’s not ok to do the last 3 years, but it is ok to include the 4th year (by far Grienke’s best)? That seems idiotic at best.

        I see nothing wrong with this blog, a 3 years window seems reasonable when looking at a pitcher. Why would you sign someone based on 4 years ago, when the last 3 have been signifigantly worse? That will just lead to a team of overpaid players that would have dominated 4 years ago, but area bad team today.

        The whole point of this blog is that someone is goign to vastly overpay for Grienke. That it obvious, so I see nothing wrong with it

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 5, 2012 at 9:30 AM

        so it’s not ok to do the last 3 years, but it is ok to include the 4th year (by far Grienke’s best)? That seems idiotic at best.

        No, that’s not what I said at all. I said Matt intentionally only did three years to make his point look good, because he is intentionally leaving off Greinke’s best year. Look at the spreadsheet I linked, only one person comes close to the ERA+ number (Kuroda) and one person comes close to the K/BB number (Haren).

        I also mentioned Matt could have regressed the numbers with a 25/50/75/100 split over the last four years to get a better idea of how each pitcher has pitched recently. But to intentionally leave out a CY season, and then say “look at all these similar pitchers” is disingenuous.

  4. beevomckracken - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    Top 10 fWAR by starting pitchers over the last three seasons:

    Justin Verlander 20.3
    Cliff Lee 18.7
    Felix Hernandez 17.3
    Roy Halladay 17.1
    CC Sabathia 17.1
    Clayton Kershaw 16.7
    Zack Greinke 14.2
    Jered Weaver 13.9
    David Price 13.9
    C.J. Wilson 13.3

  5. cw2121 - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    The only reason it looks like Greinke looks average here is because you’ve relied on ERA+, which doesn’t particularly like Greinke. Looking at his FIP, xFIP, and SIERA over the same year range places him among the top 10 pitchers in the league, easily (well above Cain, too). Given his elite K/BB, that seems to make a bit more sense. A person may like ERA+ more than those stats, and that would be fine, but relying only on that stat to call Greinke “hardly spectacular” is a bit misleading when it’s in the minority of useful stats that delivers that verdict.

    • paperlions - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:35 PM

      ^^This.^^

    • Jim Abbott's Right-Hand Man - Nov 5, 2012 at 2:40 AM

      Yeah, it’s not too hard to cherry-pick stats to find one to back up an argument.

      I could bring up that Randall Cunningham took an NFL-record 100-something sacks in a single season and argue this made him one of the most immobile quarterbacks ever, just a statue in the pocket back there. But anybody who watched him play knows that stat doesn’t mean what I’m saying it means.

  6. qcubed3 - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:34 PM

    Actually, Haren’s K/BB rate is better than Greinke’s over the above, three year stretch.

    Greinke’s K/BB = 3.78
    Haren’s K/BB = 4.40

    • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:01 PM

      Whoops. Switched it to read “strikeout rate.” Thanks!

  7. mattymatty - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:36 PM

    You picked a three year window, which (as you noted) conveniently excluded Greinke’s Cy Young season (2.16 ERA, 242 Ks in 229 1/3 innings). Count that in and then see how the stats (which already favored Greinke) look.

    By Fan Graphs WAR Greinke was the 5th best pitcher in baseball this past season. Other metrics aren’t quite as high on him in 2012, but I think it’s inarguable that he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s under 30 (just barely) and has been healthy his whole career.

    I’m not arguing he’s worth $25 million a year (he may be but I’m not making that argument), just that he’s quite a good pitcher, and better than has been on the free agent market since probably Cliff Lee. Also the frequency that teams are locking up their young pitchers probably will help Greinke cash in.

    • ezthinking - Nov 5, 2012 at 2:15 AM

      Matt likes his 3 year splits because ESPN gives you that stat. To get any more he’d have to do actual research.

  8. phillyphreak - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    Or another way over the past 3 years (fWAR/FIP/SIERRA)

    1) Greinke 14.2/3.16/3.24
    2) Haren 12.2/3.59/3.53
    3) Sanchez 12.0/3.40/3.67
    4) Jackson 10.4/3.75/3.87
    5) Kuroda 10.1/3.64/3.63
    6) Dempster 9.2/3.87/3.76
    7) Marcum 7.8/3.82/3.83
    8) Lohse 6.8/3.74/4.30

    And he has the best K% over the past three years out of that bunch.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:47 PM

      Let’s not pretend that those are three vastly different metrics, all separately proclaiming Greinke’s superiority. They’re three versions of the same thing (SIERA is more complicated than FIP, but they’re trying to arrive at the same thing. fWAR is essentially FIP times innings).

      • paperlions - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:54 PM

        I don’t think he pretended that. He did say “another way”, singular. It is another way, and, I think, what most people would consider a better way. It is to ERA+ what wOBA and wRC+ are to OPS+, which is to say…better.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 4, 2012 at 10:59 PM

        I’d certainly stick with “another way” over “better,” paperlions.

        The theory of Greinke’s results have been quite a bit better than Greinke’s actual results.

      • phillyphreak - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:00 PM

        I never said they were vastly different metrics. I said that it’s another way to look at Grienke, as paperlions pointed out. I think it’s fine to say that FIP and SIERA are different metrics and I think it’s even better to include multiple metrics when discussing players.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:05 PM

        Fair enough. You’re right, it’s always good to have more numbers.

        Posting them like that, though… I just couldn’t help but think of all the broadcasters talking about how a guy has a great fielding percentage and hardly ever commits errors, too!

      • cw2121 - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:11 PM

        K/BB is hardly more theoretical than ERA+, and Greinke is seventh in the MLB over that span in the former category. I’d say how many strikeouts he gets and how few batters he walks are the ultimate in a pitcher’s actual outcomes. ERA and its progeny are likely inferior as predictive stats, though that’s an intuition and not something I have the energy to investigate right now.

      • paperlions - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:14 PM

        Performance and results are not the same. Perfomance is more indicative of future results than the results from the performance. It isn’t unlike confusing a well pitched game with fortunate results (like most no hitters).

        …and ERA+ kind of sucks as a metric, especially when you aren’t using it best feature (normalizing across eras) because the stats you are using are all from the same time frame.

      • paperlions - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:58 AM

        To give some examples of performance vs results:

        If a pitcher gives up 3 line drives that are all caught, he didn’t pitch well that inning as he gave up hard contact, which most often results in hits. The result was nice, but not indicative of what will happen if he continues to give up line drives.

  9. Jeremiah Graves - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:06 PM

    I can’t help but notice that no one is talking about the real steal of this offseason, Carl Pavano!!

    He rates #1 in “‘stache grown” and “memories of dating Alyssa Milano” among all free-agent pitchers who have pitched in both Minnesota and Florida…so there’s that.

    Someone find me a metric to discredit those facts?! I dare ya…

    • kkolchak - Nov 5, 2012 at 8:45 AM

      Plus, Pavano has the all important “Ex-Expos Factor” going for him. Not many of those left these days.

  10. djpostl - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:06 PM

    Good, yet not great stats, the whole “anxiety” issue & a 6.48 ERA in the post-season (granted, small sample but it’s all you have to go on) don’t exactly warrant a contract north of Cain’s.

    But economic factors (CBA changes funneling team expenditures into FA market instead of draft bonuses & the international market namely) & having LA, TEX & LAA all in the mix on him are going to ensure he gets a monster deal.

  11. fuddpucker - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    Remember Greinke dogged it in 2010 in commonly used ploy to get out of KC.

    So, if you substitute Zack’s 2010 with his 2009 season you’ll find his numbers are PHENOMENAL!

  12. fuddpucker - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:19 PM

    Welcome to Atlanta, Zack.

  13. canadabaseball - Nov 4, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    He will be a beaver by next season

  14. brewcrewfan54 - Nov 5, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    Don’t forget that in Greinke’s first year in Milwaukee he was hurt and missed spring training. His first month of starts during the regular season was basically his spring. That did affect his numbers. Also I have to say his hos home/road splits while he was with Mil were pretty much scewed towards home if I’m not mistaken. Dont care to look at his career nimbers in that regard but I think his personal issues may reflect this. When hes at home and comfortable he does well, when not he doesnt. And Miller isnt exactly pitcher friendly.

  15. bigtrav425 - Nov 5, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    Just another reason why contracts and money are getting out of control so badly something needs to be done

  16. buffalo65 - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:19 AM

    As true as this is I will still be happy when he signs in Toronto.

  17. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    With something like a record setting $7.6B in revenue last year and a new TV deal worth roughly $25M a year to teams, i hope your suggestion of doing something its to get out of the way of this money making machine.

  18. manchestermiracle - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:55 AM

    I find it interesting that in this entire thread there is no mention of his won-loss record. You know, that stat everybody refers to when the subject is the Cy Young? It’s a huge selling point when someone has a favorite they want to push for that award, even though a pitcher has little to no control over how many runs his team scores, but when the subject is a bit heavier (like how much money he’s going to make) it disappears entirely.

    • paperlions - Nov 5, 2012 at 7:56 AM

      Because pitcher wins is a relatively useless stat to measure individual performance. It is a function of team, not individual.

  19. randygnyc - Nov 5, 2012 at 8:58 AM

    Worth the fuss? Probably. $25MM P/Y? I’m not convinced. It depends where and with whom. He, more than most. I am convinced that many GM’s think he’s “fragile”. I can’t see teams like the Red Sox or Yankees getting involved. My long shot bet, the white sox.

  20. sfm073 - Nov 5, 2012 at 9:34 AM

    What a bunch of nerds arguing about stats. Greinke is a good pitcher, but whatever team signs him will be regretting his contract.

  21. pauleee - Nov 5, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Well, the Angels HAVE to take a shot at him, we’re already losing 2 other starters. And they’ll pay, just watch. What other choice do they have?

    Wilson & Weaver. And pray for rheumatic fever?

  22. simonfoster231171 - Nov 6, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    If he can’t pitch without having a brain fade in relatively small markets (Milwaukee et al), why in hell would a big-market team actively look to sign him? Granted he’s pitching in LA at the moment, but he hasn’t exactly been immune from these sorts of things this season (ball spiking comes to mind) …

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