By Tommy Rancel //
Following weeks of speculation, requests, and an agent change, Zack Greinke finally got his wish. The Kansas City Royals traded their ace to the Milwaukee Brewers for a package of players including: outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. The Brewers will also receive shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and $2 million in cash.
Going by both traditional and advanced metrics, Greinke took a step back from his Cy Young season of 2009. He went just 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA after going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA the year before. Meanwhile, FIP (fielding independent pitching) and xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) – two metrics that strip away luck and defense from a pitcher’s performance – suggest that Greinke was closer to a run worse in 2010 and not the full two runs that his ERA showed.
While Greinke pulled back from 2009, he regressed toward his career level, which is still that of a really good pitcher. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) of 3.29 was nearly identical to his career 3.33 K/BB. His home run rate was also within striking distance of his career number.
Discounting bad luck from the equation, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .314 was basically identical to his .315 career average. That said, his strand rate or LOB% (percentage of base runners left on base) was just 65.3%. That’s about 7% lower than the league average and his career rate. Strand rate often depends on factors such as relief pitchers’ support; the sharp drop in Greinke’s rate suggest bad luck more than a big drop in skill.
A large part of Greinke’s 2009 success was fueled by strikeouts. His K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) topped 9.0 for the first time in ’09. That number dipped to 7.40 in 2010, but again was in line with his career 7.56 K/9. Not surprisingly, his percentage of swinging strikes also dropped, from 9.9% to 7.5%.
Another change for Greinke was groundballs. A historically neutral pitcher, his groundball rate was an even 46%. According to Baseball Info Solutions, he threw more change-ups and fewer breaking balls than usual, which could explain the shift in batted ball data.
Unlike last season, Greinke will not be saddled with the expectations of repeating 2009’s performance next season. Instead, look for double-digit wins, 200+ innings, and an ERA of 3.75 or lower (possibly much lower). Like the recently acquired Shaun Marcum, moving from the American League to the National League should also help. Some will shy away from his 2010 numbers, but you shouldn’t make that mistake. Treat Greinke as a true SP1 option, even in mixed leagues.
For Kansas City, Alcides Escobar will become the team’s everyday shortstop, while Lorenzo Cain should roam center field on most days. Escobar’s slash line of .235/.288/.326 ranked among the worst by any full-time hitter. A lower than expected BABIP (.264, vs. league average of about .300) does suggest some bad mojo involved. The Brewers did not let Escobar run much (14 attempts, 10 steals), but he showed a lot of speed with 10 triples. If the Royals let him roam free, he could post 25-30 extra-base hits, with matching steals. His weak batting eye could harm his batting average and also runs scored, though.
On the flip side, Cain’s positive slash line of .306/.348/.415 was largely influenced by his .370 BABIP. That number will likely regress in 2011. Like Escobar, though, Cain should be another decent speed option, especially in AL-only formats.