Zach Greinke: A Deep Dive

Photo Source: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Photo Source: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Jake Krisiak, Writer

2022 saw the 18th season of rightie hurler Zack Greinke, who had one of the more interesting seasons. On the surface, he pitched to a respectable 3.68 ERA and a 4.03 FiP, which is around league average. The issue is when you dive deeper and look at the fact he averages 89 miles per hour on his four-seam fastball and the league average for four-seam fastballs this year was around 93-94 miles per hour, according to Baseball Savant. Another issue is where he locates, because he leaves over the middle of the plate, as shown in the photo below. 

Photo Source: Baseball Savant


Another thing about his four-seam fastball is its -9 run value (the lower the better for run value and run value basically takes into account how many runs are added or taken away from a pitch). That run value is better than the likes of Tampa Bay Rays LHP Shane McClanahan and Yankees RHP Gerrit Cole. Now obviously 39-year-old Zack Greinke’s 89 MPH heater is nowhere near the pitches listed previously because they both sit at 96-98 for their fastballs, have better movement profiles, and better stats against the pitch. On the other hand, hitters are batting .294 vs his heater and have an expected batting average of .332. Hitters also were slugging .448 compared to an expected slugging of .581. Obviously, this does not mean next year hitters will hit for these obscenely high numbers, but what it does indicate is that there should be a change in where he locates his fastball to prevent the hard-hit fly balls it induces, even though he does pitch at the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball in Kansas City. 


Looking more into his pitch arsenal, you will notice that he threw a cutter this year, and if you look at his pitch usage on Savant you will notice this is the first time he’s thrown it a significant amount of times since 2013, when he  threw it 17% of the time. He used the cut fastball primarily against right-handed hitters. His changeup, which has been his most consistent and best pitch, saw a decline in usage because it had very unlucky results against the pitch. Instead, it was relegated to being used solely against left-handed hitting. The cutter he throws at 86 MPH, and the pitch itself does not get hit very hard at all with its respectable 34 hard hit%. The pitch  usually runs down and away from the right-handed hitters, so in baseball terms, it runs arm side. It did have a positive run value, but only a +2, which I think  is because of its batting average against the pitch. This should not be valued too much, however, because batting average is an objectively flawed stat, which is a topic for another article. By far and away his best pitch was his slow curveball, which he threw 4% more than last year. The pitch had an elite .245 wOBA and a sub 30 hard hit percentage. While the pitch does have subpar whiff rates, that is due to his lack of  a great fastball, which in turn hurts the rest of his arsenal. 


Photo Source: Jason Hanna


You may ask the question, how does his fastball being slow affect the rest of the pitching arsenal with Greinke? The main reason why is that his fastball has been, and probably always will be, his primary pitch, and the pitch itself is thrown at 89. He needs a bigger velocity gap between his slider, changeup, cutter, etc., which will help him fool hitters more and draw more whiffs. He already gets chases at an above-average rate, but his swing and misses have dropped off the face of the earth after 2020. His Swinging strike percentage of 7.3 during the 2022 campaign was the first evidence of his decline, compared to his 9.3% last year.  It’s still subpar, but from 2018-2020 he had basically an 11%, which is about average, and he also got whiffs at an average rate.


Contact “manager”

During the past few years, as Greinke’s swing and misses have disappeared, he has gained this reputation as a contact manager. That hit a peak this year with his results being lucky as they were. There are a few reasons why: first off, he gives up hard-hit fly balls in a league where the home run is king, and he does not induce a lot of ground balls either. The only merit this label has is the fact that he does not give up barrels at a high rate, and is actually above average at that, he comes in at the 60th percentile for barrel percentage.


Looking Into the Next Season

Looking onwards to next season, which could very well be the righty’s last season in baseball due to his age. Working on the assumption that he resigns with the Kansas City Royals for the 2023 season, I think he will manage to pitch at a similar level and overperform his expected ERA of 4.78 and his expected FiP that is around the same high 4 range, because he pitches at the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in all of baseball.


This was a deep dive to take a look at the peculiar season that the future Hall of Famer had. The reason for writing this article is that I personally have supported Greinke since 2020, and have watched him pitch since 2015, which is a season that deserves a deep dive on its own. The personal attachment/fondness for Greinke stems from his past struggles with depression and social anxiety, which are both things that I can relate to, and also the fact he is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.