Is Zack Greinke Worth More Than $100 Million?

Courtesy: LA Times

Courtesy: LA Times

Zack Greinke is an excellent pitcher, having won the 2009 American League Cy Young with Kansas City and accumulating 91 wins in nine seasons. After being traded from Kansas City to Milwaukee prior to the 2011 season, then from Milwaukee to the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2012 non-waiver trade deadline, Greinke is a free agent, and a highly coveted one, at that.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports seems to think that Greinke is going to join either the Texas Rangers or the Los Angeles Dodgers by the end of the week, as the two clubs could make the 29-year-old right-hander the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, exceeding the $161 million that the Yankees gave CC Sabathia.

The problem is, Zack Greinke isn’t worth that kind of investment.

Greinke is good but he has some disturbing career trends.

Greinke Can’t Pitch on the Road:

Split W L W-L% ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER BB SO WHIP
Home 55 30 .647 3.42 138 118 4 1 776.1 756 319 295 178 744 1.203
Away 36 48 .429 4.15 134 113 8 2 715.2 726 356 330 201 588 1.295
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/5/2012.

It isn’t that he “CAN’T PITCH,” it’s just that he isn’t nearly as dominant. If Greinke had a .647 winning percentage on the road in his career, just like his home winning percentage, we’d be talking about a guy with a 54-30 away record and 109 career wins…but we’re not.

Greinke has a K/BB at home of 4.18 but that number drops to 2.93 on the road. How can you commit that much money to someone who can only pitch extremely well when you’re at home?

Courtesy: mlbdailydish.com

Courtesy: mlbdailydish.com

Greinke’s Statistics Aren’t Elite:

When you compare Greinke to the active ERA leaders in MLB, he is solid, ranking 23rd with a 3.77 ERA. Solid, but if quality is based on statistical measurement, does anyone see Chad Billingsley (3.65), Jon Lester (3.76), or Matt Garza (3.83) cashing in anytime in the near future?

Sure, ERA isn’t the only measurement of success, but wins are overrated, right? No one would say that Ian Kennedy and his 21-4 record and 2.88 ERA in 2011 was more impressive than Roy Halladay‘s 19-6 record and 2.35 ERA or Cliff Lee‘s 17-8 record and 2.40 ERA in 2011, right? Luckily, when Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young with his 21-5 record and 2.28 ERA, no one had to find out how important the wins were, as Kennedy finished 4th in Cy Young voting while tying Kennedy in wins that season.

The thing is, Greinke doesn’t really have the wins, either. His 91 wins have him tied with Cole Hamels at 46th. Hamels completed his seventh season in 2012 compared to Greinke’s ninth, and at the same age (heading into their age-29 seasons), is Greinke worth more than Cole Hamels, whose career ERA is 3.34?

The Issues:

You can’t forget that Greinke missed 69 games in 2006 due to Clinical Depression, a combination deemed depression and social anxiety disorder. He pitched in just three games in the majors that season after starting 17 games for the Royals Double-A affilliate, before getting another shot at starting at the beginning of 2007.

Greinke went just 1-4 with a 5.71 ERA over seven starts before moving to the bullpen for his next 37 appearances. He went 4-1 with a 3.54 ERA out of the bullpen, but the Royals moved him back to the rotation at the end of the season for another seven starts, when Greinke went 2-2 with a 1.85 ERA.

Mental illness and depression is something that is treated, but it is likely to relapse in the future. With all of the stress and expectations that Greinke is going to have on him due to his contract and pitching for a contending team, is it going to be too much for him?

So much is made of Josh Hamilton and his past drug addiction as teams worry about the financial commitment to someone whose body “could” break down due to the years of abuse. Why is Zack Greinke any different? Do you want your team committing a huge contract to someone who could, just as easily as Hamilton, have a mental slip up?

Courtesy: LA Times

Courtesy: LA Times

Conclusion: Zack Greinke is an excellent starting pitcher. However, Dan Haren, Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, and Erik Bedard were or are great pitchers, as well, and all were or are free agents this offseason.

Dan Haren has more wins (119) and a better career ERA (3.65) than Greinke. He also has an achy back and a lot more innings on his arm at the age of 32.

With more teams cashing in on TV deals and the revenues that stream from them, there will be more contracts like what Greinke is going to get this offseason. There will also be just as many contracts that teams live to regret, like Alex Rodriguez and his deteriorating, steroid damaged hips in New York, or what is to come of Albert Pujols and his massive contract when he is in his early-40’s and earning $30 million in his final year of his deal.

Greinke is reliable, having missed a few starts in 2011 due to a broken rib from a pick-up basketball game in the offseason, and the time that he missed due to his depression in 2006, but that is all. He had some shoulder inflammation in 2010 (he was day-to-day), but he hasn’t missed time outside of those issues in his entire career.

Based on his results, Greinke is very good. He isn’t Matt Cain, Roy Halladay, or Tim Lincecum (pre-2012), so I would be very uncomfortable with my team giving him a huge, $100 million-plus deal. Is he an ace? Is he a game changer?

To me, his three postseason starts with a 1-1 record and 6.48 ERA shows the kind of pitcher Greinke is in crunch time. If he isn’t comfortable, he is just another guy on the mound, not your ace, and certainly not worth upwards of $20 million annually.

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3 Comments

Some context on the home/away splits is needed…last year there was a .39 average difference in ERA in the majors and a .082 WHIP swing. Zack isn’t really far off the norm, and it’s probably just statistical fluctuation anyway — in 2010 he was a considerably better pitcher on the road for some reason. It’s also more specifically a result of him playing in the AL central and getting shelled in the bandbox that is U.S. Cellular Field. After he was traded to the Angels, he was actually much better on the road except for his one shelling vs. the White Sox (Incidentally, In 2010 he wasn’t on the road either time he faced the Sox, either.)

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Valid points. That’s the fun of statistics, you can manipulate them for any argument. Thanks for the additional stats. Maybe he is worth the money, maybe he isn’t. Win are relative to success in other areas and he doesn’t have as many. Philadelphia isn’t an easy place to pitch, either, and he still had Kauffman, Comerica, and Progressive Field that were considered pitchers parks within the AL Central ;)

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And wins, I mean…Royals vs. Phillies, right?

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