2014 Dodgers In Review: SP Zack Greinke

G IP K% BB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR
MLB 32 202.1 25.2% 5.2% 2.71 2.97 2.72 3.9

What happened in 2014: He led the Dodgers in innings pitched and improved upon his great 2013 season.

We’re lucky. Zack Greinke is a great pitcher, and to have him paired with Clayton Kershaw is almost unbelievable. Greinke was fantastic in 2013, and, somehow, was even better in 2014.

It all started in spring training, when Greinke all but said he didn’t want to go to Australia.

“The more I think about it, the more I agree with Zack Greinke about there being ‘zero excitement’ for the trip, seeing as he’d be probably be slated to start the game that was reserved for Kershaw.

Greinke caught some flak for that comment, but I see nothing wrong with it. Greinke is one of the most honest athletes in sports today, and that’s rather refreshing. It’s better than a standard or canned, ‘We look forward to playing in Australia to open the 2014 season.'”

Greinke didn’t end up going because of a calf injury he suffered in his first spring training start.

“When I opined last week that Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke should skip the Dodgers’ trip to Australia, I had the scenario playing out differently. I certainly didn’t have Greinke suffering a calf injury on his fourth pitch of his first 2014 spring training appearance that would effectively force out of the game.

But here we are — five days later — and Greinke is only now beginning to play catch. Don Mattingly told reporters after Monday’s 7-3 loss to the A’s that Greinke was not an option to go down under. That’s great. Now, if we can just convince Mattingly to hold back Kershaw — who was roughed up for a second consecutive spring start (no, it isn’t time to panic) — we’ll be sittin’ pretty.

Greinke’s injury is minor enough that it shouldn’t have a bearing on his regular season performance or readiness, especially since he’s staying in the past.”

Whether Greinke’s injury was truly legit, we’ll never know. I’m just glad he didn’t go.

With Kershaw suffering the upper-back injury after his Australia start, Greinke stepped up. He was 5-1 (ugh, wins) with a 2.35 ERA, 11.0 K/9 and a 1.6 BB/9 in his seven starts while Kershaw was shelved. And yes, the second line of what Mike wrote is absolutely true.

“I’m almost completely and totally uncertain of what to say about Zack Greinke any longer. It almost feels like we take him for granted, which is completely unfair of us, because his brilliance is nearly unmatched. And yet here we are, after he just struck out 11 Phillies over seven innings, then doubled, walked, and scored a run at the plate, and the reaction is almost: well, yeah. Of course he did. It’s the 17th time in a row he’s thrown at least five innings and allowed two or fewer runs. He’s now got 40 whiffs and five walks on the season. It almost feels like he’s toying with the opposition.

I guess the highest credit I can give him is this: have you noticed the distinct lack of panic around the fact that Clayton Kershaw, the near-unquestioned best pitcher in baseball, has made zero starts in the Northern Hemisphere this season? Yeah, me too. That’s because of Greinke, and to a slightly lesser extent, Hyun-jin Ryu. Greinke was great tonight. Of course he was. He always is.”

Funny thing is, he allowed seven walks and gave up seven home runs. I looked at Greinke and his propensity to give up home runs early in the season.

“His strikeouts per nine innings rate is 12.3 (behind only Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez) and his strikeout percentage is 34.2 (behind, you guessed it, Fernandez and Stasburg). He’s never been that good at striking hitters out (and it is a small sample size), but the early returns are nice. His slider is doing the best work, as he’s struck out 12 of 40 hitters with it, while throwing it just 17.5 percent of the time (compared to 14 strikeouts with his 4-seam fastball, a pitch he throws 37.9 percent of the time). On the flip side, he’s already allowed six home runs in 29 1/3 innings pitched — good for a 1.8 home runs per nine innings rate — fifth-worst in baseball — and a 26.1 home run-to-fly ball percentage — fourth-worst in baseball.

But, he’s minimizing the damage. Of the last 15 home runs he’s allowed (dating back to June 27 of last season), 14 of them have been solo home runs. He’s done that by keeping hitters off the basepaths.”

Unsurprisingly, those numbers normalized. It was just an interesting observation early in the season. Chad broke down Greinke’s command issues in August, which also normalized before the season ended.

Greinke’s greatest performance this season came in the playoffs, when he dominated the Cardinals for seven innings. Daniel had a great recap of the start.

“Greinke was lights out for seven innings. You can’t really ask more than what he delivered in that span, on that stage. That’s not even including the two hits he had with his bat, matching what he allowed as a pitcher. He also scored a run and terrified us when he slid headfirst into third base.”

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Greinke’s prowess with the bat. He was third among all MLB pitchers in offensive WAR and 10th on the Dodgers overall. It was slightly disappointing after leading all pitchers in offensive WAR last season, but he did this for the first time as a Dodger in 2014:

That was in an eventual 17-0 win against the Giants. That was really awesome.

2015 status: He’s signed through the 2018 season, but he can opt out of his deal at the end of the 2015 season. A lot depends his performance, but there’s a good chance he’ll exercise the option. He’d be leaving $71 million on the table for the next three seasons, but if he’s anything close to what he was in 2013-14, he’ll easily top that (and probably get a couple extra years) on the free agent market. Having said that, I could see the Dodgers retaining him, even if he opts out.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.