Zack Greinke has been amazing in the first half for the Dodgers. He picked up some of the slack from Clayton Kershaw‘s slow start (but now he’s rolling, too) and is a strong contender to start the All-Star Game on Tuesday (if Max Scherzer pitches Sunday).
How has Greinke been doing it? With command of his pitches.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say he has the best command of any pitcher on the club right now — Kershaw and Kenley Jansen included. He is uncanny with his pitch placement and knows exactly where the ball is going almost every time he delivers a pitch.
Greinke has a 1.5 walks per nine innings rate this season, fifth-lowest in baseball. He has walked more than two batters in a game one time (three on April 24) and has walked just three in the 35 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. He has allowed 16 hits in that time, and only three for extra bases (all doubles). He is putting the ball exactly where he wants it. When any pitcher does that, he’s virtually untouchable.
He’s been getting on top of his pitches of late, as his vertical release points are trending upward on all his offerings. This allows him to get some downward plane on his pitches and not leave them up in the zone (especially his slider and changeup). With an already compact, repeatable delivery, this is something Greinke might be able to sustain for the remainder of the season.
Overall, Greinke is having a magical season, and the last handful of starts is the best he’s been as a Dodger.
Now, what would baseball be if there weren’t some luck involved? Greinke has a .233 BABIP, second to potential future Dodger Johnny Cueto (.227). That isn’t particularly sustainable (league-average is around .300), and the same can be said about his league-best strand rate of 89.5 percent. But, he is benefiting from a strong defense and the second-best swinging strike rate of his career at 11.3 percent (11.6 last year), so perhaps it’s not as unlikely as it appears at first glance.
Greinke’s exit velocity is less than 90 MPH on all his pitches except his “slow” curveball, and there has only been one that was tracked by StatCast and Brooks Baseball (he has thrown 19 total).
He’s the definition of a pitcher. He isn’t going to blow hitters away with elite velocity. His velo has ticked up on all his pitches in the last two months, but this isn’t peak Justin Verlander we’re talking about here. His fastball averages 91.3 MPH. He sinks it a bit, but not too often. His changeup is an 87.7 MPH pitch that is akin to Kershaw’s slider — it doesn’t look like it does a lot and is thrown a lot harder than most, but the late action on it makes it harder for hitters to barrel up.
Speaking of his slider, in two starts this month, hitters have swung at — and missed — his slider 28.6 percent of the time. That is insane. It’s definitely been a better pitch for him now than it was earlier in the season. His changeup is at 21.9 percent. Overall, his changeup is the third-best in baseball in runs above average behind two guys named Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale.
Zack Greinke is good. This isn’t breaking news. But he’s been exceptionally good this season, and the Dodgers are benefiting. The losses of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy hurt, a lot. Greinke’s dominance and Kershaw rounding back into form bodes well for the Dodgers in the second half. The addition of a front-line(ish) starter will only make things even better, and give Brett Anderson a break as the No. 3 starter.