It was the move everyone desired after 2022. The Royals wanted it. Zack Greinke wanted it. And yes, even you dear reader, wanted it to happen.
After last year’s reunion between Greinke and the Royals, the two sides have agreed to a return engagement for 2023. It’s expected to be officially official on Thursday or Friday.
Details of the contract are sketchy at the moment, but the base salary is believed to be in the $8 to $10 million range. There are performance bonuses that are still unknown, but if I may speculate…There is probably an additional $3 to $5 million to be made on the strength of appearances and innings. These performance bonuses are probably attainable provided he stays healthy and makes a full compliment of starts.
Helping to reset the axiom that there is no such thing as a one-year contract, when Greinke is a Royal, the universe feels properly aligned.
I’ve been thinking about Greinke and his strikeout total. Currently, he’s on 2,882 strikeouts in his career. That’s significant because there are just 19 pitchers in the history of the game who have topped 3,000 whiffs. It’s a rarified pitching accomplishment. One that perhaps demands a little more celebration given the excitement that surrounds a hitter who is on the chase for 3,000 career hits. Oh, there have been 33 hitters in major league history who have reached that milestone.
So Greinke is just 118 strikeouts away from joining an incredibly elite club. Here’s the issue. His strikeout rate has tumbled. By quite a bit.
In three of the four years just prior to this table (2014-2017), Greinke was striking out 200 hitters a year; around a quarter of all batters he faced. He kept it going for the most part in 2018 and 2019. He even held decline at bay in the Covid-shortened 2020 season. But then…woof.
I know I wrote about this when the Royals brought him back last March. It was a concern, but Greinke pitches with enough savvy that you can trust him to successfully navigate a little more contact.
But can you? Should you?
His fastball and curve both outperformed his expected batting average and slugging percentage last year. His fastball by quite a bit. Somehow a pitch that is averaging 89 MPH is still effective. Statcast says it was his best pitch in the arsenal last summer. Witness:
It’s beautiful when he paints that corner.
The slider, on the other hand, was getting crushed. Statcast says it was his second-worst offering and opposing hitters whacked it around to the tune of a .351 batting average and .579 slugging percentage.
Here’s the great thing about Greinke…the dude knows this. How do we know he knows? Check out his pitch percentages from last year broken out by month:
The slider wasn’t working. So he simply stopped throwing it. Boom. Simple as that.
And look at the results.
He really limited his home run damage in the season’s second half.
The pitch that he didn’t abandon was his old bread and butter: the changeup. In the past, it’s been his best offering. Last year, it was his worst. Yes, even less effective than his slider. At least according to Statcast. It’s kind of difficult for me to wrap my head around that given he allowed a .309 BA and a .362 slugging percentage off the pitch last year.
Greinke will always throw the change. I think it can return to being an effective pitch. Yeah, there’s a little less velocity separation between the cambio and his four-seamer than in the past, but since 2015 the two pitches have a difference of about 3 MPH on average. The movement of the change is still there. There was just a little more contact made on the pitch last year.
I don’t like to dabble in splits too much in this newsletter. They’re usually such a small sample that they just bring noise. The above table kind of shows how Greinke’s results evolved over the last three months of the season, but there’s nothing predictive about that. It’s just a nice way to illustrate that his performance got better.
Sometimes though, a split really jumps out. Take for instance Greinke’s home/road numbers.
What I love about this is his strikeout rate was exactly the same at home as it was on the road. So clearly, he can be successful without the whiffs. But oh wow did he limit the power at The K. Twelve fewer home runs in five fewer innings? That just doesn’t compute.
Seriously…that home split is some real 2009 vibes. No wonder Greinke wanted to return to the Royals. If he continues to pitch into his 40s, we’re going to need John Sherman to pump the brakes on the downtown stadium.
Don’t sleep on Greinke’s defense.
According to The Fielding Bible, Greinke’s glove was worth 3 Defensive Runs Saved. The Royals pitchers as a collective? They were worth 3 DRS. Yeah, Greinke’s presence was responsible for a positve number.
His instincts are still razor-sharp as well.
It’s just a joy to watch Greinke play ball.
Greinke was the second-best starter for the Royals last season. Yeah, the bar was low, but credit goes where it’s due. If Greinke is again the Royals second-best starter, there’s going to be another round of very unpleasant questions that would need to be asked. (Like…Is it possible to fire Cal Eldred again?) He was worth 1.9 fWAR last summer. Steamer and ZiPS project a year of 1.1 fWAR with an ERA north of 4 in around 140 innings.
You know what? I’d take those projections. Because if he does that it means every fifth or sixth day he’s taking the ball and throwing five effective innings. That would be fun to watch.
Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he figured out a way to beat those numbers.
Zack is back and that’s a good thing—for the Royals and for baseball.
I always look forward to games at The K when I know Greinke is on the hill.
Without a doubt, the Royals, as they currently are constructed, are better with Greinke than without. They're also more exciting; when Greinke takes the hill, it's entertaining; will he throw an eephus, will he freeze a Wily Vet with a curve when he shouldn't throw it, will he make an oft-overlooked (as you point out) great defensive play?
This offseason has been interesting for sure. I like the fact that we've done a lot of things and opened the door for the kids. We've moved on from some players and hopefully maybe a few more in short order. DM would've never made these moves. And while I appreciated DM's loyalty to his players, he missed the point the whole time that his loyalty should be to the fanbase FIRST, players second. I hope that Pic and the new front office and staff can start to rebuild some of the fanbase we lost at the expense of DM's shortsightedness.