In case you were not already aware, Aaron Judge is having a remarkable year so far. Forty percent of the 2017 MLB season has come and gone and Judge leads all position players with 4.5 WAR...nearly 1 win greater than the next closest position player (Paul Goldschmidt at 3.6). It's a remarkable turn of events for both Judge and the New York Yankees and many folks thought he would be a part time player battling for at bats in a crowded outfield that also includes Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Aaron Hicks. While there is some concern that his success is in part being driven by a almost certainly unsustainable BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .424, it's hard to dismiss some of the other metrics he has accumulated thus far.
The 2017 Diamondbacks boast a very well-rounded and surprisingly deep starting rotation. Yes, those two acquisitions from the 2015/16 offseason appeared to disappoint in 2016. Yes, one of them has continued to be a bust, albeit due to injury. Poor Shelby. Still, that unfortunate injury has not kept the Diamondbacks from boasting an extremely strong team with a remarkably complete roster in 2017.
Zack Greinke was one of the most talked about question marks of the offseason. After coming to Arizona in order to enjoy more sunsets, Zack appeared to see the sun setting on his prime years. Ohhhh snap. I used desert humor. But in all seriousness, he looked bad last year. It was fair to wonder whether he would rebound. After a winter of wondering and waiting, it now appears that Zack Greinke had mistakenly been pronounced dead. He now appears to be an ace again. Is this real? Was 2016 one giant desert mirage? Let's take a look at his performance over the past two and a half seasons.
In 2015, Greinke was incredible, finishing second place in Cy Young voting while leading the league in ERA. Last season was gross. Zack Greinke got bopped around like a beach ball.
Greinke certainly did not perform as well in 2016 as he did in his final year in Los Angeles, but he was never going to come close to that. His BABIP in 2015 was well below his previous standards. In the end, he basically struck out and walked as many guys as he did during his 2013 season (YAY!), while allowing twice as many homers (BAD!). One should have expected a more modest increase in homeruns, accompanied by a gentle bump in BABIP, and a continued display of fantastic control. He continued to throw his pitches at similar rates, with only slight changes in his uses of fastball, change, slider, curve and four-seamer. The difference? Greinke simply couldn't throw the fastball over the plate without getting slapped around. According to PitchFx data, hitters had a ridiculous .326/.368/.592 line against his fastball. His four-seamer was similarly mashed, while his other pitches continued to be effective at Greinke-like rates.
So was Greinke actually showing signs of decline? Is his recent resurgence real? Yes and yes. His fastball velocity continued to max out at 95 in 2016 and averaged half a mile an hour less than his rate from the past three years. That downward trend is obviously not promising, but it was only slightly a trend last year (Diamondbacks fans of 2016 rejoice!). Has it continued? Yes. It is now officially a trend. (Diamondbacks fans of 2017 can cry in their dirty outfield pool). Zack Greinke is now averaging 90 on his fastball and topping out around 93mph. Zack hasn't felt this bad since Kelly dumped him in high school.
So... has he continued to decline in 2017? Nope. As baseball nerds had hoped and half expected, Greinke adjusted by throwing the fastball less and mixing in his slider and change. We will never see 2015 Greinke again, but D-backs fans can bet money that they won't see 2016 Greinke anytime soon, either. His 2016 homer per flyball rate sky-rocketed to rates that aren't typical for him. While it is difficult to determine why, one could try attributing this to predictable fastballs or fear of Arizona cacti. I will lean towards fastballs and bad luck, while acknowledging that plants simply shouldn't have spikes. They freak me out. While Greinke's secondary pitches were hit hard in 2016, his fastball and four-seamer were the ones landing in the seats most often. Now that Greinke is throwing the fastball less often, and continuing to show his trademark control, he seems to be ahead of hitters.
Expect Greinke to continue being awesome. But seriously, stay away from plants that can poke you.
Spanning an entire continent, lifelong fans Chris Kubak and Tom Baird take you on a magical, sabermetrically enhanced journey through Major League Baseball.