Dodgers 2014 profile: Zack Greinke, chasing 2009

Harry How

In his final 19 starts of 2013, including the playoffs, Greinke put up a 1.74 ERA with a 4.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

In his first season in Los Angeles, Zack Greinke gave the Dodgers exactly what they hoped for, a suitable complement to ace Clayton Kershaw for as formidable a one-two punch as there is in the game*. But at the same time, Greinke heads into 2014 with many ways to improve.

*Yes, Tigers fans, I can hear you groaning.

First and foremost is his health, which in many ways boils down to not suffering a freak injury from a hard-charging hit batsman. Greinke was supposed to miss eight weeks after breaking his collarbone after a hit from Carlos Quentin during a benches-clearing brawl in San Diego on April 11. Greinke missed just five weeks after an aggressive rehab, but his rust showed upon his return, with him topping out at just 5⅓ innings in his first four starts back.

But starting on June 6, exactly eight weeks after breaking his collarbone, Greinke had a 2.19 ERA the rest of the regular season, with 128 strikeouts and 38 walks in 147⅔ innings. He allowed just 19 runs in his final 16 starts, including no more than two runs in any of his final 12 starts.

There was also the issue of elbow discomfort that popped up during spring training in 2013. Greinke briefly returned to Los Angeles to receive an injection of platelet-rich plasma in March, and while it turned out to be a minor issue the inflammation forced Greinke to spend the better part of last spring playing catch-up. Greinke, the Dodgers' No. 2 starter, didn't make his debut until the fourth game of the season. Again, a minor thing, but it's something to potentially worry about if you're in the market for dread.

This sounds like nitpicking, as Greinke did have an excellent season in 2013. But getting 33 starts out of the right-hander instead of 28 could make a big difference for the Dodgers.

When Greinke was signed in December 2012, I noted a gap between his peripheral and actual numbers, wondering which pitcher the Dodgers would get:

In the three years since his Cy Young Award, Greinke has been solid but also an enigma. He has 582 strikeouts and 154 walks in 604 innings during that span, and is eighth in baseball in FIP (3.16) and fifth in xFIP (3.17) during that span. But despite the peripherals Greinke over the last three seasons is 50th in ERA (3.83) and tied for 31st in ERA+ (106).

In 2013, Greinke put up a 3.23 FIP (15th among qualified MLB starters) and 3.45 xFIP (21st), but his ERA was 2.63 (fifth). Go figure.

Greinke struck out 20.6% of his batters faced, his lowest mark since 2010. But after those eight weeks after the broken collarbone, Greinke struck out 22.1% in his final 22 starts, higher than his career rate of 21.3% but still lower than than the 26.5% strikeout rate during his previous National League time with the Brewers.

In many ways Greinke is still chasing his amazing 2009 season, when he struck out a career-high 242 batters and put up a 2.16 ERA, a 205 ERA+ in winning the American League Cy Young Award with the Royals. For most of the second half of 2013, Greinke found that groove again.

"My location has been as good as ever for a long stretch," Greinke said last September. "It has happened for a couple of starts, but this is the best location I've had for a longer time."

If Greinke can pick up where he left off last season, and stay healthy all year, 2014 will be a memorable year.

Trivia

Greinke, then 19, was 11-1 with a 1.14 ERA in with Advanced Class-A Wilmington in the Carolina League, with 78 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 87 innings before getting promoted to Double-A Wichita in July. Later that month he struck out two batters in a perfect fourth inning in the 2003 Futures Game in Chicago.

In nine starts with Double-A, the young Greinke put up a 3.23 ERA but also had just three unintentional walks among his 214 batters faced.

Contract status

Greinke is in the second season of a six-year, $147 million contract. He receives $29 million in 2014, including $24 million in base salary and the last $5 million of his signing bonus on February 1. Greinke can opt out of the deal after the 2015 season.

Previous profiles

2013: A strong second fiddle

Stats

Year Age IP BB% K% ERA FIP
2011 27 171⅔ 6.3% 28.1% 3.83 2.98
2012 28 212⅓ 6.2% 23.0% 3.48 3.10
2013 29 177⅔ 6.4% 20.6% 2.63 3.23
2014 projections - Age 30 season
Source IP BB% K% ERA FIP
Bill James 214 6.1% 22.2% 3.32 3.27
Oliver 189 6.1% 22.5% 3.19 3.28
Steamer 192 6.4% 21.2% 3.44 3.23
ZiPS 192 5.6% 22.3% 2.95 2.94

Greinke was a formidable number two behind Kershaw in the playoffs, putting up a 2.57 ERA in his three postseason starts with 17 strikeouts and two walks in his 21 innings.

2014 outlook

Most of those projections are pretty similar, so I'll stay in that range. I'll guess Greinke puts up a 3.22 ERA with 203 strikeouts in 218 innings. What's your guess?

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