Zack Greinke — a six-time All-Star and the 2009 AL Cy Young recipient — will be among the marquee names in free agency following the conclusion of the World Series, along with the likes of Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer. However, there’s a catch: the soon-to-be 38-year-old is coming off arguably the worst season of his illustrious 18-year career.
Greinke has a deep repertoire of pitches, though he primarily relies on a four-pitch mix consisting of a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. Statistically speaking, the changeup — his second-most utilized in each of the past four seasons — is his best offering as opposing hitters have mustered a batting average above .200 against it only once since 2018 (.205 this past summer).
His changeup sits in the mid-80s and features devastating tailing action against left-handed batters with an average spin rate of 1,594 RPM. Opponents have consistently whiffed at approximately 30% of Greinke’s changeups over the years.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sits his four-seam fastball. Over the past two seasons — in which he has struck out 187 batters in 238 innings to go along with an ERA over 4.00 — Greinke’s fastball has been lit up by opposing batters to the tune of a .280 batting average, a slugging percentage north of .500, and 17 home runs.
This past season, Greinke’s “fast” ball sat 89 mph with an average location of middle-middle.
Additionally, the effectiveness of his curveball and slider has dropped off significantly over the past two seasons, which, when combined with his lackluster fastball, ultimately led Greinke to post a scanty 17.2% strikeout rate in 2021, his worst since 2005 (13.8%).
Greinke’s strikeout rate was only one of the lackluster stats the former ace put up this past summer: a 98 ERA- (worst since 2016); 3.33 K%-BB% (worst since 2016); 4.16 ERA (worst since (2016); 171 innings pitched (worst since 2016); 4.71 FIP (worst since 2006); 17.4% home run per fly ball ratio (worst of his career).
In short, Greinke’s performance over the last two seasons reinforces the notion that he is no longer ZACK GREINKE and is now more akin to a third or even fourth starter. (His numbers aren’t all that dissimilar to that of Michael Pineda.)
The Minnesota Twins have only two starting rotation spots — Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan — locked in for the 2022 season and will undoubtedly be active in the starting pitcher market, both in free agency and via trades. However, signing Greinke, even on a one-year deal, makes little sense. His age and recent performance suggest that a continued downward trend should be expected next summer, and he’ll likely command more money than a pitcher of equal or greater talent, such as Pineda.
The Twins would be wise to look elsewhere in search of a top of the rotation starter.