$1.19 million per start. Zack Greinke had the weight of the world on his shoulders in 2016 after signing a monstrous $206.5 million contract with the Diamondbacks. With an ERA over 4 and only 158.2 innings out of the most expensive right arm on the planet, Greinke is in desperate need of a bounce-back year; but don’t bet on it.
The Arizona Diamondbacks went all in for the 2016 season. They traded the #1 overall pick of the 2015 draft in Dansby Swanson and a boat load of players to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Shelby Miller, signed Tyler Clippard to a 2 year $12.25 million contract, picked up Jean Segura from the Brewers in exchange for Aaron Hill and a minor league pitcher, resigned A.J. Pollack, and signed starting pitcher Zack Greinke to a 6 year $206.5 million contract. It looked like the Diamondbacks could have made a run for the division; and then it all came crashing down. Miller had a disastrous season, Segura was traded to Seattle, Clippard was sent to the Yankees, Pollack missed most of the season with a broken elbow, and Greinke had an injury-shortened season where his ERA ballooned to 4.37. Can he bounce back?
Let’s give you some context. Greinke had a stellar 2015 season. He finished with a 19-3 record, a 1.66 ERA, 200 strikeouts, 222.2 innings pitched, and a WAR (wins above replacement) rating of 9.3 per Baseball Reference. It looked like with the resources of the Dodgers, he would return on a huge contract extension. Then, at the 11th hour, the Diamondbacks got approval from ownership to jump into the mix and landed him with a monstrous contract for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30. Greinke did not live up to expectations. He failed to reach 160 innings pitched due to a shoulder injury and his WAR dropped to 2.3. Maybe it was pitching in hitter friendly Chase Field that lead to his disappointing season. Maybe it was his shoulder not being 100% healthy. Or maybe, he is on the decline.
One alarming sign for Greinke is his fastball velocity, which took a step backward last season. From 2013-2015, his velocity was around 92 mph. Last season, his velocity dropped to 91.3 mph. What is more alarming is how he has been unable to get his velocity to his normal averages. Nick Piecoro reported in The Arizona Republic that his velocity was uncharacteristically low in a minor league outing on March 13th. He only threw 7 fastballs over 90 mph with the the rest of his fastballs sitting in the 86-88 mph range. Greinke was not keen to answering questions about his diminished velocity. “I don’t know,” Greinke said. “I mean, the first time, it’s an interesting story. I’m not going to answer velocity questions every time the whole season. I mean, you’ve got to pick and choose your times you ask me about that.”
Now, you might be thinking, “that’s not a big deal.” It is a big deal. The higher the velocity, the higher the spin rate is on breaking balls. This leads to more movement and ‘bite’ to a pitch. Lower fastball velocity means that Greinke cannot blow pitches past a hitter. He has to have near-perfect placement of his pitches to avoid getting hit. He cannot afford to make mistakes, especially in hitter friendly Chase Field. The fact is Greinke is in decline. There is no telling as to how long he can pitch at a high level or if he can even be a shadow of himself from 2015.
Now, scouts have suggested that his mechanics and secondary pitches would allow him to age gracefully and still be a top tier pitcher well into his 30s. What scouts can’t control is where Greinke pitches and what injuries he will sustain. Arm injuries for pitchers are never good, no matter the severity. The hot Arizona summers, even with the roof closed, make the ball fly out of the park. If the Dbacks are going to get any return on their investment, whether its keeping Greinke for the remaining 5 years, trading him and eating part of his contract, or flat out releasing him entirely depends on him staying healthy and rebounding. There are, however, too many factors stacked against him. I don’t see a 33 year old pitcher with diminishing velocity throwing in a hitter friendly park coming off of a shoulder injury being able to get back to where he was before.
If you draft Zack Greinke, draft him in the later rounds. If you’re counting on him to carry the Diamondbacks to a wild card spot, don’t. One thing is for sure; that contract is looking worse and worse by the minute.