Brewers Need Greinke | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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Brewers Need Greinke

By on April 4, 2012

Right-hander Zack Greinke has reportedly paired up with agent Casey Close for the upcoming season, which has raised expectations that serious contract discussions are either underway or about to occur between the Brewers and their ace.

I am not about to argue over what profiles as a fair price for Zack Greinke. Nicholas Zettel wrote an in-depth piece yesterday on contract comparables and what Greinke could ultimately look to demand on any potential contract extension with the Brewers. If you have any thoughts or questions about the price tag, I urge you to head over to his article and peruse the information.

Instead, the purpose of this article is to argue that Milwaukee needs Zack Greinke.

The Brewers have learned the hard way that postseason berths only happen with adequate pitching. The 2008 run only happened after Doug Melvin swung a brilliant mid-season trade for CC Sabathia, and the 2011 postseason run came as the team’s pitching staff posted the fourth-best team FIP in the league. Scoring runs is absolutely necessary (see Seattle and Oakland), but this Brewers organization has always been successful when it has quality pitching staffs with a legitimate ace atop the heap.

If Greinke were to leave via free agency after the 2012 season and sign with another organization, the Milwaukee Brewers would be left with Yovani Gallardo as the de facto ace. Gallardo is a very fine pitcher. He posted a 3.52 ERA last season and has essentially been a three-win pitcher in each of the past three years. That is extremely valuable for an organization, and at only age 26, the young right-hander still projects to have room for improvement before hitting his proverbial peak years in the next two or three seasons.

Still, Gallardo does not profile as a traditional ace. He surrenders too many home runs and does not generate enough swinging strikes to be a true ace. I would argue that he is a fringe ace — a pitcher that is a #1 on a second or third tier team — but not a true ace in the definitional sense of the word.

Zack Greinke, on the other hand, has proven that he can carry a pitching staff for consecutive months. He is a perennial Cy Young candidate and posted a 2.98 FIP last season. The peripherals are phenomenal, and he should better be able to keep opposing hitters off his fastball this year with his newly-developed cutter that has dominated teams this spring. By all accounts, Greinke appears poised for a Cy Young caliber season.

The Milwaukee Brewers do not often have the ability to sign players of this caliber. CC Sabathia went elsewhere because Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio could not hope to match the Yankees’ lucrative offer. Cole Hamels should hit the market this spring, but he projects to garner a Cliff Lee type contract with another stellar performance this year for the Phillies.

Zack Greinke could be had around the five-year, $100M mark with a team option for a sixth year. That obviously sounds extremely high, as the Milwaukee Brewers would be paying him $20M per year, but consider what type of value that is paying to receive in this new market. Teams are roughly paying $5M per win on the open market at this time. A $20M per year contract would necessitate that Greinke produce at least +4.0 WAR per season. In each of the last four seasons, Greinke has compiled a four-win season, and that includes the past two campaigns that saw the right-hander “underperform” to expectations.

The Milwaukee Brewers have a chance to legitimately buy low at $20M per year on Zack Greinke. That sounds crazy to say at this point, but his past performance shows that to be true. If it were not for his anxiety issues (which have been largely non-existent in Milwaukee) and his 2010 season, Greinke would be looking at legitimate ace money on the open market and would be out of the Brewers’ price range.

This is the Brewers’ chance to secure an ace for the starting rotation. Without Greinke, the organization will likely be without one for the foreseeable future. Gallardo does not project to be an ace unless something clicks with his changeup and he can utilize it regularly against lefties and righties. The quartet of young arms in the minors — Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley, and Tyler Thornburg – will probably not produce an ace, as all four are projected to be #2 or #3 starters, at the most.

Most playoff teams need an ace. The Cardinals had Chris Carpenter last year. The Phillies had Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee. The Diamondbacks had Ian Kennedy (who postsed ace-like numbers last year). The Yankees had CC Sabathia. The Rays had David Price. The Tigers had Justin Verlander. The Rangers had C.J. Wilson (who also pitched like an ace last year).

The Brewers will not have that ace atop their rotation without signing Zack Greinke, and the Brewers have a chance to sign him to a long-term contract that could legitimately look reasonable — if not actually enviable — as the years progress. He will be out of the team’s price range if he converts his 2.98 FIP into actual run prevention this upcoming season. The time to engage Greinke in contract discussions is now. The time to sign him to a contract extension is now. The time to secure the Brewers’ future starting rotation is now.

Imagine … in a couple of seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers could trot out a starting rotation that looks like this:

(1) RHP Zack Greinke
(2) RHP Yovani Gallardo
(3) RHP Wily Peralta
(4) RHP Taylor Jungmann
(5) LHP Jed Bradley

That projection obviously puts the carriage before the horses, as guaranteeing big league success from any pitching prospect is foolish, but dreams of that rotation should place a smile on the face of many Brewers fans.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Nicholas Zettel says: April 4, 2012

    I am happy you posted this, Jim — I told my wife this morning that we should have a Greinke article every day, given that he’s such a polarizing player, and the most interesting statistical anomaly in the league.

    Here’s what I can’t get over for Greinke: can the Brewers afford to pay him $20 million a year, if he continues to work average seasons, as he did in 2010 and 2011? There are plenty of examples of MLB pitchers that don’t pitch particularly great over the course of their contracts, so the idea that Greinke should be signed even if he’s going to be an average pitcher still has some merit.

    Obviously, not all wins against replacement are created equal — Greinke’s pitching in an organization with a bunch of solid young arms coming up, and the Brewers are in a good situation to be able to rotate around a core of young pitchers should anything go wrong.

    Furthermore, the Brewers have one of the best extended cores in the NL Central; so, we’re not talking getting a team from the 75-76 win threshold to a competitive status. We’re talking about a team that has a pretty good potential to compete in the next half decade; so, if even an average pitcher is the difference between making the playoffs and not (and that’s still nearly 20 actual runs above most “replacement” pitchers), the Brewers might actually be able to sustain a $100 million gamble as that playoff revenue rolls in.

    It’d be great to finally see Greinke pitch like an ace, too.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: April 4, 2012

      ( I should add, to that last line, “in a Brewers’ uniform”).

    • J.P. Breen says: April 4, 2012

      I suppose our biggest disagreement lies in the predictive validity of his previous two seasons. In terms of run prevention, he did perform near the league average. His peripherals (and frankly, his talent) suggest that we should not expect that league average performance to continue.

      You can look back at his previous two seasons, or you could look back at the previous two seasons before that, too. At that point, we begin to just cherry-pick seasons to fit the narrative we wish to portray. At the same time, we could also look at his stuff (which is top-of-the-rotation stuff) and his ability to dominate a given ball game. Zack Greinke has all of the tools that you want from a pitcher. The Brewers should sign him before he shows that this season and leaves the realm of possibility in terms of contract price.

      • Nicholas Zettel says: April 4, 2012

        Indeed. Although, I can’t disagree with the scouting or projective value of his peripherals. That stuff is consistently solid on his end.

        I am being more blunt with his actual performance because I’m interested to know the absolute breaking point for his value with the Brewers. If signing him as a potential ace with top rotation stuff is the idea, I’m interested to know what happens if his ceiling continues to not materialize. Part of me does believe that the Brewers can afford to lock him up on potential.

        I think part of me believe we dive 100% into the scouting side — think of Greinke getting a clean slate with a new contract; any MLB team would probably jump at his talent and potential alone if he was a free agent. It’s simply so rare to see that argument made about an actual MLB player, and not an overseas free agent or young, foreign prospect.

        • Rob says: April 4, 2012

          Its rare to see people talk of potential when Greinke has been so dominant.

          Here’s Greinke’s LOB per month

          So either Greinke learned how to pitch with men on base or something else is happening here.

          • Nicholas Zettel says: April 5, 2012

            You might find this of interest — Greinke made a mechanical adjustment midseason. In fact, if you watch some of his early starts, he was having so much trouble repeating his delivery at times that Roenicke and co. would have him pitch from the wind-up with men on (see start @ Minnesota)


  2. Matt Tracy says: April 4, 2012

    You’re really splitting haris when you say that CJ Wilson was an ace last year and Gallardo was a fringe ace. I would take Gallardo at his age and consistancy over Wilson all week and twice on Sunday.

    I agree that we need to lock up Grienke. Worst-case scenario, he’s an average pitcher at a price that average pitchers might start getting in a year or 2 (especially when number of innings is factored in). Best case scenario is we have Ace 1 and Ace 1a. in Greinke and Gallardo.

    Also, your projected future line-up: biggest line-up I can think of. Almost all big boys.


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