Baseball can be an infuriating game. For some, it can be infuriating just because of how difficult it is to do everything right. Casey McGehee knows right now, as he remains mired in a massive slump and just can’t seem to do anything right. For Zack Greinke, the beginning to his season was infuriating too, but in a far different way.
For his first four starts, Greinke was pitching about as well as any 6.00 ERA pitcher in MLB history has pitched. In 21 innings, Greinke struck out a whopping 29 batters while walking only two. Four home runs were worrisome, certainly, but shouldn’t have resulted in an ERA above 6.00. Luckily, Greinke’s bats supported him to the tune of 20 runs in those four games, allowing him to escape with a 2-1 record. Imagine the fire he would’ve drawn with a 1-3 record through his early struggles.
Monday night, Greinke continued to succeed with a similar process. The Marlins only managed two runs off him in seven innings, and those came off two Logan Morrison hits on pitches out of the strike zone. Despite his relative success over his last three starts — 20 IP, 3.15 ERA, 22 K, 5 BB, 1 HR — we still haven’t seen anywhere near what he’s capable of.
The three stats that tend to be most based in luck — or the the very least, depending on how much or how little you believe in luck, the ones that tend toward average in larger samples — for pitchers are strand rate (LOB%), batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and home runs per fly ball (HR/FB%). This year, Greinke is sitting on the “unlucky” side of all three despite his solid run over his last three starts. His LOB% is 11 points below league average, his BABIP is 59 points higher than league average, and his HR/FB% is roughly three points higher than league average.
So what we’ve seen from Greinke in his last three starts — good, solid performances, although not quite the domination some expected — should be just a taste. If we can believe his FIP (2.55) or xFIP (2.08), both better estimators of future ERA than ERA itself, Greinke should be capable of posting an ERA below 2.50 for the rest of the season. Watching his electric stuff for the first seven starts, I see no reason why not to believe. Buckle up, Brewers fans. Zack is just getting started.