Is Zack Greinke Too Efficient?

Zack Greinke is having one of the weirdest seasons I can remember a Brewers pitcher ever having. If you look deep into his numbers, he looks dominating. After his start against the Cubs on Thursday, Greinke has now racked up 70 strikeouts and just 9 walks in 53.1 innings.

That means per 9 innings pitched, Greinke is striking out 11.86. If he qualified for the league leaderboards, he’d be the runaway leader — among those who do qualify, Cliff Lee is leading the league at 10.14. Greinke is striking out nearly 2 batters more per 9 innings. As far as the walks go, those 9 walks in 53.1 innings translates into 1.62 walks per 9. That would rank 6th in baseball.

Greinke’s problem, of course, is that when opponents do make contact, they’re hitting the ball hard. Coming into Thursday, Greinke was carrying a line drive percentage of 25.8%, which would be his highest rate since 2007. He’s surrendering about as many fly balls as he has the past couple seasons, but for whatever reason, more of them are carrying out of the park — Greinke was carrying a Home Run-to-Fly Ball ratio of 12.5%. He hasn’t had a full-season number that high since his rookie year in 2004, when he was just 20 years old.

I had to follow Thursday’s game at work, but I saw quite a few tweets wondering if Greinke was actually throwing too many strikes — a problem we’re a bit unfamiliar with as Brewers fans. That concern, for example expressed by Jim Breen of Bernie’s Crew, appears to have some validity. On Thursday, Greinke threw 64 of his 104 for strikes (61.5%). Add those numbers to his previous starts, and Greinke has thrown 590 strikes out of 893 total pitches (66%). Just for the sake of comparison, he threw 62.7% of his pitches for strikes last season, and 63.4% of his pitches during his Cy Young year of 2009.

Basically, as hard as Greinke has been to hit, batters have a 2-in-3 shot of guessing right on a pitch being in the strikezone. I don’t know if that totally explains why he’s being hit so hard, but it could certainly play a role. Things like pitch selection — especially with runners on and/or in scoring position — are definitely also worth a look.

Has he left a little to be desired so far? Sure. It stinks seeing so many home runs, but we’re still only talking about 9 starts/just over 50 innings. If you were expecting Sabathia-type numbers, you’re probably disappointed, but it’s still too early to consider the trade a failed move.

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