Zack Greinke gave up five hits and four earned runs against the Twins — an improvement over his last start, sure, but still short of whatever expectations we all have whenever he takes the mound.
Giving up five hits isn’t terrible. It’s the 6th time in 12 starts that he’s allowed 5 hits or less. The problem (again) was that two of those hits were home runs, accounting for all four of his earned runs. As Todd Rosiak pointed out in his game story, giving up a home run to Jim Thome isn’t a huge deal. It’s happened to pitchers 594 times before Greinke surrendered the solo shot in the 2nd inning, and Thome jumped all over a first-pitch fastball.
The more egregious error was the high, straight fastball he gave Rene Tosoni in the 4th inning. It doesn’t matter that Tosoni was hitting below the Uecker Line coming into the game. Most professional hitters are able to punish the pitch Greinke made in that at-bat. Unfortunately for Greinke and the Brewers, the right-hander has struggled to avoid those batting practice-type pitches with runners in scoring position.
While just about every pitcher will fare worse with runners on base and in scoring position, Greinke’s numbers entering Sunday were especially bad. Before taking the mound against the Twins, opponents were hitting .328 against him with RISP, mostly aided by a .415 batting average on balls in play. It’s a small sample size, but Greinke had faced 70 batters with RISP, and 21 have been able to get a hit. Eleven of those hits were for extra bases. The scary part of that BABIP number is that home runs are discounted (as are strikeouts, though, and to be fair he has been able to work himself out of a number of other jams).
He’s now made 12 starts since coming off the disabled list, and has surrendered 10 home runs. Half of those have come with runners in scoring position. It’s impossible to know if he’s just having problems pitching from the stretch, if he’s losing focus with runners on, or if he’s just made 5 really bad pitches at the worst possible time.
Plenty of people are ready to give up on Greinke, but if he can find a way to stop giving up three-run homers, he’ll look a lot better in the second half of the season. Revolutionary analysis, I know, but if Tosoni doesn’t hit that home run, Greinke’s outing on Sunday looks a lot better and I’m probably not writing this post. No, Greinke won’t be repeating his Cy Young season this year. That’s okay. What is still possible, though, is something more similar to his 2008 season, when he gave up 21 home runs but finished the year with a 3.47 ERA, struck out 183 in 202 innings, and had a WAR of 4.9. That’s still a very good year. That’s still in reach, and if Greinke pitches well enough to get there, the Brewers will be fine.