In a data-driven piece, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic examines some of the reasons behind Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke’s early season difficulties. Greinke’s ERA through three starts (6.75) is more than five runs worse than the league-best 1.66 he put up as a Dodger last season, and ERA estimators like FIP (4.52) and xFIP (4.30) also aren’t particularly bullish on his performance. Part of the reason, as Piecoro details, is that Greinke is finding too much of the plate. Only 111 of Greinke’s 3,239 pitches were center-cut (roughly belt-high over the middle) last season, while he has already thrown 14 such pitches this year, Piecoro found from Pitch-f/x data at BrooksBaseball.Net. Further, 11 of Greinke’s pitches have gone over the center of the plate and up in the zone, and 10 more have traveled over the plate and just above the strike zone. Greinke has therefore put himself in position to get hit harder than usual, which is exactly what has happened. In fact, 6.5 percent of balls hit off Greinke this year have carried exit velocities of at least 95 mph compared to 5.3 percent in 2015, per Statcast. Greinke is fresh off his best start as a Diamondback (seven innings, two earned runs, five strikeouts, one walk in San Diego), but Padres hitters swung at just 39 percent of his change-ups, the lowest rate in his last 18 starts, according to Piecoro. As a result, both the D-backs and Greinke wondered if he or someone else was tipping his pitches, manager Chip Hale said after the game.
More from the National League…
- Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman doesn’t believe the major leagues have properly welcomed Cuban-born players in the past. “We as an industry, in my opinion, have failed our Cuban players,” Friedman told Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller. “We sign them for big money and rush them to the big leagues.” Friedman certainly has a point about the league having failed Cubans, as it only began assigning Latin players translators this year, which Miller notes. On the other hand, pricey free agents who arrive from Japan have been given translators immediately. Considering Friedman’s thoughts, it’s no surprise that he and the Dodgers are putting forth an effort to help star Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig fit in better in his fourth year. Friedman said earlier this spring that first-year manager Dave Roberts and his staff were doing “a great job creating a relationship” with Puig, who stated over the winter that he wanted to be a better teammate. “It showed a level of vulnerability to me,” commented Friedman. Puig had a down year in 2015, but his performance has been sensational early this season, as indicated by a scorching .357/.449/.548 line in 42 plate appearances.
- Former Korean and Japanese league reliever Seung-hwan Oh has made a seamless transition to the Cardinals’ bullpen in his first year in the majors and is primed to earn more responsibility, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. The South Korea native has allowed a mere one hit in 6 2/3 scoreless innings, adding a whopping 11 strikeouts against five walks. The righty threw two shutout frames Saturday and successfully retired one of the game’s premier left-handed hitters, the Reds’ Joey Votto. With first base open, Oh could’ve pitched around Votto, but he challenged the first baseman and ultimately retired him on a fly out. “We like his stuff against lefties,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We’re going to get more opportunities to see (it).” More Oh could mean less Seth Maness, who has an unimpressive K/BB (1.5) and bloated 8.31 ERA in 4 1/3 innings this year.
- After beginning the season in a 1-for-15 funk with eight strikeouts and no walks, Cardinals center fielder Randal Grichuk has since gone 6 of 17 with four extra-base hits (two home runs, two doubles), eight walks and four K’s. Thanks in part to his work with a pitching machine called a Hack Attack, Grichuk is now seeing pitches better. Prior to his turnaround, Grichuk stood in the cage at Turner Field last week and watched nearly 50 sliders from the machine. “The first few, maybe five to 10, I just took. The last 30 to 40 I would call out if it was a ball or strike as soon as I could pick it up,” he told Goold. Said assistant hitting coach Derrick May, “Just seeing pitches and building the strength of their eyes with work. What better to do it than with a slider machine?”