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Scouting Royals Pitcher Zack Greinke

May 8, 2009 BY ALEX EISENBERG 6 Comments

So I’ve noticed a lot of people are arriving at a page on my site that has a quick take analysis on Royals pitcher Zack Greinke. In that quick take, I outsource most of the analysis to another site, but with his breakout performance in 2009, I thought I would put out an update with a fresh take on Greinke.

I’ll start by saying I don’t really have anything negative to say about Greinke. He’s the complete package with velocity and life on his plus-plus fastball, and an array of late breaking secondary pitches that has hitters in a tizzy trying to make contact. His curveball comes out of the hand looking like a fastball, but travels to home plate in the upper 60′s or low 70′s. His slider is nasty, coming out of his hand on the same plane of his fastball and not deviating from that plane until just prior to arrival. The change-up is a work in progress, but improving nonetheless. Not to mention, Greinke commands all his pitches well, to both sides of the plate and he doesn’t show a recognizable pitch pattern. Below you can see how tough it is for hitters to differentiate the fastball (left) and slider (right):

zack-greinke-fastballzack-greinke-slider
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Greinke is mechanically sound and extremely consistent. He repeats his delivery to a tee and generally maintains the same release point for each pitch. He stays very compact, in an athletic position with everything centered around his core, which makes it easier for Greinke to repeat his delivery.

Greinke has made a couple of subtle changes to his mechanics over the last couple years. He’s raised the height of his hands, his tempo is slightly slower, but his body is also traveling a longer distance because of a higher leg kick. He also turns his back toward the hitter, so if anything he’s adding a little deception to his stuff. Lastly, if you look closely, you’ll notice the 2009 version has the glove-side arm higher as his arm proceeds through its arm circle, meaning Greinke is tilting his shoulders more. This tilt makes it easier for Greinke to lead with his hips, while ensuring his upperbody doesn’t get too far out in front. It also seems to me his front-side mechanics are cleaner than before, but I don’t have the angle to say that conclusively. The 2007 version is on the left, while the 2009 version is on the right. Not shown is Greinke in 2008, where he was essentially a blend of the 07′ and 09′ versions:

zack-greinke-2007zack-greinke
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

The changes made by Greinke weren’t really about improving the quality of his stuff, but more about finding something that works for him. One of the problem areas for Greinke in the past was that while he threw strikes, his command wasn’t always precise. Now he’s hitting his spots time and time again, on the black. He’s putting his pitches in spots where hitters can’t do damage…the best they can do is foul the pitch off and hope Greinke makes a mistake on the next pitch.

But even more important for Greinke was the improvement of his secondary pitches. His slider has more velocity than ever before, while both his curveball and change-up are slower this season. The difference in speeds makes things even more difficult for hitters.

zack-greinke-torque
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Above is a good clip of Greinke’s torso action. First, notice the slight leaning of the upper body. Watch how it becomes upright when the hips start turning (use the belt-buckle as an indicator). Greinke’s creating the torque necessary to produce velocity. We can also see Greinke loading the arm horizontally, which is part of the scap loading process. The ball is pointed toward third base instead of toward center field, lessening the amount of torque on his arm. While we see the separation between the torso and hips, this clip doesn’t tell the whole story. The below clip gives us a much better indication of the separation between Greinke’s torso and hips.

zack-greinke-front
*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

We see the hips aggressively rotate — the rotation happens just before foot plant and it’s at this point we see the greatest separation occur. The torso faces toward third base with the hips facing home plate and the front shoulder still closed. As the front foot plants, the torso — like a spring — is uncoiled forward, bringing the arm with it.

Take note of Greinke’s glove as the front shoulder opens. He leaves it firm out in front of the chest, which keeps him from flying open. A firm glove is also good from an health standpoint. Some pitchers firm up their glove but will often tuck it into their side. Greinke leaves the glove out in front of his chest, allowing his chest to meet the glove rather than the other way around. The benefits are better extension on his pitches, meaning better carry through the strike zone and by releasing the ball just a little closer to home plate, he’s adding a sneaky element to his pitches.

He’s also giving his arm a longer room to decelerate, which is another attribute that lowers the risk of injury.

So is it a stretch to say Zack Greinke is the best pitcher in baseball right now? No, it isn’t. He can suffer a pretty steep drop-off in performance and still be considered the best pitcher in baseball.

In Greinke, Kansas City fans have reason to hope again and a playoff appearance — what would be their first since 1985, the year I was born — is in their sight. Royal fans born in 85′ have gone through childhood, through high school…some went to and graduated from college, and many are just getting their careers started…and they have yet to experience playoff baseball, the atmosphere, the intensity it brings out in people. I don’t think it happens this year, but soon, within the next three years it will and the experience will be well worth the wait.

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  • 6 Comments »

    • Aaron Schafer said:

      Wow. Great analysis, as always, Alex. The kid really is phenomenal.

    • David Guerreva said:

      Great analysis, but the most incredible thing I learned is that you were born in 1985?!?!?!?! Wow. I’m even more impressed now.

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Thanks for the kind words Aaron and David. Even when he’s not on his game, he’s still giving up just 1 or 2 runs.

    • Jack C. Feldman said:

      Very impressive analysis of pitching motion and mechanics — I wish the Chicago Cubs (or the San Diego Padres, now) would have hired you to save the career of Mark Prior

    • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

      Thanks for the kind words, Jack.

      While I was no fan of Prior’s mechanics (too armsy for my taste), I do think he’s been unfairly vilified as he’s become the punching bag of sorts for a lot of people when it comes to his mechanics. When it comes to Prior, we have to consider:

      1. How much his arm was abused both in college and by Dusty Baker.

      2. His collision with Marcus Giles in 2003 in which he landed on his right shoulder. Not too many people know this, but in 2006 Prior had surgery on his shoulder and this is what happened:

      If that weren’t enough to put an end to his bid to pitch this season, doctors also found a second injury — one that isn’t normally associated with baseball.

      Prior’s anterior capsule was torn away from the humerus, the bone in the upper arm. Team physicians Heinz Hoenecke and Jan Fronek performed the surgery and said the second injury is normally associated with traumatic events like a fall.

      It makes a ton of sense that Prior’s complete drop-off in performance is related to that collision.

      Cub Reporter has a good read on it if you’re interested. Original article here

      3. The line drive that fractured Prior’s elbow in 2005.

      Pitching is a nasty thing to do to your arm. When you combine it with overusage, and freak accidents, not too mention mechanics that used too much arm and too little body, it’s not a surprise Prior borke down early. It would have been interesting to see how good he could have been without having to deal all those issues above.

    • Rob Falzo said:

      the kid is a phenomenal pitcher. i love to watch him pitch and he is the pitcher i admire and learn from the most.im 15 and hes taught me a lot about mechanics and secondary pitches.