There wasn't a whole lot the Kansas City Royals fans could do once Zack Greinke forced the Royals' hand and asked them to trade him. And it's really too bad as the Royals are beginning to get fun to watch with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas now on the big club. The Future is happening now for the Royals and they just need some of their starting pitching prospects to materialize. But Greinke couldn't wait and whether you agree with his decision or not, it's a moot point. He's gone. And things are working out just the way Greinke wanted them with the Milwaukee Brewers taking over first place in the National League West, thanks in large part to Greinke's pitching.
Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award. And then, by most accounts, he got bored and his boredom bore out in his performance last season when he was more Chris Young than Cy Young. That seems like an overly-simplistic view of his season last year. You could blame his season on shoddy defense as the Royals were dead last in the American League in defensive efficiency. But they were dead last and were worse in his Cy Young Award season. His velocity was down by a MPH according to Pitch/FX. That could explain some of the difference. But the fact that he was discontent and bored seems like a plausible explanation. Whatever it was, he didn't give the Royals much choice in the matter and they did the right thing in unloading him.
After an injury in Spring Training (apparently from a pick up basketball game), Greinke began the season on the disabled list. The Brewers--who traded away most of their farm system to get Greinke and Shaun Marcum--started slowly, and since they had gone all out to win this year while they still had Prince Fielder, things weren't looking very good when they began the season 13-19. But as Rob Neyer pointed out today over at SB Nation, the Brewers have won 25 of their last 34 games. What Neyer didn't mention was that it seems like no coincidence that the run began with Greinke's first win of the season.
Not surprisingly, Greinke started a bit slowly. After his first four starts, his ERA was a balloon-like 6.43. Starting with his fifth start, the first of four in a row where his pitch count has gone over a hundred, he is back in full swing. Each of his last four starts have been quality starts and he has struck out 32 batters in his last 27 innings pitched over those four games. He won all four of them. And his ERA has come down nearly two full runs since that fourth start.
Greinke's peripherals are fantastic. His strikeouts per nine for the season stands at 11.3. His walk rate is the lowest of his career at 1.3, giving him a K/BB ratio of 8.57. Only Jair Jurrjens has a lower walk per nine rate. His ERA may stand at 4.69, but his FIP is at 2.52 and his xFIP is 2.02.
Plus, he is getting a chance to hit and with his one homer, he has an 86 OPS+. Not bad for a pitcher. And so, Zack Greinke is getting everything he could have wanted when he wanted out of Kansas City. He's pitching great, he's getting a chance to hit. He's pitching for a team now in first place and he is back to being an elite pitcher in baseball.
Somehow it still leaves somewhat of a bad taste in the mouth. But that depends on whether you think he was right about wanting out of his former situation. The Royals stuck with him and helped him with his disorder. It's hard to imagine him becoming the kind of pitcher he's become without that organization helping him the way it did. And yet, he emotionally abandoned that organization. It doesn't sit well. But if you forget all that, he's an athlete and athletes want to compete at the top level and have a chance to win. Looked at from that angle, his actions are more understandable. But again, it's too bad because if his heart had stayed in Kansas City, he's be one more cog in what is becoming a more comely wheel. His absence has hurt the Royals more than it has helped the Brewers.
But again, all that is moot. The current dynamic is that he's pitching beautifully for a team that has the look and feel of a contender. He's playing in front of packed houses at home and he is a large reason for that team's success. His presence, along with Shaun Marcum, slots Yovani Gallardo and Chris Narveson in the rotation where they belong. The Brewers made the right call (other than having Betancourt included in the deal) and their strategy is certainly paying off. Much like they hoped, Greinke is starting to become one of the elite pitchers in the National League.