Well, it’s official now: Zack Greinke is off to the best start to the season by any pitcher since the Royals came into existence.
He came into this game needing to allow no more than one earned run (in seven innings or less), or no more than two earned runs (if he went more than seven innings), in order to keep his ERA under 1. That possibility looked to be in danger when he gave up a soft run in the first, on a bloop double that caressed the left-field foul line, and a bloop single that shattered Magglio Ordonez’s bat. Fortunately, Greinke spent the next eight innings proving that run to be the aberration it appeared to be, and even more fortunately, the Royals finally found some offense in the sixth inning when the Tigers proved that even after the 2006 World Series, they still need to work on PFP.
(The bunt is a poor-percentage play overall, but in addition to the odds of beating out a bunt for a single, even a slight chance that the pitcher throws the ball past the first baseman makes the play look a lot better – particularly when the bunter is Luis Hernandez, whose career batting average in Triple-A is .214.)
Ten starts into the season, Greinke is 8-1 with a 0.84 ERA. He broke the team record he shared with Kevin Appier by making his 12th consecutive start without allowing more than two earned runs. Even more impressive, Greinke has now made 12 consecutive starts without allowing more than two runs, earned or not; Appier and Paul Splittorff held the previous record with nine in a row. (The longest streak of starts with two or fewer runs allowed in the Retrosheet era is 14, by Greg Maddux in 1993 and Mike Scott in 1986.)
Going back to last year, Greinke has not allowed a home run in 14 consecutive starts, which is not even the longest streak set this year – the Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez had a stretch of 15 starts that ended last week. The Retrosheet record is
The Royals’ record is
And finally, and most importantly, is this, which (as best as I could research) is the list of the lowest ERAs after 10 starts since 1954:
1966 Juan Marichal 0.59
2009 Zack Greinke 0.84
Greinke has the best ERA by a starting pitcher after ten starts in over 40 years.
In his 11th start, Marichal gave up three runs, raising his ERA to 0.80, and he got pounded for six runs in his 12th start, whereupon his ERA jumped to 1.29. Aside from Marichal, I can find only three pitchers whose ERA dipped below 1.00 at any point after they had made 10 starts. One was Hoyt Wilhelm, who in 1959 made 10 starts (and two relief appearances) to start the year, and gave up 10 earned runs in 90.1 innings, for a 0.996 ERA. Bob Gibson’s ERA famously touched 0.99 after 29 starts. Finally, Pedro Martinez, as I mentioned before, threw eight shutout innings in his 11th start in 2000, lowering his ERA to 0.95.
So if I’m doing the math right, then if Greinke throws four or more shutout innings in his next start, he will have a lower ERA than Marichal did after 11 starts, meaning lower than anyone in the Retrosheet era (and possibly in the history of baseball) has had at any point with more than ten starts. If Greinke allows no more than two earned runs in his next two starts combined (assuming he throws at least ten innings combined), he will undercut Pedro’s ERA after 12 starts in 2000, giving him the best ERA of any pitcher with 12 or more starts.
Yeah. He’s good.
- I forgot to link to this in my last post, but last Thursday’s radio show can be downloaded, as always, here.
You will notice that last week’s show was surprisingly Will Leitch-free, as our scheduled guest declined to answer his phone despite numerous attempts to have him do so. Afterwards I learned why: Leitch was not in possession of a phone, thanks to a story that involved him, an iPhone, a
The moral, I think, is clear:
- Note that this week’s show will start a little early, at
- One section of my last post became obsolete almost immediately after it was posted, when the Royals announced that they were only sending Luke Hochevar down to Omaha until the next time they needed a fifth starter, on June 6th.
Obviously, that changes the calculus of this move significantly. I have long been an advocate of the four-man rotation, or failing that, the five-day rotation, where a team’s top four starters pitch on four days’ rest whenever possible, and the fifth starter being used as a swingman when his start day gets passed over. There are 182 days from Opening Day to the final day of the season. In theory, a pitcher who starts on Opening Day and pitches every fifth day should be able to make 37 starts if the off-days and the All-Star Break fall just right, or 36 at the very least. Unfortunately, not one major league team has had the guts to keep even one of their pitchers on an every-fifth-day schedule in six years; Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux are the last two pitchers to make 36 starts in a season, back in 2003.
Greinke and Gil Meche have both vocally expressed their preference for sticking to an every-fifth-day schedule. Whatever advantage is gained by getting a day off to rest is lost by disrupting a pitcher’s off-day schedule. And if you read the studies I linked above, you’ll find that there is no evidence to suggest that pitchers do better on four days’ rest than on three days’ rest, so I can’t imagine why they’d do better on five days’ rest than four.
The Royals started the season with an obvious Big Three, and Brian Bannister, to his immense credit, has worked his way back from being the team’s seventh starter in spring training to being a very capable #4 starter – really, the team’s second-best starter this season. But the Royals have struggled to come up with a fifth starter all year. Hochevar, Sidney Ponson, and Horacio Ramirez have combined for ten starts, and in those ten starts have gone 1-7 with a 7.59 ERA. By comparison, the Big Four have gone 16-10 with a 3.04 ERA.
By going to a four-man rotation – even if it’s only for two turns through the rotation – Hillman is basically replacing a 7.59 ERA with a 3.04 ERA twice. That’s an absolutely enormous difference – even in just two starts, that works out to about seven fewer runs allowed, which is worth nearly a win. I’m not sure there’s anything a manager can do to improve his team’s record more efficiently than simply finding a way to get a few more starts to his best starters.
I still think that if this were a long-term decision, that Hochevar would be better served by going to the bullpen than continuing to start in
But over a two-week stretch, that’s a moot point. Hochevar should be back when the Royals need him. Let’s hope that this won’t be the last time that he gets skipped if it means moving The Zack Greinke Experience up a day. That guy’s good.