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Big League Stew

Slumpbot .200: Zack Greinke struggles in rebound from DL

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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Using the best technology available to us today, SlumpBot .200 identifies a few players who are currently having a bit of trouble and then offers solutions for performance recovery.

Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers

Data: 2-1, 6.60 ERA, 15 IP, 2.39 FIP, 1.20 WHIP, 10.0 K/BB

Malfunction: This isn't how it was supposed to work. The Brewers sold the farm this offseason, giving up top prospects Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress, plus starting shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain for Shaun Marcum, Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. They figured that with the Scott Boras-advised Prince Fielder in a walk year, they were going to have to make a push for 2011 or bust. Unfortunately, the first things to bust were Zack Greinke's ribs, and after returning from a month-long trip to the DL, Greinke has hardly been lights-out, giving up 11 earned runs in 15 innings.

Diagnosis: For Greinke, it's a repeat of 2010 all over again. Last year, he had fine peripherals but disappointing results — his 4.17 ERA was appreciably higher than his 3.34 FIP, as Lady Luck conspired with the awful Royal defense against Greinke. Unfortunately, the Brewers had to compromise their defense in order to get Greinke, trading Escobar for the markedly inferior throw-in Yuniesky Betancourt. Still, this is ridiculous. Greinke has 20 strikeouts against just two walks this year, and his 6.60 ERA is nearly three times higher than his 2.39 FIP; his 1.59 xFIP would be the best in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify for the title.

What does all that mean? It means he's getting absurdly unlucky again. His .359 Batting Average on Balls in Play is nearly 50 points higher than his career .310 mark, and his 8.3 percent homer per fly ball rate is 1.9 percent higher than his career rate. So he's giving up more hits and more homers than you'd expect. Most strikingly of all, though, his strand rate is just 39.5 percent this year, miles below the major league average of 72.6 percent or his career average of 72.2 percent. In other words, while Greinke usually strands nearly three-quarters of his baserunners, this year a large majority of them are scoring.

He's not just being dinked and doinked to death, as he has given up 10 extra base hits: two homers, two triples and six doubles. But his numbers would look a lot better if not for the nightmare fifth inning of his last start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, when he gave up one of his homers, one of his triples, and three of his doubles, as the Pirates scored five runs against him. (Fittingly, Greinke struck out the last batter he faced.) After the fourth inning, he had a 3.86 ERA on the season, with a .196 batting average against. That one inning raised his ERA by nearly three runs. In other words, it shouldn't color perceptions of Greinke too heavily. {YSP:MORE}

Reboot Directions: Greinke's doing the two most important things he can possibly do: striking out a ton of guys and hardly walking anybody. In one nightmare inning against the Pirates, he gave up a ton of hard contact, but as long as he's getting this many swings and misses, the fluky runs will even out and he'll pitch as expected. It's too bad for the Brewers, who are already five games behind the division-leading Reds and will have to play the best baseball of their lives to leapfrog both the Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. But Greinke is still the pitcher they thought they were getting, even if he probably won't win the Cy Young.

Which other players are struggling at the start of the season?

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John Danks, Chicago White Sox 0-6, 4.32 ERA, 58 1/3 IP, 4.06 FIP, 1.46 WHIP, 1.91 K/BB
Mark Buehrle is the household name, but John Danks has arguably been the best White Sox pitcher each year since 2008. This year, though, he's just a little off. It's not just that he's 0-6 — he's had some hard-luck losses and no-decisions, like April 13, when his team lost after he pitched eight innings of one-run ball, or April 19, when they lost after he allowed just two runs in seven innings — but he's been inconsistent, and in three starts this month he has a 5.12 ERA in 19 1/3 innings, with 11 walks against just six strikeouts. He's not striking out nearly as many people as he did in the early going: In his first five starts, he had 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings, and in his last four starts, his K rate has been 3.2 K/9. He's already uncorked four wild pitches, twice as many as he did all of last year, and on Tuesday, he walked six men in 6 1/3 innings. On the other hand, all in all, while he's been occasionally shaky, he hasn't been that much worse than usual — his xFIP is 4.01 this year, and it was 3.99 last year. His BABIP is .317, 28 points higher than last year. And his walk rate looked a whole lot better before yesterday. If he can rediscover his strikeouts from the beginning of the season, he'll be fine. If he keeps on walking more people than he strikes out, though, he could stay winless for a while longer.

Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies 0-3, 6.14 ERA, 36 2/3 IP, 4.45 FIP, 1.53 WHIP, 1.61 K/BB
Speaking of pitchers with control problems, Ubaldo Jimenez has walked 23 men through 36 2/3 innings, the highest walk rate of his career. But that's not the only thing wrong. His fastball is 3-4 mph slower than last year. Tom Verducci quotes the opinion of one scout: "He's pitching like he's hurt." The Rockies deny that he's hurt, but Ubaldo clearly is not the man he used to be (and this may go back to the second half of last year, says ESPN's Steve Berthiaume). The Rockies simply have too much invested in Jimenez to let him pitch his arm off. They need to give him a thorough examination, assuming he's hurt, and not allow him to throw another inning until they have satisfied themselves otherwise.

Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles .221/.273/.331, 3 HR, 19 RBIs, 6 SB, 1 CS, 12/21 BB/K
At the beginning of the year, many wondered whether Roberts's balky back would keep him out of the Orioles' opening day lineup. He made the start, but he hasn't been right this year. He went through an 0-for-26 stretch earlier this month, and he's batting .150 overall in May; Wednesday, the Orioles announced they were holding him out for a second straight game. The Orioles haven't announced that he's injured, but it's hard to assume any other explanation for his lack of production and for his second straight off day. He's 33, which is no longer young, particularly for a player who hardly missed any time at the keystone from 2007 to 2009. His walk rate has also dropped, however, which suggests that pitchers have thrown him more strikes and he has been unable to make them pay. Here's hoping that he and the team can use the time off to figure out what his body needs, because he doesn't appear to be in a condition to play effectively right now.

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