Milwaukee Brewers ace Zack Greinke is off to another phenomenal start to the season. He also becomes a free agent during the off-season, and if he continues to dominate then he will be inline for a huge payday. There's a couple of questions that I hope to answer along the way. Who will sign him and how much will they be willing to commit in the process?
Before we look at who could sign Greinke and how much he could get, let's take a look at the last few seasons and see where he ranks among other pitchers.
He's showed top control, only walking 6% of every batter that he faces and struck out out 24.5% of batters. He ranked 8th overall in all of baseball in that category. He did a good job at limiting home runs, his HR/FB% was 7.7% during that time frame. That's about 2-2.5% less than league average for pitchers. Greinke isn't a groundball pitcher, he induced groundballs 44.2% of the time, right at league average but since he limits the amount of home runs he gives up, and has excellent command it doesn't matter. All in all he managed to have an ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- of 81/69/75, and this year he's on track to do even better.
Let's take a look at how Greinke's stuff is by using some PitchF/X. We'll focus on his 2009 season when he won the American League Cy Young award. His fastball was +10 VER and -6 HOR. This means that it was fairly straight, but it also had some movement on it. His was slider was +.29 VER and +3 HOR, so it was inside to lefties, but on the outside corner for righties. His curveball was -4.99 VER and 6 HOR. It wasn't quite a sweeping curveball, but nasty nonetheless.
If you're a visual person here's an image of where Greinke's pitches landed.
His four seam fastball is in red, you can see that it is fairly straight but it does go inside slightly on righties. He did use a two seam fastball but not as much. You can also see how his curveball really goes in on lefties, here it is labeled in blue. Finally his slider is in green and practically jams lefties when they are at the plate. He did throw a change but not as frequently, only 5% of the time.
This year his fastball doesn't have as much movement, it's +9 VER and -3 HOR, but according to Texas Leaguers he is using his two seam fastball more. His two seamer has +6 VER and -8 HOR, a little more movement. One thing to remember though is that there could be some classification error involved. Rather than go through everything else here is an image.
For the most part it's pretty similar, but it looks like his change-up has more movement. Again this could be a classification error though.
Needless to say Greinke has been dominant. Who will sign him to a big contract that he deserves though? After looking at teams the top two that are most likely in my opinion are the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are most intriguing to me because they have a solid offensive nucleus. They currently rank 10th overall in wRC+ with 99 and have a couple young guys who should make the move to the big leagues. They also have one of, if not the best GM in Alex Anthropoulos. Their pitching is struggling though, they currently rank last in the league in FIP with a 4.68 mark. They have a couple nice pitchers in Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, both are struggling though. Kyle Drabek is also a nice pitcher who still has a chance to make it. Their farm system is stacked with young pitching talent so they may decide against Greinke though.
I also think the Tigers are an interesting team as well. When the Kansas City Royals put Greinke on the block the the Tigers were a team that was interested. Offensively the Tigers are as good as any team in baseball, their team wRC+ is 102 and that ranks fifth in baseball. The pitching ranks 19th and their FIP is 3.85. They've gotten fairly unlucky though. Max Scherzer isn much better than his 5.88 ERA indicates, his xFIP predicts that his ERA should be closer to 3.40. Doug Fister has also been a disappointment, he's suffered through a lot of injuries and has only made three starts.
In fact Zack Greine is almost identical to Justin Verlander in terms of production from 2009-2011. This spreadsheet will show you exactly what I mean.
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Verlander has been slightly more durable than Greinke, but Greinke has been just as good. Verlander has had the better ERA but their peripherals are nearly identical. In terms of his contract Greinke should expect at least the 5 year-$80 million dollar type deal that Verlander got. On the contrary that was an extension and Verlander wasn't on the market. A contract that is in the 6 year-$100 million dollar range might be what it will take. Greinke is 28 years old and doesn't turn 29 until October, so a team will get him for at least 3-4 good years and a couple decent years.
Greinke post 9 WAR in his Cy Young season and then 5 WAR and 3.9 WAR respectively. So far he already has 2.8 WAR and it would not be outrageous to expect him to have a couple 5-6 WAR seasons followed by a few 2-4 WAR seasons.
Whoever signs Greinke will get an ace that is capable of carry his team through a run in the playoffs, he won't come cheap though as I've showed you just how good of a pitcher he is.