Avg Ranking (High/Low/Most Common): 15.90 (5/50/11)
Stats: 58 starts, 361 IP, 3.71 ERA, 8.3 bWAR
Best Season: 2017 - 32 starts, 202.1 IP, 3.20 ERA, 6.0 bWAR
In December of 2015, I was sitting in Blue 32 Sports Grill, wondering if the Diamondbacks would be able to sign Mike Leake. Suddenly, an ESPN alert: “Breaking: Arizona Diamondbacks Sign Zack Greinke to a 6-year, $206.5M Deal” By AAV, it was the largest contract in not just Diamondbacks history, but MLB history. On that night, however, excitement eliminated any concerns I had about the dollar signs.
Greinke’s career before coming to Arizona was one of peaks and not valleys but plateaus. He was drafted out of Apopka High School in Florida in the sixth round of the 2002 draft by the Kansas City Royals, and made his MLB debut on May 22nd of 2004. He was a member of the Royals rotation for seven years, where he posted a 3.82 ERA over 1108 innings and 169 starts. It was in Kansas City where he had what many thought would be the greatest season of his career. In 2009, the right-hander put up a 2.16 ERA (205 ERA+) on his way to his first All-Star appearance and the AL Cy Young Award. Greinke was traded to the Brewers before the 2011 season, then to the Angels(?!?!) at the 2012 trade deadline.
After a decade of being consistently above-average, Greinke finally morphed into one of the game’s elite after signing with the Dodgers before the 2013 season. His ERA was sub-3 each season with L.A., including a ridiculous 2015 where Zack went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA (222 ERA+). By ERA+, that season remains the 8th-best by a pitcher in the integration era.
The 2015-2016 free agency class was headed by a trio of starting pitchers: Greinke, Johnny Cueto, and David Price. The Diamonbacks had made a 6-year, 120-million dollar offer to Cueto, but were not considered to be truly in the mix for any of the big three pitchers. Either the Giants or Dodgers were expected to win the Greinke sweepstakes when, out of absolutely nowhere, the Diamondbacks swooped in and signed Zack to one of the largest contracts in MLB history. Ken Rosenthal had a wonderful write-up here on how the deal went down in just 5-and-a-half hours.
Greinke’s 2016, like the rest of the Diamondbacks’ that season, was a disappointment. A 4.37 ERA left a lot to be desired from a guy who made 34 million dollars that year. Still, signs of promise were shown, such as a 3-hit shutout at home against the Blue Jays on June 7.
In 2017, Zack was the ace that Arizona needed. While pitchers like Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, and Patrick Corbin took much of the spotlight with stretches of dominance, Greinke provided consistent greatness all year. He was especially excellent when the D-Backs needed him most; from August 25 to September 16, the 34-year-old made five starts, all against division rivals, and went 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA.
Heading into 2018, some fans believe that Robbie Ray will overtake Greinke as the ace of the staff. While projection systems such as PECOTA would agree, I still give the edge to the 14-year veteran. Don’t be surprised if he posts another season like 2009 or 2015.