Zack Greinke is one of the 5 best pitchers of his generation. Everything I have seen, studied, and heard leads me to this conclusion. Yesterday, Sean wrote a wonderful article chronicling Zack’s career, and breaking down how he has utilized his all around game and intelligence to enhance his pitching skills and contributions to his team’s. It was the perfect segue into this article on the Hall of Fame case for Greinke.
When I refer to “generation” I am essentially looking at pitchers who’s career began in 1999 or later, so that the bulk of their career overlapped with Zack’s. I think this is especially important in this era where starting pitcher’s roles and workloads have changed so much. As part of my research for this article I contacted Jay Jaffe, the creator of JAWS. You can read about how JAWS works HERE and see JAWS all time tables HERE . Essentially what JAWS does is try to weight PEAK and CAREER by averaging the peak 7 years production with overall career production in a way that captures both dominance and longevity. It’s a great way to elevate guys that were dominant in shorter careers, and avoid overrating guys that were “compilers” with long careers without ever being dominant in any stretch. Jay wrote an article last September on Greinke’s HOF case HERE . He has also been kind enough to correspond with me and answer some questions as part of my research for this article. He made the following comment to me in one of those emails:
I do think that this year’s election of Halladay and Mike Mussina really opens the door for a 21st century reckoning with this current generation of starters, where win totals will be less emphasized relative to measures of run prevention, strikeout milestones, value metrics, and awards/honors. All of those have been part of the conversation for awhile, but the mix is changing.
Prior to the last few years BWAAA voters have been reluctant to vote for pitchers that did not have 300 wins. But that paradigm has finally seemed to pass . This is an important point as it relates to Zack’s HOF chances. Zack is about to surpass 200 wins, (he’s currently at 196 and 3rd on the active leaderboard). He’s already passed 2500 K’s and ranks 4th among actives in that category. Much was made over how getting to 3000 K’s enhanced C.C. Sabathias’ HOF chances. Zack’s got a good chance to meet that milestone. But these numbers may not be what propels his case when it’s time for him to hit the ballot sometime between 2027-2030
Ok, enough with the yacking. I know you guys are here for the tables. So where does Zack line up amongst his peers in other more “modern” measures of value and run prevention.
1.) This table is ranked by JAWS. As noted at the column header, the average HOF’er has 61.5 JAWS. Suggest going back to the link above to the all time JAWS table to get a longer view as well. Zack already ranks 35th all time. And if you take out the guys that pitched the bulk of their career prior to 1920 he ranks 22nd. Think about....22nd all time since 1920.
2.) JAWS includes pitcher offense, or Batting WAR, which includes Batting, Base running, and DP avoidance. I broke it out for you in the chart so you can see clearly how much of a bump Zack gets for his batting. Note that when you go to a pitchers Baseball-Reference.com page, the career WAR total at the top of the page is this number, not just the pitching WAR.
3.) Pitcher WAR does not include fielding, as its presumed that the pitcher’s fielding is already baked into his run prevention. More on this later.
4.) I also show WAA or Wins Above Average. I personally feel that WAA is important to check when looking at HOF credentials. Players that last a long time often add WAR by being above replacement level, even if they are average or below average. While longevity is important, tacking on 3-4 seasons where a pitcher is below average at the end of the career shouldn’t really add to a HOF case very much. This is another way of getting at the same question that JAWS is looking at.
5.) I added an IP/WAR column. This allows you to see the RATE of production. Kershaw, closely followed by Scherzer, have created value at the fastest rate among these pitchers. But note their IP totals are 500-600 less than Greinke, Verlander, and Halladay. The odds are that by the time they get to 2700-2800 IP that rate will probably be closer to those other three.
6.) Also note I started the searches at minimum 50 WAR as threshold to consider. For anyone wondering, Chris Sale, who didn’t start his career until 2010, has 45 WAR and 42 JAWS. His “peer group” will be the next wave for consideration. Jon Lester, who has 184 career wins, has just 46 Career WAR and ranks 151st on the JAWS list. He missed the cut.
As mentioned in point 3 above, Pitcher WAR does not include pitcher fielding. This got me thinking about measuring what a pitcher himself can control. Fangraphs uses fWAR which is FIP based WAR. FIP being Fielding Independent Pitching, based solely on Walks, Strikeouts, and Homers allowed. It strips out all balls in play that fielders have impact on. What if we take FIP WAR, add in the pitcher’s own batting and fielding, as those are things he can control ?. What would that turn out like ?
This is a very rough and experimental way of looking at it. But for me it really helps capture the perception of Greinke relative to his peers. As you can see Zack lags behind Verlander, Kershaw, & Halladay in FIP based WAR. He’s probably never felt as “dominant” on the mound as those guys to most observers. But when you add in his batting and fielding and base running, he pulls almost even with them in total WAR (And actually passes Halladay)
This then brings us back to Sean’s article. Sean showed you how Zack has used his intelligence, his beautiful mind if you will, to make himself better in every conceivable way as a Baseball Player. And that is the essence of Zack Greinke. He’s a Baseball Player. And he’s one of the greatest to ever play the game. Certainly one of the top five or six all around pitchers to come along in the last 20 years.
A few last points. In all likelihood Zack probably still has a bit of work to do to convince 75% of the BWAAA voters. He’ll probably need to maintain current or close to current levels of production at least one or two more years. Or he’ll need a signature moment, such as a no hitter, which he’s deemed unimportant and a “hassle”. Or a strong post season moment, which doesn’t appear to be on the horizon any time soon as long as he’s a Diamondback. (We’ll get to that tomorrow)
His post season track record is mixed. He was very good for the Dodgers in 2013-15, making 6 Starts, averaging 7 innings per start, with a 2.38 ERA, and giving up 2 runs or less in five of those starts, and just three in the other. But that was bookended by poor performances for the Brewers and Diamondbacks, so his overall post season ERA is 4.03 in 67 IP. It’s not many games. And lack of future opportunity may rob him of the chance to improve on that.
Post Season pitching can be really weird. For example, prior to 2001, Randy Johnson had a 2-6 record and 3.71 ERA in 9 games, 61 IP. He was viewed by some as a guy that couldn’t cut it in the post season. Then 2001 happened. 6 Games, (5 GS) 41.1 IP, 5-1, 1.52 ERA and a world series trophy. And after 2001 ? In his final four post season games he threw 19 innings giving up 15 runs. C.C. Sabathia has a 4.31 Post Season ERA in 129 innings. I could go on, but there are a lot of really good and great pitchers with so-so post season track records.
Zack has plenty of award hardware too.
In addition to his CY Young award, he had a 2nd in 2015, when he certainly had a great case to win that award. He was 19-3, and lead the league with a 1.66 ERA, and 222 ERA+ , and a .864 W%. But Jake Arrieta took home the hardware with a 22-6 record, despite having higher ERA, lower ERA+ and lower W%, Greinke bested Arrieta by almost one full WAR as well. But Arrieta had a great September to close and push the Cubs into the playoffs, and recency bias took hold. I believe had the voters handled 2015 correctly and Zack picked up his 2nd Cy Young, his path to Cooperstown would have been much clearer.
Finally, here is one last table with some more “traditional” stats. Highlighted dark green are the leaders and light green next tier. He’ll almost certainly pass Halladay and Buehrle in traditional pitcher wins, and could pass Hudson with two more good seasons as well. Not only that, but he’ll have a good chance to maintain his lead over Scherzer and Kershaw.
So just to end it off, where would we be without a poll ?
Is Zack Greinke a Hall of Famer ?
This poll is closed
Yes, he’s already over the line
Close, but still a little work to do
Not close, long way to go
Not a HOF’er