Zack Greinke and the Mid-Season #holytrinity Leaderboard

Zack Greinke is able to control a lot of things on the mound. Unfortunately for him, he can't control where he'll be pitching in two and a half weeks.

For those of you unfamiliar with the #holytrinity meme, it's all about control. Not control in the walk rate sense, but control in the "I'm in charge of my own destiny" sense. The more a pitcher does the things which he can control, the greater his chances of performing up to his expectations become. Here's the basic rundown from a love letter I wrote this off-season to Jaime Garcia (get better soon!):

There are three ways for a pitcher to make himself valuable both from a real-life and fantasy perspective without the baggage of luck or surroundings. First, he must be able to miss bats -- this obviously brings strikeouts from a fantasy perspective, but also helps reduce ERA. Second, he has to limit his free passes -- this has a large effect on a pitcher's WHIP and wins as a by-product since it will allow him to go deeper into games. Finally, he has to keep the ball on the ground -- fewer fly balls = fewer HR allowed and more double plays = better ERA and chance for wins. Any pitcher who does at least one of these things well can be a major leaguer. Just two of these qualities is enough to be a star, but the pitchers who can do all three are the ones who are special because they have the most amount of control over their downside risk.

We're going to use a BB/9 rate of 2.5, a K/9 rate of 7.0 and a ground ball rate of 50% to signify a pitcher who is "above average" in these pitching segments.

This list includes two of the best starters in baseball this year, two starters who were doing surprisingly well until injuries struck, one starter who often gets glossed over and two relievers having very solid seasons. Without further ado, here are your #holytrinity members through July 15th:

Name

Team

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

Matt Belisle

Rockies

48

7.88

1.5

58.20%

R.A. Dickey

Mets

125

9.14

2.02

50.50%

Kelvin Herrera

Royals

45.1

7.74

1.99

57.60%

Andy Pettitte

Yankees

58.2

9.05

2.3

58.30%

Zack Greinke

Brewers

116

9.08

2.17

53.20%

Dillon Gee

Mets

109.2

7.96

2.38

50.30%

Doug Fister

Tigers

67.2

7.45

2

51.60%



A pretty interesting list there. We'll go into more detail after the jump...

Zack Greinke

The focus, and for good reason, has all been about whether Greinke will get dealt and where he'll end up. But he's really made great strides over the past few years reinventing himself as a ground ball pitcher. During his first four seasons in the majors (2004-2007), Greinke never had a season with a ground ball rate of 40% or higher. Starting with 2008, his rates have been 42.7%, 40.0%, 46.0%, 47.3% and a career high 53.2% in 2012. Not surprisingly, with his HR/FB rate stabilized at 8.5% (8.9% for his career) and a fly ball rate under 25% for the first time, he's controlling the long ball better than at any point in his career (his 4.5% HR/FB rate in 2009 was unsustainable).

So now that we see what is happening, the better question is how is this happening? Come nerd out with me for a minute. According to Brooks Baseball, Greinke has been gradually easing off his 4-seam fastball the past six years. In fact, here's a chart of his pitch selection since 2007:


2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

Fourseam (FA)

68%

56%

44%

36%

39%

26%

Sinker (SI)

0%

5%

15%

24%

17%

27%

Cutter (FC)

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

15%

Slider (SL)

18%

19%

20%

15%

20%

13%

Curveball (CU)

7%

11%

15%

11%

16%

14%

Changeup (CH)

7%

8%

6%

14%

8%

4%

*Data courtesy of Brooks Baseball

A few additional things jump out about this. First of all, his sinker usage has been inversely proportional to his 4-seam FB use - as you might expect. His sinker, over the course of this time period, has generated ground balls at a 55% clip, with this year's 64% being a career high. Compare that to his 31% ground ball rate he's averaged over this time period on his 4-seam FB and the ground ball rate progression makes sense. Secondly, Greinke has started to use a cutter this year - in fact, he's using it more than his slider or curveball, which were his two main secondary pitches during his Cy Young campaign in 2009. There's less data to work off with the cutter, since he's only thrown it 259 times, but so far, so good. He's generating ground balls at a 52% rate, getting infield pop-ups at a 10% and has yet to allow a HR on the pitch.

The numbers also bear out that Greinke would benefit from having a better infield defense than he currently does. Despite UZR's limitations in small samples (this included), the only Brewers regular infielder with a positive UZR this year has been Aramis Ramirez (and it's barely positive at 1.7). That's amusing, since by most first-hand reports, he's essentially a bronze statue over there. Then you have Rickie Weeks who is lapping the field in defensive awfulness - his -13.2 UZR is almost twice as low as the next worst offender (Daniel Murphy at -7.8). In fact, the Brewers have allowed a .316 BABIP against as a team, which is second worst in the majors (the Rockies are first, shockingly). If he were dealt to the Angels (.276 team BABIP against) or Braves (.290 team BABIP against), it could be a noticeable difference to his performance.

R.A. Dickey

I'll keep this one brief, since everyone and their mothers have written about Dickey over the past two months or so. We've all been paying attention (and for good reason) to Dickey's huge jump in swinging strike rate, and in turn his strikeout rate, but he's had the other two parts of the #holytrinity down since joining the Mets in 2010. That first season, he had a 55.1% ground ball rate and a 2.2 BB/9. He followed that up in 2011 with a 50.8% ground ball rate and a 2.3 BB/9. Of course, those were accompanied by K/9 rates of 5.4 and 5.8. As long as he's got the magic in his fingers to miss bats, he's doing all of the other things necessary to maintain this level of success - and I hope he does, as it's damn fun to watch.

Doug Fister

When is a 52% ground ball rate a not so great thing? When you have Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta and any of their underwhelming 2B options behind you. Then again, we knew this going into the season and this was a big reason why I wasn't higher on Fister coming into the year.

Dillon Gee

Probably the most surprising name on this list (unless you read this post of mine from early May), Gee was on his way to a breakout season when it was unexpectedly cut short by a blood clot in his shoulder. Two surgeries later and he's probably done for the year, but don't forget about him in 2013. He's expected to make a full recovery and is not likely to be pumped as a big time sleeper by any of the major outlets.

Andy Pettitte

This one's not much of a surprise when you look at it from a career perspective. In fact, Pettitte's done this before back in 2003 and he was extremely close to doing it in both 2005 (missed by 0.08 K/9) and 2008 (missed by 0.03 K/9). That said, his level of performance coming off a year away from the game, was beyond expectations. In fact, if he had held his 9.1 K/9 rate, it would have been the highest of his illustrious career.

Kelvin Herrera/Matt Belisle

Interesting middle relievers, but no need to go into much detail here. I know there's an accepted belief that Greg Holland will be the guy once Jonathan Broxton gets dealt, but Herrera won't let that go without a fight. Belisle, and his 58.2% ground ball rate, is exactly the kind of reliever Colorado should be looking for with the Coors monster back in full force.

Finally, here are few guys who barely missed this list, but could easily make it with a slight tweak to one of their rate stats. In fact, some are so close, it could happen within their next start:

Name

Team

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

Madison Bumgarner

Giants

122.2

7.63

1.83

48.50%

CC Sabathia

Yankees

107

8.83

2.44

49.80%

Anibal Sanchez

Marlins

107

7.99

2.61

48.90%

James Shields

Rays

123.2

8.3

2.69

53.60%

Jaime Garcia

Cardinals

66.1

6.92

2.58

53.90%

Adam Wainwright

Cardinals

109

8.42

2.56

52.20%

As you can tell, it's good company to be in.

Follow me on Twitter at @tfw_bret.

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