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Monday, January 24, 2011

Previewing the 2011 Season: Zack Greinke

This is the first article in a series that I'll continue to write as the 2011 season draws near. A fitting start to this series focuses on the Brewers' biggest offseason splash, 27-year-old ace pitcher Zack Greinke.

The Brewers picked up Zack Greinke in December in a six player trade that sent Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi to Kansas City for Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt. Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009 and will lead a starting pitching staff expected to be much improved from last year.

Brewers fans can (and should) expect big things from Greinke in 2011. He went 16-8 in 2009 with a 2.16 ERA, six complete games, 3 shutouts, and 229.1 innings pitched (195 hits, 51 walks, 242 strikeouts), pitching for a Royals team that finished the season 65-97.

No one expected Greinke to match his 2009 numbers in 2010. Even so, he didn't nearly meet expectations last season. He slumped to 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA, three complete games and zero shutouts, though he remained a workhorse, logging 220 innings (219 hits, 55 walks, 181 strikeouts). He later admitted that he sometimes found it difficult to stay motivated while pitching for a Royals team that again never really competed in its division (last place in AL Central, 67-95).

The Brewers can expect his performance to rebound in 2011. Indeed, Brewers officials are banking on that being the case now that he's on a team that at least has a shot at winning its division. He won't be 2009 Zack Greinke-- those numbers are ridiculous. But he'll be a solid, front of the rotation starter whom the Brewers should be able to count on for a chance to win every five days.

Greinke throws a four seam fastball in the mid-to-high-90s. He follows that with a high-80s slider and a high-60s curveball, and he continues to improve his changeup, clocked in the mid-80s. He mixes his pitches well, throws to all sides of the plate, and keeps batters guessing by changing speed and flawlessly repeating his delivery. His sound mechanics do not lend easily to injury, allowing him to log more than 200 innings pitched in each of the last three seasons.

Greinke missed most of 2006, however, while he battled with social anxiety disorder and depression. The Royals placed him on the 60-day disabled list for psychological issues, and he pitched only 6.1 innings in the majors that year. In 2007 he returned to the team. He began the year in the starting rotation but was moved to the bullpen in May.

2008 marked the beginning of Greinke's rebound. He pitched in the starting rotation that year and ended the season by pitching 14 scoreless innings. He began his Cy Young Award winning season in much the same way, pitching 24 innings before giving up a run. He continued his dominance throughout 2009 in what will almost definitely serve as his career year.

Greinke has been described as a fearless competitor. So long as the Brewers aren't 20 games out by the Allstar break, fans can forget about any past motivational issues. Additionally, any issues relating to social anxiety disorder and depression have not resurfaced since he started taking medication for them several years ago.

Greinke is the #1 pitcher Doug Melvin sought and failed to secure since the departure of Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia in 2008. His presence at the top of the Brewers lineup allows more favorable match-ups for the rest of the staff, as each slides one spot down the order. He should be able to pitch deep into games fairly consistently (an issue that has plagued the Brewers all too often in recent seasons) and hopefully will throw at least a few complete games and maybe even a shutout or two. Brewers fans can count on Greinke to give the team a chance to win nearly every day he pitches. He should be a lot of fun to watch in 2011, assuming he lives up to the hype.

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