Zack Greinke

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Zack Greinke in 2009-3449.jpg

Donald Zackary Greinke

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Biographical Information[edit]

Zack Greinke was selected by the Kansas City Royals with the sixth overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft. He throws a mid-90's fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a change-up--all with excellent command. The right-hander struck out 118 batters while walking just 8 as high school senior in Apopka, Florida. Greinke won the 2002 "Gatorade High School Player of the Year Award", and his high school batting average was well above .400. He hit .495 with 10 home runs in 99 AB as a senior and was a first-team Baseball America All-American as a two-way player. He signed with Kansas City for $2,475,000.

He is the brother of Luke Greinke.

Rise to Kansas City[edit]

Greinke in uniform for Kansas City

The Royals' first round pick made six professional appearances in the summer of 2002. He made three starts for the GCL Royals, two with the Spokane Indians, and he made a relief outing for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Greinke's total ERA for the three stops was 3.79, and he did not figure in any decisions. In the winter, Baseball America ranked Greinke as the third best prospect in the Puerto Rican League following a 0-1, 2.45 record for the Mayaguez Indians. The Florida native won 11 games with a 1.14 ERA for the Blue Rocks in 2003, prompting a promotion to Wichita. Greinke was a 4-3 with the Wranglers; his ERA was 3.23. In the 2003 Futures Game, he pitched a scoreless 4th inning for the USA, striking out two. Overall, he finished third in the affiliated minors in ERA behind Jon Connolly and Kameron Loe. For his performance in Wilmington, Greinke was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year and his overall efforts earned him a The Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year Award. Had he qualified, he would have led the Carolina League in ERA by 1.27. Baseball America rated him as the top prospect in the Carolina League and having the top breaking pitch in that league. They also placed him as the #2 prospect among all right-handed pitchers, trailing only Edwin Jackson. They said his "pitchability is unmatched by any minor leaguer."

Greinke spent the bulk of the 2004 campaign with the Royals. He allowed two runs over five innings in his debut on May 22nd. He finished the season with an 8-11 record, a 3.97 ERA, and a 1.17 WHIP. 2005 was not nearly as successful for the young pitcher. The Royals continued to flounder in the standings, and Greinke's confidence wavered. Despite a strong month of April, the 21 year old finished the first half with a 1-11 record and a 6.20 ERA. His record for the season was 5-17 and he led the 2005 AL in losses. One bright spot was Greinke hitting a home run in only his third major league at-bat.

Breakdown and Recovery[edit]

2006 brought a strange twist to Greinke's career. His attitude changed in Spring Training, and he suffered a mental breakdown while throwing a bullpen session. Greinke announced he was leaving the team. He spent much of the season seeking help for depression and anxiety. He was able to return to baseball later in the season, and even made three relief appearances for the Royals.

In 2007, the embattled pitcher returned to spring training, this time hungry for a spot in the starting rotation. He won a spot, and pitched well in his first two regular season starts: giving up just two runs in 13 innings while fanning 12. The Royals moved Greinke back to the bullpen in May, and he stayed there until late September. On September 20, Greinke pitched eight strong inning against the Chicago White Sox. He yielded two hits, no runs, no walks, and struck out 10. In 52 games, the 23 year old's record was 7-7, and his ERA was 3.69. In 2008, he was back full time in the starting rotation and had a solid year, going 13-10, 3.47 in 32 starts for a team that finished tied for last in the AL Central.

Greinke was amazing to start 2009, going 8-1 with a 0.84 ERA. He became the first pitcher in 43 years, since Juan Marichal, to have an ERA under 1 after 10 starts, and while he slowed down after that, he continued to rank among the best pitchers in all of baseball for the remainder of the year. He made the All-Star team for the first time and led the American League in ERA and WHIP, finished second in strikeouts, and managed to post a 16-8 record with a dreadful Royals team that gave him very little run support. He was rewarded for his outstanding season by winning the 2009 American League Cy Young Award in a landslide over Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners.

Changing Teams[edit]

In December 2010, Greinke was traded with Yuniesky Betancourt and cash to the Milwaukee Brewers for four prospects, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi. He had a very solid first year for Milwaukee in 2011, going 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA in 28 starts, striking out 201 batters in only 171 2/3 innings as the Brewers won their first division title since moving to the National League in 1998. He was particularly effective at Miller Park, going 11-0, 3.13 while pitching at home. He showed some signs of fatigue in the postseason, however. In Game 2 of the NLDS, he gave up 4 runs in 5 innings to the Arizona Diamondbacks but ended up with a no-decision as the Brewers won, 9-5. He was credited with a win in Game 1 of the 2011 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, but it was the epitomy of "winning ugly": he gave up 6 runs on 8 hits in 6 innings, but won, 9-6. Then in Game 5, he gave up 5 runs in 5 2/3 innings, and this time his teammates' bats failed to bail him out, sticking him with a 7-1 loss.

Greinke started three consecutive games for the Brewers around the 2012 All-Star Game. Making his regularly-scheduled start on July 7th, he was ejected after making only four pitches for spiking a ball into the ground; he started the next day's game, and lasted only three innings. After the break, he started the Brewers' first game of the second half on July 13th, becoming the first player since Red Faber in 1917 to be his team's starter for three consecutive games. The Brewers quickly regretted that stunt, however, as he was sat down and rested for an additional period before his next start, with manager Ron Roenicke admitting that he may have pushed his ace to do too much. That came at a time when the Brewers were in talks with Greinke about a contract extension, with rumors growing that he would be traded if one was not agreed on before the trading deadline at the end of July. His record was a very solid 9-3, 3.57 in a league-leading 20 starts at the time. On July 27th, Greinke was indeed traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for three prospects - Jean Segura, John Hellweg and Ariel Pena.

In his first start for the Angels on July 29, 2012, Zack threw seven innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, giving up 2 runs on 7 hits wihile striking out 8. Unfortunately for him, his opponent on the mound, Jeremy Hellickson, pitched even better and he was charged with the 2-0 loss. On September 25th, he tied a modern major league record by striking out 13 opponents in 5 innings in a start against the Seattle Mariners. During his stint on the mound, he struck out four batters in the 4th inning. Three relievers added seven more Ks to his total, to tie the record for most strikeouts by one team in a nine-inning game. He finished the season with a 6-2 record for the Angels, for a combined 15-5, 3.48 in 34 starts, having pitched 212 1/3 innings and struck out an even 200 batters.

The Big Payday[edit]

On December 8, 2012, Greinke signed a six-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, worth $147 million. He had been one of the most sought-after free agents of the off-season. However, he soon gave the Dodgers a scare, experiencing inflammation in his right elbow in spring training in March 2013. He only pitched 13 innings during the spring, and was thus on a strict pitch count when he made his Dodgers debut on April 5th, starting at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, he displayed his best form, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out 6 in 6 1/3 innings as the Dodgers won, 3-0. He was doing well again in his second start, facing the San Diego Padres on April 11th, having only given up a run in 5 innings, when he plunked Carlos Quentin on the left shoulder leading off the 6th. Quentin was enraged, charged the mound and tackled Greinke to the ground, after which the two ended up at the bottom of a huge pile of players from both dugouts. Greinke had turned his left shoulder towards Quentin to break the impact of his charge, but suffered a broken collarbone in the process. He had to leave the game and the following day, it was announced that he would require surgery and miss eight weeks of the season. However, he returned much more quickly than anyone anticipated, making his return on May 15th in a start against the Washington Nationals, only a month after his injury. He gave up only a run in 5 1/3 innings that day - the result of a solo homer by Adam LaRoche - and drove in a run himself to earn the 3-1 win. On June 6th, he pitched seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball against the Atlanta Braves for his third win, although rookie Yasiel Puig stole the headlines by hitting a grand slam in continuing his storybook first week in the Show. He was in the middle of things when Puig was hit in the head by a pitch on June 11th against the Arizona Diamondbacks; he threw at Miguel Montero who led off the next inning for Arizona, then was the target of a similar pitch from Ian Kennedy in the bottom of the inning. Benches emptied on both occasions, and punches were thrown on the second. He was not involved in the decision, however, in spite of giving up only 2 runs on 2 hits in 7 innings, as the Dodgers scored some late runs to win, 5-3. He did however soon begin to rack up the wins, and on August 10th registered win number 10 with a 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. In his next start on August 16th, he pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies to spoil Ryne Sandberg's managerial debut. He was named the National League's Pitcher of the Month for August, succeeding teammate Clayton Kershaw who had won the honor in July, after going 5-0, 1.23 during the month. He finished the season at 15-4, 2.63, his .789 winning percentage being the best in the NL. Because of the time missed, he pitched only 177 2/3 innings, but still collected 148 strikeouts. He was also fearsome with the bat, leading all major league pitchers with at least 10 at-bats with a .328 average and an OBP of .409; his .379 slugging percentage was second only to Travis Wood, who was at .381. He won the NL Silver Slugger Award as the circuit's best-hitting pitcher as a result. He lost his only start of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, even though he gave up only a pair of runs in 6 innings, but then went 1-0, 2.40 in two starts in the NLCS, where he was the Dodgers' most effective pitcher in their loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Greinke gave the Dodgers a scare just as Cactus League games began in 2014: he made only four pitches in his first start on February 27th before leaving the game with a right calf strain. In spite of health concerns that made Zack miss the team's season-opening series in Australia, he had a great month of April, going 5-0, 2.04. He concluded the month by recording the 10,000th win in Dodgers history in defeating the Minnesota Twins, 6-4, on April 30th. When he held the San Francisco Giants to 2 runs over 7 innings to improve to 6-1 in a 6-2 win on May 10th, it marked the 20th straight start in which he had allowed 2 runs or less. He eventually pushed the record to 22 straight starts before giving up 3 earned runs on May 27th. On July 25th, he became only the third pitcher in major league history to record a four-strikeout inning for the second time, when he did so in the 3rd inning of an 8-1 win over the Giants. His victims were Hector Sanchez, Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, who reached first on a dropped third strike by A.J. Ellis, and Gregor Blanco. He had another great game against the Giants on September 13th, pitching 6 scoreless innings while hitting a double and a homer in a 17-0 win at AT&T Park to win his 15th of the year. He finished the season at 17-8, 2.71, and while he was outshined by teammate Kershaw in awards voting, it made him a solid number 2 starter on the division-winning squad. He made one start in the postseason, in Game 2 of the NLDS facing the St. Louis Cardinals on October 4th, holding them scoreless on 2 hits over 7 innings. He left with a 2-0 lead, but the Cardinals tied it against reliever J.P. Howell and his team's 3-2 win was credited to Brandon League.

In 2015, the roles were reversed between him and Kershaw in the first half, as he was the team's ace, going into the All-Star Game with a 35 2/3 innings scoreless streak, and ending the first half with a brilliant performance that saw him allow only one hit over 8 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on July 9th. The 6-0 win improved his record to 8-2, while his ERA was down to 1.39, best in the majors at that point. He was then named to start the All-Star Game and ironically gave up a homer to the first batter he faced, Mike Trout, before settling down and not allowing anything else in two innings. In his first start after the break, on July 19th, he tossed 8 scoreless innings in a 5-0 win against the Washington Nationals to bring his streak to 43 2/3 innings, the longest in the majors since Orel Hershiser's record-setting streak of 59 scoreless innings in 1988, also with the Dodgers. He put the streak on hold for a few days because of bigger priorities, though, as his wife Emily was expecting the couple's first child, and he took a leave of absence from the team on July 23rd to be with her. His son was born that day and Greinke was back on the mound on July 26th, facing the New York Mets. He extended the scoreless streak to 45 2/3 innings before giving up an unearned run in the 3rd when his opponent, Jacob deGrom, drove in Kirk Nieuwenhuis on a fielder's choice; he gave up another run later in the game, but ended up with a no-decision when the Dodgers rallied to tie the game with two runs against Mets closer Jeurys Familia in the 9th. By beating the San Diego Padres, 2-1, on October 3rd, he finished at 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA, the best in the National League that season, ahead of Jake Arrieta's 1.77 and the lowest by any pitcher to qualify for the title since Greg Maddux's 1.63 in 1995. The last Dodgers pitcher with a lower ERA had been Rube Marquard with a 1.58 mark in 1916. He made a pair of starts against the Mets in the Division Series, winning Game 2 but losing Game 5 against Jacob deGrom.

The Big Payday Redux[edit]

On November 4, 2015, Greinke announced that he was opting out of the final three years of his contract, which included a guaranteed salary of $71 million, in order to test the free agent market once again. He hit the jackpot again on December 4th, when the Arizona Diamondbacks agreed to shell out $206 million over six years to obtain his services. His average annual salary of $34.3 million made him the highest-paid player in the game at that point. However, in his debut in a D-Backs uniform on opening day on April 4th, he had one of the worst starts of his career. After a couple of scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies, he gave up six runs in the 3rd, including homers by Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez, and then gave up another long ball to Story, who was making his major league debut, the next inning. the 7 runs were the most he had given up in a game since 2012, and the three homers the most since 2009. He was slightly better in his second start on April 9th - but still not good, as he gave up 4 runs to the Chicago Cubs in 6 innings, three of them in the 1st inning, and lost the game, 4-2. He soon righted the ship however, as his next two outings were solid ones, including his first win of the year on April 20th when he outduelled Madison Bumgarner of the Giants to earn credit for a 2-1 victory. After 17 starts, he was 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA when he was placed on the disabled list on July 3rd with a left oblique strain. At first, his absence was expected to be short, but by the last third of July, the D-Backs were being more cautious and did not want to give a return date. His return finally came on August 9th, by which time the D-Backs had pretty much given up any remaining hope of making the postseason. He did win in his return, defeating the Mets, 5-3 for his 8th straight win. On September 5th, he had one of the worst outings of his career against his former team, the Dodgers as he was shelled for five home runs in a 10-2 loss in his first start at Dodger Stadium since changing teams. he finished the season at 13-7, 4.37 in 26 starts.

Greinke bounced back with a very solid year in 2017, helping to lead the D-Backs back into the postseason. He went 17-7, 3.20 in 32 starts, struck out 215 batters in 202 1/3 innings, returned to the All-Star Game and won his fourth straight Gold Glove. He started the Wild Card Game against the Colorado Rockies on October 4th but did not make it to the end of the 4th inning, being lifted after allowing 4 runs on 6 hits. Arizona still won the game and moved on to the Division Series, but again, his start in Game 3 against the Dodgers was underwhelming as he gave up 3 runs in 5 innings and was charged with the 3-1 loss that ended the D-Backs' season. In 2018, he had another strong first half that brought him his fifth All-Star nod, then was named the NL's Pitcher of the Month for July after posting a 1.60 ERA and a 35/5 K/W ratio in 5 starts as Arizona fought for first place in the division. However, Arizona collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason entirely, while he finished with a record of 15-11, 3.21 in 33 starts. He struck 199 batters in 207 2/3 innings.

He was the D-Backs' Opening Day starter in 2019 but was knocked around by the Dodgers on March 28th, giving up 7 runs in less than 4 innings. However, he came back strong in his next start on April 2nd against the San Diego Padres. Not only did he give up just 3 runs in 6 innings while striking out 10, but he also contributed with the bat, slugging a pair of homers in an 8-5 win. He was only the second pitcher in team history to hit two homers in a game, after Micah Owings. At the end of July, he was 10-4, 2.90 in 23 starts, having been named to the All-Star team for the 6th time earlier in the month. With the Diamondbacks out of contention for the postseason, he became a valuable trade chip in spite of his large contract and Arizona extracted maximum value in return, obtaining the three top prospects of the Houston Astros - Seth Beer, J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin - and another minor leaguer, Josh Rojas, in return. He suddenly joined a formidable starting rotation that already included Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. He was a winner in his first start for his new team on August 6th, defeating the Rockies, 11-6. On August 18th, he recorded the 200th win of his career when he defeated the Oakland Athletics, 4-1. He went 8-1, 3.02 in 10 starts for the Astros to finish the year at 18-5, 2.93. He saw heavy use in the postseason, starting five games as the Astros made it to Game 7 of the World Series before losing to the Washington Nationals; he went 0-2 and pitched 25 innings.

In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he made just 12 starts and went 3-3, 4.03 while pitching 67 innings. The Astros again went deep in the postseason, reaching the final game of the ALCS, but this time he made just 3 starts - one in each series - going 1-0 with a win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the ALCS, when the Astros were facing elimination. In 2021, he went 11-6 as the Astros ran away with a division title in the AL West, although his ERA of 4.16 was among the highest of the team's main pitchers. This explains why he was relegated to a secondary role in the postseason, only pitching 2 1/3 innings over the first two rounds. Still, he was tabbed to start Game 4 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, because ace Lance McCullers was unavailable. One interesting fact in that game, on October 30th, was that he batted 8th, only the second pitcher in World Series history to bat in a spot other than 9th: the other had been Babe Ruth, who batted 6th in his start for the Boston Red Sox in the 1918 World Series. This was motivated by the fact that catcher Martin Maldonado was almost incapable of getting a hit during the postseason. He ended up getting a hit in that game, and another one as a pinch-hitter in Game 5. With the National League adopting the designated hitter before the 2022 season, this was likely to make him the last pitcher in history to get a hit - barring unusual future circumstances.

Back Where It All Started[edit]

A free agent after the 2021 World Series, he returned to his original team, the Kansas City Royals when he signed a one-year deal with them on March 16, 2022. His base salary was $13 million, with a possible additional $2 million in performance bonuses. He was selected as his team's Opening Day starter, making him the oldest pitcher in team history to receive the honor. He seemed to defy all logic in his first few outings of the season, putting up a 2.57 ERA over 28 innings in his first 5 starts - in spite of striking out just 7 batters over that span. The key was that he wasn't walking anyone - just 3 - and not allowing many hits either - 24, with just 2 homers. He seemed to defy the rule that no one could survive in today's game with such a low strikeout rate. One thing he couldn't control, however, was his run support, as he was 0-2, having benefitted from just 8 runs from his teammates over the five starts, including being shut out twice, these two 1-0 games accounting for both of his losses. On May 30th, he went on the injured list with a right flexor strain and missed a month of action. His return on June 24th was a good one though as he won his first game as a Royal since September 30, 2010, 3-1 over the Oakland Athletics. In that game, he gave up 1 runs on 3 hits and no walks in 6 innings to improve his record to 1-4. On June 30th, he earned another win in what was the milestone 500th start of his career, 2-1 over the Texas Rangers. He was only the 48th player in major league history to make that many starts. He finished the season at 4-9, 3.68 in 26 starts and 137 innings, for an ERA+ of 111.

On February 4, 2023, he re-signed with the Royals for another season, explaining that he was having a lot of fun playing for his original team and would not want to play anywhere else at this stage of his career. For their part, the Royals appreciated the experience he brought to what was a very young pitching staff. On May 13th, he became the fifth pitcher in major league history to have struck out 1,000 different batters in his career after ringing up Brice Turang and Joey Wiemer of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 5th inning of a 4-3 Royals loss. The four men who had preceded him were Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens - the very definition of elite company. With 2,914 career strikeouts, he had the lowest total of the four by far but had a very good shot at reaching the mythic 3,000 strikeouts mark by the end of the season.

Notable Achievements[edit]

AL Cy Young Award
2008 2009 2010
Cliff Lee Zack Greinke Felix Hernandez

Further Reading[edit]

  • David Adler: "Greinke is the master of the 'slowball'",, May 31, 2019. [1]
  • David Adler: "The lowdown on FA starter Zack Greinke",, November 10, 2021. [2]
  • Thomas Harrigan: "There's no one like this pitcher in today's game: Greinke has 2.57 ERA, 0.96 WHIP despite lowest K-rate in MLB",, May 7, 2022. [3]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Dodgers' Zack Greinke brilliant on, off the mound", USA Today Sports, July 14, 2015. [4]
  • Joe Posnanski: "Greinke is truly one of a kind",, March 3, 2017. [5]
  • Anne Rogers: "Royals get their man, bring back Greinke on a one-year deal",, March 16, 2022. [6]
  • Anne Rogers: "'I'm an old man': Greinke flashes wisdom in milestone start",, June 29, 2022. [7]
  • Anne Rogers: "'The most fun I’ve had in a while': Greinke returns to Royals on one-year deal",, February 4, 2023. [8]
  • Anne Rogers: "Greinke plotting a redirect for 20th season: Right-hander tinkers with his changeup, knowing fielders will be in new spots",, February 27, 2023. [9]
  • Anne Rogers: "Greinke becomes 5th pitcher to ring up 1,000 different batters",, May 14, 2023. [10]

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