Dodgers: Why Letting Zack Greinke Go Was the Wrong Move

Oct 10, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) reacts during the sixth inning in game two of the NLDS against the New York Mets at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 10, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) reacts during the sixth inning in game two of the NLDS against the New York Mets at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Tonight former Dodger starting pitcher Zack Greinke returns to Dodgers Stadium to take on his former teammate Clayton Kershaw in an epic pitching duo. As teammates, the dynamic duo led the Dodgers’ top of the rotation for three dominant seasons.

The 1-2 punch combined for a 2.09 ERA and 104-34 (.754) record with a 10.0 K/9 ratio during the 2013-2015 seasons with the Dodgers. The two were considered one of the best 1-2 punches in all of baseball, but unfortunately, the team was never able to advance past the NLCS.

Last offseason, Zack Greinke walked away from the Dodgers and signed a six-year $206.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and broke up the dynamic duo. The deal makes Greinke the highest paid pitcher in the MLB in terms of AAV ($34M/yr), topping Kershaw’s $33 million annual salary.

Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations said today in an interview with Mason and Ireland that the team really wanted Greinke back last offseason.

"“[Greinke] is great competitor. We in our minds felt like we were being very aggressive to try to retain him,” Friedman said. “We really wanted to bring him back, and it ended up that the Diamondbacks were a good bit more aggressive in that pursuit and that happens when you get to a certain situation at times. It was just something beyond the scope.”"

Now, a year removed from the deal that never was, did Friedman and the Dodgers make the right decision by letting Greinke walk away?

Well, if you base it solely off Greinke’s last season, you’d probably think the Dodgers made the right move. Greinke struggled last season with a 4.37 ERA in only 158 ⅔ innings pitched. While he did have a 13-7 record for a team that only won 69 games last season, those numbers are substantially worse than from his last season with the Dodgers.

In Greinke’s final season with the Dodgers, he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA in 222 ⅔ innings pitched and finished 2nd in Cy Young voting behind Jake Arrieta. Only two seasons removed from that production, I’m betting on Greinke’s last season to be an outlier to his career.

In his last eight seasons, Greinke has had an ERA above 3.0 only four times, which I’ll admit is modest. But I see the outlier in the 158 innings pitched. That is the lowest mark Greinke has pitched since 2007. Greinke has consistently been over 170 innings the past nine season, and for pitchers taking the ball every fifth day, that is value in itself.

So why did Greinke struggle in 2016?

In an article by Travis Sawchik of Fangraphs, he suggests that Greinke struggled last year due to him not having Yasmani Grandal’s pitch framing behind the plate. Greinke’s called strikes number dropped from 232 (called strikes) in 2015 with the Dodgers to 137 in 2016 with the Diamondback.

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That decrease resulted in Greinke not being able to get ahead of hitters. When Greinke started a batter with a 1-0 count, the hitter’s OPS was .843. When he started hitters with a 0-1 count, their OPS dropped to .690. So it does matter. Essentially what this is getting at is that Greinke was better off pitching to Grandal and suffered without him. 

Not only did Greinke’s World Series hopes take a dive when he signed with the Diamondbacks, but also possibly his career. Greinke, by all means, is not a bad pitcher, and to be frank, the Dodgers have still been searching for the secondary Ace they lost when he signed with the Dbacks.

The offseason that Greinke left the Dodgers, Freidman tried to replace Greinke by signing Scott Kazmir (3-year, $48m) and Kenta Maeda (8-year, $25m). While Maeda had a very successful rookie season, we all know the rollercoaster Kazmir has shaped out to be.

Even with the Dodgers making moves last season by acquiring Rich Hill at the deadline, none of these moves have been able to match the production that Kershaw and Greinke had together.

I understand that at 33-years old, Greinke’s best days are likely behind him. But if you’re truly in a “win at all costs” mode as you often say you are, why not keep a pivotal part of the team?

In the three seasons Greinke was a Dodger we could rely on 180+ innings and quality starts every fifth day. I can see a little hesitation in justifying spending  $34 million/year on a player on the wrong side of 30. But when you make investments like signing Kazmir (2015) and McCarthy’s $48 million in 2014. I just wonder if the money that’s being spent is being protected.

Next: 5 Obstacles Preventing the Dodgers from Winning a World Series

Just to be clear, I don’t think Greinke can get back to pitching at a Cy Young-caliber level again. But I’d rather have Greinke as our number two this season than any of the current replacement options. That said, it is a steep price tag to pay for a secondary ace. At the end of the day, this was a relationship that shouldn’t have been broken up for the benefits of both parties.