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Sabermetrics Case Study, Part 2: Zack Greinke

   by Hollywood Sports - 07/22/2011

I wrote about Zack Greinke before his last start where I used some deeper sabermetrics to determine whether or not his ERA north of 5.00 was a result of some unfortunate luck or whether there was something deeper going on. I concluded that while Greinke had been unlucky regarding allowing too many seeing-eye ground balls to get through the infield, he was also giving up too many line drives and extra-base hits to not consider that something else was going on. In particular, I pointed to his poor road split stats (currently: 6.19 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, .273 opponent's batting average versus his home stats of a 4.09 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and .219 opponent's batting average). But in looking at all these deeper numbers, I neglected to remember something very unique to Greinke: he has been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. I guess that shows the power of winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2009 since that accomplishment helped wipe away the memory (in my mind, at least) of his early struggles. Greinke led the AL with 17 losses in 2005. The following spring training, Greinke actually quit baseball out of frustration before being put on the 60-day DL. It was at this point that he was diagnosed with his social anxiety disorder. He was treated and returned to baseball to find great success. But perhaps his struggles this season relate to his discomfort in being in performing in social situations. Intuitively, it would help explain his struggles on the road when pitching in hostile environments.

Looking deeper, if social anxiety disorder was one of the reasons that Greinke has underachieved this season, perhaps evidence of this would appear in the most pressure-filled moments that he encounters. Pitching with the lead would seem to make a pitcher feel more responsibility in keeping the other team in check. Greinke sports the following numbers this season when pitching with the Brewers in the lead: .291 BA, .318 OBP, .838 OPS. All of these numbers are higher than the National League average: .252 BA, .313 OBP, .706 OPS. That higher OPS is what really stands out and suggests that perhaps Greinke is giving up all those extra-base hits at the most inopportune times. Pitchers also feel pressure when he is at risk of giving up more runs. When Runners are In Scoring Position (RISP), Greinke baseline numbers for 2011 look like this: .329 BA, .393 OBP, 1038 OPS. Compare that to the NL average: .250 BA, .339 OBP, .719 OPS. That is a stark difference. Finally consider what happens with RISP with two outs. NL pitchers see their numbers improve (which makes sense with two outs): .222 BA, .372 OBP, .670 OPS. However, Greinke has not seen a significant improvement with his performance with RISP even with two outs this year: .333 BA, .395 OBP, .1036 OPS. Something seems to be going on there.

This would seem to explain a lot. Not only is Greinke giving up more line drives and extra-base hits -- but his proclivity to be susceptible to that is extremely prevalent in high-pressure situations like having the lead or pitching with runners in scoring position. I'm no doctor (and I have not stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in a long time). However, it seems that these struggles in high-pressure situations as well as on the road would make sense for someone suffering from social anxiety disorder who is not comfortable drawing attention to himself in front of other people. My initial discussion of Greinke last week was predicated on the notion that many baseball pundits are considering him unlucky. I concluded last week that I needed to see more evidence of him giving up fewer line drives and extra-base hits before being comfortable with the former Cy Young Award winner. That notion is even stronger now and I would need to see evidence that he is handling high pressure situations better before thinking that the Greinke of 2009 is close to being back. Best of luck -- Frank.

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