Zack Greinke's Bizarre Season

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 16: Zack Greinke #13 of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 16, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Baseball is a weird sport, and every year, it gives us weird performances to dissect. Whether it’s Jose Bautista’s emergence or Carlos Silva’s freaky-good control in 2005, there’s always something that makes us stop and say, "Dang. Baseball is weird."

So ... Zack Greinke.

The Brewers made a fantastic decision to get him. They correctly pegged that the NL Central was up for grabs, and that adding Shaun Marcum and Greinke would improve the team’s greatest weakness. And Greinke has ...

  • pitched fantastically
  • given up a bunch of runs

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. They should be, but they aren’t. And if you’re thinking it has to do with with BABiP, you’re right. Entering Thursday’s start against the Cubs, Greinke had a .344 BABiP. He allowed eight hits on Thursday in five innings, and those hits led to eight runs. He struck out 10 and walked two. This was just the 21st time a pitcher has struck out ten while allowing eight runs. Most of the other games on that list are walk-riddled affairs. Any piece on Greinke (including this one) must include these 11 words : "Zack Greinke has been unlucky this season. This should not continue."

But how weird has his season been? Historically weird. There isn’t a perfect stat to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness, but strikeout-to-walk ratio does a pretty good job. If a pitcher can strike out hitters without walking a lot, it follows that he should a) have strikeout stuff, and b) the command to put that strikeout stuff wherever in the heck he wants. It’s sort of the point of pitching, I’d think.

Greinke has a 7.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That is, he strikes out nearly eight hitters for every one he walks. That’s a superlative mark. If Greinke were to keep this up for the entire season, he’d be the 12th pitcher in history to do it, joining pitchers like Cy Young, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, and, uh, Jon Lieber. Of those seasons, only one pitcher had an ERA+ under 100 -- Hal Brown in 1963. But Brown’s strikeout rate was far below the league average. Greinke’s  is 11.6 per nine innings.

There have been only 21 seasons in which a pitcher threw more than 100 innings with a K/9 over 11. The worst ERA of the bunch is Kerry Wood with 3.40, and that came with 85 walks in 166 innings.

So if you combine those two -- a strikeout-to-walk ratio over 7.0, and a K/9 over 11 -- how many seasons are there?

Two. Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000. Zack Grienke, when it comes to striking hitters out without walking them, has been just a little less effective in this young season than Pedro Martinez was in two of the greatest pitching seasons of all-time. The strikeout rate will probably drop as the season progresses, for sure, but this shows what level Greinke has been pitching at over his nine starts.

Zack Greinke has a 5.23 ERA this season.

Baseball is weird.

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