Playing A Game Within The Game

Phoenix, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitchers Zack Greinke (right) and Randy Wolf throw in the bullpen during a workout during spring training at Maryvale Baseball Park. Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Every time they take the mound, Zack Greinke and Randy Wolf are competing against the opponent. They're also competing against one another.

I'm just one guy, so I don't know what the public perception of Zack Greinke is, but a popular description would probably be "weird." Based on some of his past issues, and on the way he gets written about, I'm guessing people think of Greinke as being quiet and reserved. Not at all your typical baseball jock. Not the sort of guy who would mess around with teammates -- the sort of guy who would just show up and get the job done.

That's me forcing assumptions, and I could be completely off-base. Thankfully I'm not here to talk about my assumptions. I'm here to note that, a year ago, Greinke and a couple of his teammates played a little game. Something for fun, something you might not think Greinke would do. From Frank Clines last July:

"Slowest pitch I ever threw," Wolf said with a smile. "Fifty-eight (mph). Me and (Shaun) Marcum and (Zack) Greinke are competing to see who can throw the slowest pitch."

Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Randy Wolf tried to out-slow each other. Not all the time, not to the team's detriment, but when they had an opportunity, sometimes they'd try a super-slow curve or eephus to mess with the batter and also pull ahead on the leaderboard. It was the type of contest teammates probably have going all the time, but only so often do we hear about them.

Last year drew to a close, and then this year got started. Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Randy Wolf still pitched for the same team. "Why not," you might think, "repeat the same contest?" It sure as hell looks like they're repeating the same contest.

Forget about Marcum -- he doesn't have his heart in it. Or he doesn't have the balls, I don't know. This is all about Zack Greinke vs. Randy Wolf, and through this point in the season Zack Greinke is winning.

Wolf got things started on the eighth day of April. Ahead of Shane Robinson 0-and-1, Wolf dropped it down to 56.5 miles per hour.

Wolf4th

On the Brewers' broadcast, they cut to a shot of Greinke sitting in the dugout looking on, and immediately you could tell that something was up. Greinke and Wolf might've just talked about the contest before the start of the game.

Wolf4thgreinke

Wolf dropped it down even more on April 24, against the Astros. Ahead 0-and-2 on Chris Snyder, Wolf dropped in a curve at 55.0 miles per hour:

Wolf1st

The pitch missed, but it didn't do much harm -- it was early, there was no one on base, and the count was favorable. What mattered most there was that Wolf had set a new season low.

It held up into June. That's when Greinke decided to show Wolf who's boss, at an unusual time. On the one hand, Greinke was facing pitcher Paul Maholm, and the count was 0-and-2. On the other hand, the bases were loaded. That didn't stop Greinke from throwing a pitch at 53.3 miles per hour.

Greinke1st

The pitch missed, but no matter. Greinke had the lead, and just to show off, his very next pitch was a fastball at 95. Between consecutive pitches, Zack Greinke had a speed difference of 42 miles per hour.

I think that might've made Randy Wolf mad. Wolf pitched the very next day, June 7, and he faced Joe Mather in the fourth. Ahead in the count, Wolf dropped one in at 55.6 miles per hour.

Wolf3rd

Said the Brewers' broadcast:

Announcer 1: See that curveball that Wolfy threw a couple of pitches ago? 56 miles an hour. He and Greinke have been having a thing going, what was Zack's yesterday?

Announcer 2: 53.

Announcer 1: You never imagine two big-league pitchers saying "I bet I can throw slower than you."

The next time Wolf pitched was June 13, against the Royals. Ahead 0-and-1 against Yuniesky Betancourt in the sixth, Wolf hit 58.6 miles per hour:

Wolf6th

June 18, against the Blue Jays. 0-and-1, Omar Vizquel, 55.3 miles per hour.

Wolf2nd

June 23, against the White Sox. First pitch, Dayan Viciedo, 56.6 miles per hour.

Wolf5th

Zack Greinke took over the lead on June 6. In each of Randy Wolf's next four starts, he tried to get the lead back. He didn't try anything on June 29, against the Diamondbacks, but it's possible he just didn't feel like he had the opportunity, since he allowed eight runs in four innings. Wolf is going to get more chances.

But it's got to be aggravating for him. From Texas Leaguers, here are Wolf's pitch velocities this season:

1501162012040120120702aaaaavelocity-spin_medium

And here's the same chart for Zack Greinke:

4258442012040120120702aaaaavelocity-spin_medium

Wolf has attempted a handful of pitches at or below 60 miles per hour. Greinke has attempted just the one, and so far it's been the slowest one, by nearly two full ticks. Plenty of pitchers are probably jealous of Greinke for the way he makes so much look so easy. It seems he made this look easy, too.

We'll see how the contest goes over the second half of the season, and given that Greinke has thrown the slowest pitch, it might not even matter if he ends up getting traded. He's still got the pitch to beat, so that's all on Wolf. And maybe if Wolf beats him, Greinke would try to beat him again as a member of his new team. I don't know, pitchers are competitive and weird. They're not going to want to shut down a contest before the end of the season.

And what of Livan Hernandez, the new Brewer who has something of a track record of slow pitches himself? Livan might get involved in the contest. Livan might remain on the outside, but still throw the slowest pitch anyway. It's hard for me to imagine Zack Greinke and Livan Hernandez getting on, but it's hard for me to imagine a lot of things that are.

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