Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Zack Greinke, shape-shifter

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

Though he never seems to change, Zack Greinke is actually changing all the time.

For one thing, it used to be that finding a smile on Greinke’s face in public was as rare as spotting Bigfoot. But the reality is that Greinke smiles pretty often these days. In Dodger photographer Jon SooHoo’s photos this year, there has been a steady stream of shots of a grinning Greinke.

And you know those smiles aren’t phony, because the one constant with Greinke is that nothing is.

Greinke’s honesty is so consistent that there’s neither arrogance nor modesty with him, because arrogance and modesty would indicate some spin applied to the truth. Greinke is, as we all know now, as unvarnished as they come, whether talking about himself or anyone else — when he chooses to talk, that is.

Scherzer Kershaw GreinkeHis day Monday as newly named National League All-Star starting pitcher began at a standing-room-only press conference, and unsurprisingly, when emcee Matt Vasgersian offered him the option of saying a few words or not, Greinke chose not.

Later in the day, he was approached by Harold Reynolds during a live segment of MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk” that began with Reynolds recalling that Greinke was critical of how Reynolds interviewed him after Greinke won the 2009 American League Cy Young Award. I’m not sure what Reynolds was expecting Greinke to say, but sure enough, Greinke replied, “Yeah, you were a bad interviewer.”

And so you when he does open up to reporters, you take him at his word that despite having the lowest ERA for a starting pitcher at the All-Star Break in decades, he was pitching better in 2009.

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“I thought the best was Kansas City,” he said. “I thought (I) was more impressive. Now I’m just making good pitches. The last two games I’ve been kind of lucky. (Giancarlo) Stanton got hurt right before facing Miami, and Philly, (Chase) Utley wasn’t there, and it’s not the same team it was a couple years ago. So I’ve been kind of getting some breaks and just making a lot of good pitches.”

In other words, he’s been good, and he’s been fortunate. But he also hasn’t been the same pitcher he was in the past.

“I’ve probably changed more than anyone else in baseball over the past 10 years,” he told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “There have been a lot of changes — going from control pitcher to power pitcher to power pitcher that wasn’t very good to control pitcher that was O.K. I’m kind of a mix right now.”

Pedro Moura of the Register offers more detail.

Greinke’s pitch mix is definitively different. He’s throwing a far higher percentage of changeups than ever before. Every pitch he throws besides the fastball is faster than it used to be, but the fastball’s slower, creating a new paradigm on which to change speeds.

Other pitchers rely on large gaps to confuse and deceive hitters. Greinke is content to mess with them with tiny tweaks. Nearly 90 percent of his pitches are clocked between 86 and 92 mph, according to PITCHf/x data. Outside of today’s occasional curveball, there are only small variances in velocity.

Compare that to 2007, when fewer than 10 percent of Greinke’s offerings were in that range.

Greinke can also offer perspective on change around him. With the Dodgers leading the NL West but still in search for reinforcements, Greinke laid out his unsentimental approach to Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

Should the Dodgers trade one of their prized prospects for the chance to win their first World Series since 1988?

“When you add an All-Star starter, that’s always going to help,” Greinke said. “It just depends on what it’s going to cost.”

OK, would you give up Julio Urias, the Dodgers’ top minor league pitcher?

“It depends on who it’s for,” he said.

How about Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto?

“For half a year of someone, no,” Greinke said. “I don’t care who it is. I would never do that.”


“It’s not like this is the last season the Dodgers are ever going to play, so you’ve got to think about beyond just who they could bring in for this year’s benefit,” he said.

Now, if the Reds throw in closer Aroldis Chapman, or if you’re talking about Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels, who’s under contract for 3½ more years, you’ve got Greinke’s attention.

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

And then there are the questions of Greinke’s own future. As has been well publicized, Greinke’s contract with the Dodgers runs through 2018, but he can opt out at the end of this season. Without offering specifics about his plans, Greinke laid out some of the parameters, as seen in Bill Shaikin’s story for the Times.

Greinke declined to discuss his opt-out decision. He said he has enjoyed his time with the Dodgers, citing the league-leading attendance, the new clubhouse, and the coaching and training staffs.

“And we win,” he said. “It’s a pretty darned good combination. If you get rid of some of the traffic, it would be perfect.

“Or: closer to the beach. One of the two.”

How many teams could offer that kind of combination?

“If you take out the beach part, there’s probably a couple,” he said, “but only a couple.”

Greinke’s persona has generated a cult following. But — in the spirit of things, let’s be honest — it’s his success that has made him wildly popular in Los Angeles. Few outside the Dodger clubhouse appreciated Juan Uribe’s personality for the first two years of his Dodger career, and few would appreciate Greinke’s if he started allowing five runs a game.

Top ERA+Greinke will turn 33 during this year’s playoffs, and each Spring Training seems to bring renewed concern about the health of his arm. At the same time, he has been nothing short of phenomenal in Los Angeles. Among pitchers with 500 innings, he has the best adjusted ERA in Dodger history — better than Clayton Kershaw, better than Sandy Koufax.

Those lefties began their careers as Dodgers, and went through the requisite growing pains. With Greinke, Dodger fans have gotten him at his best (or at least, his best since Kansas City 2009, which is saying something).

A theme of the week has been talk that Greinke is the “Greg Maddux of our era,” as none other than Madison Bumgarner told Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News. That’s in no small part because of Greinke’s intelligence, his honesty about himself and others — and his adaptability.

“Don’t ever change,” you might tell Zack Greinke. But you know he will. And as he’s shown, that might not be a bad thing.


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  1. Mark Hagerstrom

    When I open this to read it, it won’t let me scroll down and asks me to sign up in order to follow (I already follow). I try to sign up again and it tells me that I already follow, but it won’t let me scroll down.

    Date: Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:30:03 +0000 To:

    • Jon Weisman

      Try refreshing – I think it’s just a bug.

  2. I also had trouble scrolling and refreshed, and it didn’t help. But when I hit the space bar, it scrolls down. Weird.

    We had better hope that Greinke decides to stay. And given the discussion above, I may have a way. But we may have to get rid of Andrew Friedman and let Greinke double as president of baseball operations to do it!

  3. Looking at that chart, it really shows just how good Kevin Brown was as a Dodger, yet most “fans” think he was horrible.

    • Jon Weisman


    • Don, I agree that Brown was good. It was the contract that was horrible.

      • Jon Weisman

        That contract got us 870 innings of great pitching from Brown, plus two good Jeff Weaver years and a great half-season from Yhency Brazoban. No way to call that horrible.

      • As Jon said, he gave great value on it, and it didn’t mean the Dodgers couldn’t pursue others. I can think of 50 contracts the Dodgers have given at the same time or since that have been more horrible.

  4. Greinke turns 32 this year.

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