Greinke pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013
|Los Angeles Dodgers – No. 21|
October 21, 1983 |
|May 22, 2004 for the Kansas City Royals|
(through 2014 season)
|Earned run average||3.55|
|Career highlights and awards|
Donald Zackary "Zack" Greinke (// GRING-kee; born October 21, 1983) is an American professional baseball pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball (MLB). He has also pitched for the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Greinke has battled social anxiety disorder throughout his career, which at one point almost caused him to retire from baseball.
He was drafted by the Royals in 2002 after being named the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a High School senior. After playing in the minor leagues, he made his MLB debut in 2004. His career was almost derailed by his battles with depression and anxiety in 2005–2006, and he missed most of the 2006 season. He returned in 2007 as a relief pitcher before rejoining the starting rotation in 2008 and developing into one of the top pitchers in the game. In 2009, he appeared in the MLB All-Star Game, led the major leagues in earned run average, and won the American League Cy Young Award. He was traded in 2011 to the Brewers and in 2012 to the Angels. His 2013 free agent contract with the Dodgers was the largest ever signed by a right-handed pitcher at the time, though it was surpassed the following season.
Early life and high school
Donald Zackary Greinke was born in Orlando, Florida, the son of teachers Donald and Marsha Greinke. He was active in Little League and also excelled in tennis and golf tournaments as a youth. As a teenager, Greinke helped lead his team to the Senior League World Series title in 1999. He played shortstop for the team and his coach estimated that he hit close to .700 in the tournament.
Greinke was primarily a shortstop when he started playing baseball at Apopka High School. He hit over .400 with 31 home runs in his high school career. He worked as a relief pitcher as a sophomore and junior, before becoming a starting pitcher as a senior. During his senior season, in 2002, Greinke compiled a 9–2 win-loss record, a 0.55 earned run average (ERA), and 118 strikeouts in 63 innings. He also held opposing batters to a .107 average. He led his team to a 32–2 record and their third straight district title, and he was selected as Gatorade National Player of the Year. After the high school season ended, he played in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Classic and impressed pro scouts with his performance against some of the best hitters in the country.
Greinke was selected in the first round of the 2002 Major League Baseball Draft by the Kansas City Royals, who felt he was a polished player who could move quickly through their system. Greinke turned down a scholarship offer from Clemson University to sign with the Royals for a $2.5 million signing bonus.
Greinke pitched in six minor league games for the Royals farm teams in 2002: three games for the Gulf Coast Royals, two for the Low-A Spokane Indians, and two innings for the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks of the Carolina League. He had a 3.97 ERA in 111⁄3 innings.
In 2003, Greinke opened the season with Wilmington, where he was 11-1 with a 1.14 ERA in 14 starts. Those numbers earned spots on the Carolina League mid-season and post-season all-star teams as well as Carolina League Pitcher of the Year award. The Blue Rocks' manager, Billy Gardner, Jr., remarked that Greinke was "the best pitcher I've ever seen at this level of the minor leagues." He was promoted in July to the AA Wichita Wranglers of the Texas League, where in nine starts he was 4-3 with a 3.23 ERA. He had a couple of games where he struggled at Wichita and gave up a lot of runs. However, he bounced back and helped them make the playoffs with a victory in the final game of the season.
Greinke was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2003 and he was promoted by the Royals in 2004 to the Omaha Royals of the Pacific Coast League, where he was 1–1 with a 2.51 ERA in six starts.
Major league career
Kansas City Royals (2004–10)
Greinke was called up to the Majors on May 22, 2004, and made his major league debut against the Oakland Athletics, allowing two runs in five innings. At 20 years old he was the youngest player in the Majors and came close to picking up the win, but the team's closer gave up the lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Greinke recorded his first career win on June 8, when he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Montreal Expos. His first major league hit was a home run off Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Russ Ortiz in a 12–11 loss on June 10, 2005; however he also allowed 15 hits in that game, which tied a club record.
Greinke was quiet and sometimes awkward in the clubhouse. To alleviate some of his anxiety and solitude, the Royals arranged for him to live with Royals Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett. Still, Greinke's uneasiness grew. By the 2005–2006 offseason, he almost quit baseball. Greinke later remarked that, at the time, he did not expect to return to baseball. He left spring training for personal reasons in late February 2006. It was later revealed that he was suffering from social anxiety disorder and depression. He reported back to the Royals' spring training facility in Surprise, Arizona, on April 17, where he underwent ongoing pitching sessions. He was placed on the 60-day disabled list due to psychological issues and took time away from baseball entirely. He began seeing a sports psychologist and taking anti-depressant medication.
In 2007, Greinke returned to the Royals rotation at the start of the season, but was sent to the bullpen in early May. Greinke returned to the rotation in the 2008 and performed well that season. His 3.47 ERA was the best by a full-time Royals starter in 11 years. On January 26, 2009, he agreed to a four-year contract with the Royals worth $38 million.
After ending the 2008 season with 15 scoreless innings, Greinke started off 2009 by not allowing a run in his first 24 innings, which meant that for 38 innings in a row, he had not given up a run. Greinke was named American League(AL) Pitcher of the Month for April, his five wins, 0.50 ERA and 44 strikeouts all tops in the Majors. On August 25, Greinke struck out 15 batters, breaking Mark Gubicza's record for strikeouts in a single game for the Royals. On August 30, Greinke had a one-hit complete game against the Seattle Mariners.
Greinke's record for the 2009 season was 16–8, and he posted an ERA of 2.16, the lowest in MLB. On October 21, he was named American League Pitcher of the Year by Sporting News. On October 28, Greinke was awarded the MLBPA Players Choice AL Pitcher of the Year. On November 17, 2009, he won the AL Cy Young Award. Greinke credited some of his performance to his use of "modern pitching metrics" — statistics on team defense and defense independent pitching statistics — to calibrate his own approach to pitching. Greinke specifically mentioned FIP (fielding independent pitching), an indicator developed by sabermetrician Tom Tango, as his favorite statistic. "That's pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible.
Milwaukee Brewers (2011–2012)
On December 17, 2010, Greinke reportedly asked the Royals to trade him, claiming that he was not motivated to play for a rebuilding team. The Royals were unlikely to afford signing Greinke to a long-term deal once he became a free agent, so they agreed to trade him for some quality prospects. On December 19, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers with Yuniesky Betancourt and $2 million for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi. He was given the number 13, instead of his preferred number 23, due to number 23 already being issued to Rickie Weeks. Greinke would later admit that he handled the trade request poorly, that he was "pretty rude" on the way out, but the deal worked out well for both teams.
In February 2011, before reporting to his first spring training with the Brewers, Greinke suffered a fractured rib while playing basketball. He subsequently started the 2011 season on the disabled list.
Greinke made his Brewers debut in the second game of a doubleheader on May 4, 2011. Despite missing the first month of the season because of his injury, Greinke finished second on the team in wins with a 16–6 record. He also had a 3.83 ERA, and 201 strikeouts (7th in the National League (NL)) in 171 innings pitched while surrendering 45 walks. Greinke became only the fifth Brewer pitcher to strike out 200+ batters in a season. He was fourth in the NL in won-lost percentage (.727) and sixth in wins. He went a perfect 11–0 in his starts at Miller Park, the Brewers' home stadium.
On April 7, 2012, the Brewers defeated the Cardinals 6–0 in Greinke's first start of the season after he pitched seven scoreless innings while giving up four hits and striking out 7.
In an oddity, Greinke became the first pitcher to start three straight games in the Majors in 95 years. On July 7, he was ejected from the game after just 4 pitches for angrily throwing the ball into the ground following a close play at first base. The following day, Greinke started again, but lasted only until the third inning. The All-Star break followed, and Greinke was the Brewers' starter on July 13, the team's next game. Greinke's third start ended after 5 innings. Before this, the most recent pitcher to start back-to-back-to-back games was Red Faber in the 1917, who started both games of a September 3 doubleheader, throwing just six innings in total, followed by a complete game win the following day.
Greinke never recorded a loss in any of his starts at Miller Park.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2012)
Despite his success with the Brewers, the team was struggling and not likely to make a playoff run. When talks on a contract extension broke down, the team traded Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on July 27 in exchange for top infield prospect Jean Segura and pitchers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg. Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin remarked that it was one of the tougher decisions he had to make because he was very fond of Greinke.
Greinke made his first start for the Angels on July 29. After a stretch of four unproductive starts from August 3–19 (1–1, 7.20 ERA in 25 innings), Greinke followed up with four consecutive starts of at least seven innings and two or fewer runs — all of them wins. In those starts, he produced a 1.88 ERA in 281⁄3 innings.
Greinke became the first pitcher since 1920 to record 13 strikeouts in five innings or less in a game against the Seattle Mariners on September 25. He then combined with four other Angels pitchers to tie an American League record by striking out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. He finished his time with the Angels with a 6–2 record and a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts.
Los Angeles Dodgers (2013–present)
Greinke agreed to a six-year free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers worth $147 million, on December 8, 2012. The deal, which was finalized on December 10, was the largest ever for a right-handed pitcher at the time it was signed. It was surpassed a year later by Félix Hernández's seven-year $175 million contract extension with the Seattle Mariners. Greinke later claimed that he chose the Dodgers over the Texas Rangers, who also were pursuing him, primarily because they offered more money.
On April 11, 2013, Greinke fractured his left collarbone in a brawl with Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres after Quentin was hit by an inside pitch and charged the mound. He was placed on the disabled list and it was revealed that he would require surgery, which was performed on April 13. It was estimated that he would miss eight weeks of the season. However, he returned to action on May 10 when he pitched in a rehab game for the Class-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He returned to the Dodgers on May 15.
On June 11, 2013, Greinke was hit in the head and neck area by Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Ian Kennedy, leading to a bench-clearing brawl. Because Greinke did not participate in the fight, he was not ejected.
Greinke picked up his 100th career win on August 5, 2013, against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was 5–0 with a 1.23 ERA during the month of August and was selected as National League Pitcher of the Month. Greinke finished his first season with the Dodgers with a 15–4 record and 2.63 ERA in 28 starts. He also batted .328, the highest batting average for a Dodgers pitcher since Orel Hershiser in the 1993 season. He was awarded with the Silver Slugger Award as the best hitting pitcher in the National League.
Greinke began the 2014 season by setting an MLB record with 22 straight starts (dating back to July 2013) where he allowed two or fewer earned runs. He was selected to the National League squad at the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game and finished the season with a 17–8 record and a 2.71 ERA in 32 starts, the highest win total in his career.
Greinke throws six different pitches:
- Four-seam fastball — 92 to 96 miles per hour (148–154 km/h)
- Two-seam fastball — 91 to 95 miles per hour (146–153 km/h)
- Cutter — 88 to 91 miles per hour (142–146 km/h)
- Slider — 83 to 86 miles per hour (134–138 km/h)
- Curveball — 68 to 77 miles per hour (109–124 km/h)
- Changeup — 85 to 87 miles per hour (137–140 km/h)
His two-seamer is his most-used pitch against right-handed hitters and is used more frequently than against lefties, as is his slider. His changeup is only thrown to left-handed hitters. Greinke's curveball is typically used early in the count, while his slider is his most common 2-strike pitch.
Greinke's slider has been one of his more effective pitches. Hitters have only a .154 batting average and .230 slugging percentage against the pitch. It has produced 51% of his strikeouts. Its whiff rate is 42%, and more than half the pitches put in play are ground balls. However, he limits the use of the slider in order to not put excessive strain on his arm.
Greinke has produced good strikeout-to-walk ratios throughout his career, finishing in his league's top 10 five times and ranking fifth among active pitchers in the category, at 3.5:1 as of the start of the 2014 season.
Greinke has been described as a "scientist as a pitcher" and is known for preparing for each start more extensively than most.
Greinke is married to Emily Kuchar – whom he met while attending Apopka High School. Kuchar is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and was Miss Daytona Beach USA 2008. His younger brother, Luke, was also a pitcher. Luke played college baseball at Auburn University and was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 12th round of the 2008 MLB Draft, but was out of baseball a year later because of injuries.
- List of Major League Baseball earned run average champions
- List of Major League Baseball pitchers who have struck out four batters in one inning
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