We’re a lucky 13 days away from Opening Day 2012.
(First of all, Happy 30th Birthday, Corey Hart!)
Moreover, it’s the second-to-last weekend without regular season baseball for the next six months.
Please excuse me for a moment while I reread that sentence, smile and exhale contently.
Where were we?
Toward the end of the 2010 season, the writing seemed to be on the walls at Miller Park.
The Brewers were limping to a 77-85 record and a third-place finish in the National League Central.
Littering the roster were players the likes of Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush, Doug Davis, Jody Gerut, Chris Smith, Adam Stern, Joe Inglett (knuckleball notwithstanding), and other players that have at best moved on to a different team and at worst are now out of the game altogether. Wasting space on the bench along side them was manager Ken Macha too.
And arguably the team’s best player received a standing ovation in his final home game because fans realized that what made the most sense for the future was probably sending Prince Fielder to a different team in order to get some return for him before he would inevitably leave town after the 2011 season anyway.
In short, the system was no longer working in Cream City, though you could argue that perhaps it never had because no World Series title had come home. All offense and minimal pitching wasn’t getting the job done. It was time for a change.
That change came by way of two off-season trades to acquire starting pitching. One was already discussed five days ago when we previewed #18 Shaun Marcum.
The other shall be discussed now because he wears #13. His name is:
It was nearing Christmas in 2010 and Brewers fans were happily examining Shaun Marcum’s career statistics and wondering how he would perform following Yovani Gallardo as the number two in the starting rotation.
Then, all of a sudden, an acquaintance of mine started tweeting one night about another trade that he had caught wind of. If it went down, it would change the game in the NL Central. If it came off, it would turn the division on its ear.
Needless to say, it went down.
Doug Melvin sent four young, talented ballplayers to the Kansas City Royals as a return for one “shortstop” and one Donald Zackary Greinke.
A former Cy Young Award winner coming to Milwaukee? That reminded a lot of people of the 2008 acquisition of CC Sabathia. That led to a playoff appearance. That was a good thing.
We all know now that 2011 ended with a trip to the NLCS, but it didn’t quite start out so happily.
Pitchers and Catchers reported to Spring Training in 2011 to expectations and hope among fans. Fielder was not traded, Greinke and Marcum were on the mound, John Axford was ready to slam the door on nearly any game with a late and close lead…in short, optimism abounded.
Then news began trickling out about a pickup basketball game, a hard fall, and a cracked rib.
The newly-acquired ace was shelved. He wouldn’t be with the team on Opening Day. He wouldn’t make a start in the entire month of April or maybe more. How would the team survive?
Greinke’s first start was on May 4 in Atlanta against the Braves. Greinke lost that start, only going four innings and allowing five runs (four earned).
Well, then worry turned to panic for some.
The team was 13-17 after Greinke’s first start. The cries were roughly the same. They gave up too much for this injury-prone bum. This guy can’t pitch even though he is “healthy”. They’re paying him how much to pitch this poorly?
Greinke won four of his next five starts, but allowed 16 earned runs over 30 innings.
The sky was officially falling.
“Maybe we can trade him.” “What a bum!” “Cy Yuck!”
It’s like it was “Jump to Conclusions Mat” night at Miller Park.
The only thing keeping the critics somewhat at bay was that by the end of May the team was 30-25 overall. In fact, from the first game Greinke pitched through the end of the season, the team played 33 games over .500 baseball.
Something about getting that piece back in the rotation calmed this team down. It helped Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson all perform better by way of bumping them to lesser opponents. It helped challenge Gallardo to be at his best each and every time out.
Greinke made everybody around him better. That’s an incredibly difficult thing to do in a sport like baseball. You are so self-reliant at times in this particular team game. Every at-bat is a one-on-one battle until wood hits leather, and even then there’s usually something that prevents a defender from being involved. Foul balls into the stands, home runs, come-backers…there’s a lot of aspects of the individual battle inside of the team sport.
But somehow Greinke had that effect.
He had an 11-0 record at Miller Park in 15 starts. His peripherals were solid despite some of the traditional stats not looking as good.
There is a statistic called xFIP which stands for expected fielding-independent pitching. To put it crudely, it measures what a pitcher’s ERA would be if the defense wasn’t a factor. Greinke’s was a 2.56 which was the best mark in baseball. (Gallardo, for the record, was tenth in all of baseball with a 3.19 xFIP.)
Greinke finished the season with a 16-6 record, 3.83 ERA, having allowed 161 hits and 45 walks (1.20 WHIP), 82 runs (73 earned), an opponents’ batting average of .245 and recording 201 strikeouts…in just 171.2 innings pitched over 28 starts. Yeah, 201 strikeouts after missing an entire month of starts.
Greinke wasn’t very good on the road, and he struggled in the playoffs, but those things (and perhaps the looming visage of free agency on the horizon) have made Greinke hungry though. He has spent Spring Training 2012 healthy which has allowed him to find a delivery which increases his control without sacrificing velocity. He’s also working on a new pitch.
A guy who struck out 201 and only walked 45 feels that he’ll have better command in 2012. He’s also put a cut fastball in his repertoire for the new season. In his most recent start of this writing, Greinke threw 76 pitches, over twenty of which were cutters. The results speak for themselves: 5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K.
Do you think he’s ready for the season to begin? So does Ron Roenicke.
There has been talk this spring about a possible contract extension between Greinke and the Brewers. I, myself, reported on initial contact to that end happening last December during the Winter Meetings.
If the 2012 Cactus League is any indication, it would certainly behoove the Brewers to lock Greinke up sooner rather than later. If he has a season that lives up to his 2011 peripherals while having the traditional stats more in line with his ace persona…it could cost the Brewers a pretty penny to retain his services.
Working in Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio’s favor is that Greinke has praised them both in the media throughout the tenure of his employment in Milwaukee. He is allowed to scratch his itches, like attending a college baseball game to scout a player, for example. Milwaukee understands his social anxiety and allows Greinke to excuse himself from long meetings to take a quick mental break before getting back to work.
The environment has been wonderful for Greinke, and we fans are a big part of that. He loves playing in front of us and the support we show him is paramount in the Brewers’ attempts to retain his services.
In short, one more time, this relationship has been wonderful to this point and could very likely be wonderful for a few more years at least if a deal can be struck.
Greinke is working without an agent, though news came out today that he’s been consulting with Ryan Braun on some pitching comps as far as contracts that have been signed. No telling if anything will come of it, but at least for now it appears to be all positive.
For the Milwaukee Brewers to continue competing in the window which they’ve opened for themselves, quality pitching is a must. And when that quality is of such a high level and is already in town…
Well, it just goes to show you how important these negotiations are…assuming the sides are even actively talking at this point.
Short-term, however, and as a matter of opinion, 2012 is looking like an amazing opportunity for the Milwaukee Brewers to not only repeat at NL Central Champions, but also to possibly advance at least one more step into the World Series.
Once you’re in, anything can happen.
And should Greinke decides to stay in a Brewers uniform beyond 2012, anything might be possible over the length of that deal.
In short, as fans we should be so lucky.