Truly special season brewing for Greinke in Kansas City

Updated: May 5, 2009

John Rieger/US Presswire

Zack Greinke has allowed two earned runs in 45 innings of work so far this season.

Zack Greinke is having an unforgettable start to this season, improving to 6-0 with a 0.40 ERA after Monday's complete-game shutout of the White Sox. It's like he is playing a video game right now. If you were going to design a pitcher and put together a bunch of great assets into one body, Greinke wouldn't be a bad result.

Honestly, it's hard to analyze a guy who is pitching so perfectly. Against the White Sox, his first pitch was 97 mph and his last one was 95. He's got the velocity of a top closer and one of the better breaking balls around with an 84 mph, sharp curveball. He also has a very fluid motion, so his ball is sneaky fast. He's not a very big man (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and there is really nothing about him when he stands on the mound or goes into his delivery that prepares hitters for what they are in for. Then, all of a sudden, they are seeing wicked stuff.

So how does he do it? It's not like he's making exceptional pitches as far as painting the corners or using pinpoint location like Greg Maddux did so well for so many years. The pitches start in the middle of the strike zone, and because of the velocity, movement or sharpness to his breaking ball, the hitter is committed, and suddenly it's too late. Greinke's getting a lot of check swings and swings and misses. In fact, he has 84 swinging strikes this season, which was the best in the majors through May 4. The Mets' Johan Santana was second with 82.

The opposing hitter is just not finding the ball, and when big league hitters are left flailing, that tells you how exceptional his stuff is right now. He reminds me a lot of Pedro Martinez without the changeup. In 1999, when Martinez went 23-4 with the Red Sox and was a unanimous selection for the AL Cy Young award, he didn't get off to the kind of start Greinke has this year. Pedro didn't win his sixth game until his seventh start, and when he did, he had an ERA of 1.74.

I realize it is very premature to talk about postseason awards, but consider the following, courtesy of ESPN Research: Until Greinke did it this season, there were only five pitchers in the divisional era (Cliff Lee in 2008, Randy Johnson in 2000, Pedro Martinez in 1997, Roger Clemens in 1991 and Fernando Valenzuela in 1981) to win their first six starts and have an ERA under 1.00. They all went on to win the Cy Young Award.

The Cy Young may not be the only award he wins, either. The MVP, which hasn't been won by a starter since Roger Clemens in 1986, could be a possibility. For argument's sake, let's say he pitches 18 games over .500 this year (a record of 20-2 or 22-4) and the rest of the Royals' staff goes .500. That's a 90-win season for Kansas City and a chance at winning the division.

If the rest of the Royals don't keep pace and fall off this season, he could start to remind everyone of Steve Carlton's 1972 season, when he won 27 games for the 59-win Phillies. Carlton would be tough to match, obviously, but I always think of what Sandy Koufax said to me when I was with the Dodgers and we were going through some tough seasons. He told me that I needed to think it was a different team when I was on the mound and not to let losing affect my attitude or expectations on the mound. Greinke's going to have to have that kind of mentality if the team really struggles this year. He needs to think he can go out every fifth day and carry his team to a win. And he just may be able to do that like Koufax and Carlton did.

He also has the advantage of playing in a small market, so the media crush is not a big factor. He is still under the radar for most sports fans and has a chance to stay there for a while because he's playing for the Royals. It's inevitable that he'll start to get the biggest share of the headlines and attention in Kansas City, but Greinke is the kind of classy, humble guy that will have his teammates rooting for him all year long. That sounds obvious, but if you are arrogant and start to think you are better than your teammates, things can get messy. That's not a concern here.

Greinke could be headed for a historic season.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: May 4 | May 3 | April 30 | April 29 | April 28


Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
E. Dukes, Was4HouOswaltBot 4: 0-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
B. Molina, SF5ChCMarshallTop 1: 0-0, 1 Outs. 2 on.
A. Lind, Tor6CleSippBot 7: 1-2, 2 Outs. 2 on.
S. Rolen, Tor3CleSippBot 7: 3-2, 2 Outs. None on.
C. Guzman, Was1HouGearyBot 8: 0-0, 1 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Tuesday's homers


Blue Jays at Angels

Roy Halladay has given up at least eight hits in each of his past four starts, but he has been able to limit the damage and win three of those outings mostly because he has allowed a total of two walks in those starts. His control has been pinpoint this season -- 32 strikeouts, four walks.

Phillies at Mets

OK, this might not be the best pitching matchup for the Phillies, who send Chan Ho Park (0-1, 8.57 ERA) out to face Johan Santana. Park, though, has decent numbers over his career against the Mets, going 5-4 with a 3.10 ERA in 16 appearances (10 starts).

Mariners at Royals

The two surprises of the American League so far meet. The hitters should be looking forward to this one -- Carlos Silva and his 7.36 ERA goes up against Sidney Ponson and his 7.16 ERA.

For the rest of Wednesday's schedule, click here.



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?


10 p.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Chris Singleton, Steve Phillips
12 a.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Chris Singleton, Steve Phillips



Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the Reds' Edinson Volquez, who has been dominant in his past two starts. On Tuesday, he tossed eight shutout innings in a 7-0 win against the Marlins:

Edinson Volquez (2009)
First four starts Past two starts
W-L 2-2 2-0
ERA 6.20 0.00
BA against .228 .082
BB per 9 innings 8.9 2.8



Shane VictorinoShane Victorino toyed with a cycle in his 4-for-5 night. Homered in the first of the Phillies' 10-7 win against the Cardinals, doubled in the third, singled in the fifth and singled in the seventh. He drove home three and scored three times.
Rick Porcello• Tigers rookie Rick Porcello had no trouble with the Twins on Tuesday. He cruised through seven shutout innings in the Tigers' 9-0 win. He allowed four hits and struck out three. He needed only 87 pitches to get through seven innings.
Denny Stark• The Mariners pitched so well for nine innings. Then the 10th inning happened. Seattle allowed six runs, turning a 1-1 game into a 7-2 loss at home against the Rangers. Denny Stark was responsible. In one inning of work, he gave up five hits and all six Rangers runs.
Dan UgglaDan Uggla, an All-Star a season ago, continues to struggle. His 0-for-3 performance against the Reds on Tuesday dropped his average to .196. Over his past seven games, Uggla is 3-for-27. At the beginning of the stretch, he was hitting .231.


Mark Buehrle takes his 4-0 record to the mound at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday night against Detroit. The key to Buehrle's early success in 2009 has been the effectiveness of his off-speed pitches. Although he's thrown these pitches less, the results have led Buehrle to his undefeated start.

Mark Buehrle off-speed numbers
1st 5 starts of 2008 vs. 1st 5 starts of 2009
2008 2009
Off-speed pitches 217 174
BA against .407 .238
Hits allowed 24 10
Ground ball pct. 52 40
Fly out pct. 43 54

-- ESPN Stats & Information


Tristan H. Cockcroft examines the 15 games on Wednesday's slate.

Fantasy Cockcroft ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Wednesday. Daily Notes