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Zack Greinke: 5 Things We Learned About Pitcher's Angels Impact in His AL Return

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJune 20, 2016

Zack Greinke: 5 Things We Learned About Pitcher's Angels Impact in His AL Return

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    The Los Angeles Angels got to show off their new toy on Sunday, as Zack Greinke took the hill against the Tampa Bay Rays for his first start for the Halos after he was acquired in a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday.

    Things could have gone better. Greinke pitched well, but he ended up losing the game. The Angels couldn't muster any runs against Jeremy Hellickson and a trio of Rays relievers, losing by the final of 2-0.

    Though things didn't go according to plan, Greinke's first start in an Angels uniform could have gone a lot worse. The important part is that he pitched well enough to win the game, which is about all the Angels could have asked for.

    In all, we learned a lot about Greinke and the Angels on Sunday. Here's a rundown of the five most pressing lessons from his debut.

    Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Greinke Can Still Pitch in the American League

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    As Greinke's name began to loom larger and larger on the trade market, some critics argued that he was overrated and not worth the asking price the Brewers had placed on him.

    When the trade to the Angels was finalized, some opined that a move back to the American League would be a disaster. After all, there's a lot more offense in the AL than there is in the Senior Circuit, and Greinke just doesn't have the stuff to deal with it.

    So much for that.

    Greinke handled his transition back to the AL quite well, giving up just two earned runs on seven hits and a walk in seven innings. He struck out eight. In all, a typical Greinke performance.

    Granted, this was against a Rays team that ranks dead last in baseball with a team batting average of .231. Greinke didn't exactly go out and dominate the 1927 Yankees.

    Still, he only gave up a pair of extra-base hits, neither of which left the yard. And had it not been for his wild pitch in the seventh inning, Greinke would have allowed just a single run. There are very few red flags to discuss regarding his outing on Sunday.

    We shouldn't be so surprised that Greinke fared well in his return to the AL. He had a 1.76 ERA in four interleague starts with the Brewers, and he pitched pretty well in his last year in the AL in 2010 when he was still with the Kansas City Royals. He may have posted an ERA of 4.17, but his FIP was a mere 3.34, according to FanGraphs.

    That's a sign that Greinke's 4.17 ERA in 2010 had more to do with bad luck than bad pitching.

    And that brings us to our next point.

Greinke Is Still a Hard-Luck Pitcher

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    Greinke had a 3.44 ERA when he was traded by the Brewers to the Angels. That's the kind of ERA that's solid enough, but hardly befitting of an ace pitcher.

    Greinke, however, was the major league leader in FIP at the time of the trade. He still is, as his 2.44 FIP gives him a slight edge over Stephen Strasburg, according to FanGraphs.

    Part of the reason Greinke's ERA wasn't as sparkly as his FIP was because the Brewers were (and still are) a lousy defensive team, as they rank among the lowest of the low in both team UZR and defensive runs saved. The guys who were supposed to have Greinke's back made it hard for him to keep runs off the scoreboard.

    The Angels, on the other hand, are an excellent defensive team. That obviously bodes well for Greinke going forward. Part of the reason Jered Weaver has been so successful this season is because he's trusted his defense to make plays. Greinke will be able to do the same.

    But you still get the sense that he's a tough-luck pitcher after watching his start on Sunday.

    It's kind of hard for pitchers to win ballgames when they don't get any run support. And when there is no run support forthcoming, pitchers can tend to complicate things by trying to do too much.

    This could explain why Greinke didn't have his best fastball command, which he admitted to the Los Angeles Times. It may also explain the wild pitch that brought home a run in the seventh inning.

    This isn't a bad omen or anything. It would be if the Angels were a poor offensive team, but they're not. They're going to score Greinke plenty of runs, and he's going to help them win plenty of games.

    When Greinke does lose, it will be in games like Sunday's, when he just can't catch a break.

The Fans Aren't Going to Show Up in Droves to Watch Greinke

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    The Angels generated a ton of hype this offseason when they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to big contracts. In recent months, it's become apparent that they have baseball's best all-around player in Mike Trout.

    You'd think that the Angels would be doing quite well from an attendance perspective. But oddly enough, they're not.

    Per Baseball-Reference.com, the Angels are actually drawing about 1,500 fewer fans per game than they did in 2011. An average Angels game draws around 37,500 fans.

    Sunday's game drew 35,477 fans to the ballpark. It was a slightly below-average turnout.

    This wouldn't be worth mentioning if it was just another game, but this game was the debut of the Angels' prize trade-deadline acquisition. To boot, we're talking about a former Cy Young Award winner.

    Evidently, the locals didn't feel all that compelled to make their way to Angel Stadium.

    This says as much about Greinke as it does about Angels fans. He may be a great pitcher, but he's not the kind of superstar who can draw fans out to the park all on his own.

    Still, you'd think that something like this would become apparent well after his first start for the organization, not 24 hours after the fact.

Greinke Won't Win the AL West All on His Own

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    At the start of the day on Sunday, the Angels were in third place in the AL West and four games behind the Texas Rangers.

    They are now five games behind the Rangers and are still a half-game behind the Oakland A's for second place in the division.

    This just goes to show that a single starting pitcher can only make so much of a difference. Greinke did his part, but his offense went silent and the Angels lost the game.

    This counts as a wasted start. The Angels are only going to get about 10 more out of Greinke, so they better not waste any more of them if they have it in mind to win the AL West. When he pitches, they need to win. Plain and simple.

    A division title isn't guaranteed, even if the Angels go undefeated in Greinke's starts from here on out, but it goes without saying that the Angels would much rather win the division than settle for a wild-card berth. There's a huge difference between walking into a five-game series and walking into a one-game play-in.

    Winning the division will guarantee the Angels a chance to put their star-studded rotation on display, and they're going to need to do that in order to justify the Greinke trade.

    If they didn't already know it before, they now know that they have a lot of work to do.

...But It's OK for Fans to Dream

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    When the Angels made the trade for Greinke on Friday evening, they did so thinking that they were getting an ace pitcher in return.

    Greinke could have proven otherwise right out of the gate. A bad outing wouldn't have been a complete disaster, but it wouldn't have been majorly disappointing given the price they paid to get him.

    Instead, Greinke pitched like an ace. He pitched like exactly the kind of pitcher the Angels hoped they were getting.

    Cue sighs of relief all around in Anaheim.

    It's only one start, but a large sample size isn't needed for anyone to justify calling Greinke an elite starting pitcher. His performance on Sunday was right in line with what his track record suggested about him, and it stands to reason there will be plenty more such performances to come.

    So both the Angels and their fans can dream big. Specifically, they can dream of what a rotation of Jered Weaver, Greinke, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren will be able to do in a short postseason series.

    It will be able to do wonders. The Weaver-Greinke duo is as good as it gets, and Wilson and Haren would be top-of-the-rotation starters on most other teams.

    The Angels want to win it all with Greinke in their rotation. There's no reason to think they can't.

     

    If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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