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Should the Dodgers Be Scared That Zack Greinke's Elbow Problems Will Resurface?

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Should the Dodgers Be Scared That Zack Greinke's Elbow Problems Will Resurface?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Zack Greinke's elbow.

The Dodgers and their fans should be worried about Zack Greinke's elbow, but maybe not for the reasons they think.

Zack Greinke hasn't thrown an official pitch for the Dodgers yet. And already, fans are worried about the $147 million man—or, more specifically, that man's elbow.

As soon as he came to camp, Greinke had some forearm stiffness and elbow soreness. On March 11, the team revealed that their pitcher had already had an MRI (clean) but was also set to be examined by a team doctor.

After some platelet infusion, Greinke says he's good to go for his debut Friday.

We're not doctors here, so we'll have to take his word for it. Zack Greinke says his elbow feels good, and he's ready to go. His fans should still be worried.

The best predictor for future disabled list time is past disabled list time.

Zack Greinke went on the disabled list last year for more than a month to begin the season. It was his first time on the disabled list, and it was for a rib injury he suffered while playing basketball, but, already, it ups his chances of hitting the disabled list next year.

Then again, usually arm issues in the past predict arm issues in the future, and maybe all this predicts is that Greinke won't play much pickup ball this year.

Zack Greinke's arm has not sent him to the DL in the bigs, and that's good news. His fans should still be worried.

Any given year, Greinke throws sliders and curve balls for a third of his pitches. I've shown that pitchers that throw tons of sliders get hurt more often, and Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs showed that pitchers that throw tons of curve balls are more likely to hit the disabled list.

 

Greinke did not show up on either of these lists because he doesn't throw each of the two pitches enough by themselves. The curve and slider have a lot of similarities, though, and when combined, Greinke's mix does approach the cutoffs for those unfortunate leaderboards.

Zack Greinke might not throw so many sliders or curves that we should be worried about him for that particular reason. His fans should still be worried.

The fact of the matter is that every pitch is bad for you. There are those that are wary of the cutter, the slider, the curveball, the changeup and even the fastball. And even if you're generally healthy, and have good control like Zack Greinke, it's still true that the day after the day you debut in the bigs, your fastball velocity goes down and your likelihood of injury goes up—slowly, every day. That's how age works.

Zack Greinke could be fine, as he is only 29 this season. But any starting pitcher that pitched in the big leagues last year is 39 percent likely to hit the disabled list this year. Teams know this fact—especially the Dodgers, who run about eight deep in the rotation—but maybe fans haven't quite internalized the truth yet.

Zack Greinke fans should be worried about his elbow. Because he's a pitcher.

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