How Much Is Zack Greinke's Return Going to Help the Struggling Dodgers?

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How Much Is Zack Greinke's Return Going to Help the Struggling Dodgers?
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

When Zack Greinke broke his collarbone in a collision with a very angry Carlos Quentin last month, the word was that the Los Angeles Dodgers would have to make do without their $147 million right-hander for eight weeks.

So much for that. Greinke's going to be back a lot sooner, and not a moment too soon as far as the Dodgers are concerned. They could use a good pick-me-up, and they'll get it Wednesday:

Greinke last started on April 11 and had surgery a few days later, so an eight-week stay on the DL has turned into a five-week stay. A pleasant surprise if there ever was one.

I thought about entertaining the notion that Greinke's return could be what the Dodgers need to get them back toward the top of the NL West, but only for about, oh, five seconds. The Dodgers have been a mess in the month of May, and Greinke is only one guy. A starting pitcher, at that. He's only going to be able to help so much.

As for how much Greinke can help the Dodgers, the only thing that's certain is that he won't be any worse than the various fill-ins the club has had to plug in during his absence.

In fact, Greinke racked up more value in two starts than a number of other Dodgers starters have all season. Consider his FanGraphs WAR compared to the WAR compiled by some of his comrades:

Player Appearances Starts fWAR
 Zack Greinke 0.5 
 Josh Beckett 8 8 0.0
 Chad Billingsley 0.0 
 Matt Magill 3 3 0.0
 Ted Lilly 2 2 -0.1
 Chris Capuano -0.1 

Despite the fact he's been gone for the last month, the only Dodgers starters with higher fWARs than Greinke are Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu. That gives you an idea how well Greinke was pitching before Quentin decided to give him a good whooping.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com

But are the Dodgers actually going to get that version of Greinke back?

It's a good question. I frankly don't remember the last time a pitcher suffered an injury like Greinke's, and neither Google nor Baseball Prospectus' transactions browser proved to be much help.

However, Bleacher Report injury expert Will Carroll took a look at the situation last month and wrote that Greinke should have "no real trouble" in his return. His word is good enough for me.

And since Greinke should be OK when he comes back from the DL, I'm willing to take his rest-of-season projections at face value. From FanGraphs:

Projection Starts Innings K/9 BB/9 ERA
 ZiPS  22  139  8.79  2.17  3.12 
 Steamer  25 149  8.54  2.18  3.24 

There's a disagreement here on the number of starts and innings Greinke is going to rack up the rest of the way, but the performance-based numbers are about the same. 

And that's good, because those numbers are solid. They say that it should be win day when Grienke pitches for the Dodgers from here on out.

But that's obviously where the "only a starting pitcher" part comes into play.

The Dodgers are seven games under .500 heading into their Tuesday night matchup against the Washington Nationals. Greinke could come back, make 25 starts and the Dodgers could win every single one of them and break even elsewhere, and you're only talking about an 18-game swing that would make them a 90-win team. The San Francisco Giants, meanwhile, are on a 98-win pace.

And of course, it's silly to think that the Dodgers will win every single one of Greinke's starts the rest of the way. To even have a shot at the 90-win plateau, they're going to have to win the majority of his starts and do better than break even in games started by everyone else. 

Over or under a 3.25 ERA for Zack Greinke the rest of the way?

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That's the long way of saying the Dodgers need to actually become a good team, which is something they haven't been this season for darn good reasons. Greinke's injury was the start of an unfortunate trend that wrecked the Dodgers' starting rotation, and the club's offense has left much to be desired from the get-go.

General manager Ned Colletti could do his club a big favor at the trade deadline by going out and getting a Cliff Lee or another stud, but there's not a whole lot anyone can do besides cross his or her fingers in regard to the offense. The Dodgers need a few things to pan out.

One: Hanley Ramirez has to get healthy and stay healthy. He can be the guy who provides some much-needed thump on the left side of the Dodgers infield, which has combined to produce only five homers this season.

Two: Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier need to start earning their money. Especially Kemp, whose power has been missing all season and hasn't really shown signs of returning. After posting a 0.83 ISO in April, he has just a 0.44 ISO in May (see FanGraphs).

Assuming he picks up about where he left off, Greinke's return is going to help the Dodgers get back in the National League playoff picture. But they fell in a deep hole while he was gone, and his return is only going to answer one question out of many.

But look at it this way, Dodgers fans. ESPN.com has the team's chances of making the playoffs at an even six percent. The only way to go is up.

 

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

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