2011 MLB Predictions: Zack Greinke and 9 NL Central Second-Half Turnarounds
It happens every year. A player on your favorite team is not performing well.
Is it destined to be a season-long slump or will they bounce back and help the team?
In the case of the Milwaukee Brewer’s “ace” Zack Greinke, he is due for a big turnaround in the second half. Why? Who else should you watch for some improvement?
Let’s take a look.
Cy Young or Average Joe?
While Greinke’s ERA does not look pretty at 5.23, his advanced statistics look far better. He is on pace for career bests in strikeouts per nine innings (11.8) and walks per nine innings (1.52).
The last two pitchers with those kinds of strikeout ratios were Kerry Wood in 2003 and Randy Johnson in 2001. That is definitely some good company.
So if his numbers are so great, why is Greinke’s ERA inflated?
That’s the million dollar question. When hitters have made contact with Greinke’s pitches, they are crushing them. Greinke is giving up more line drives and home runs this year than in preceding years in his career. This is due to a variety of factors.
Greinke does not walk many batters which means he pounds the strike zone. This is generally a good thing, but not when you are falling behind in counts.
Greinke has not thrown as many strikes this year and when behind in the count, he throws his fastball. His fastball velocity, however, has averaged just over 92 mph this year compared to over 93 mph last year and 94 mph in his Cy Young season.
Additionally, his changeup speed has increased over the past three years. In 2009, he had an 11 mph difference between the two pitches which is considered very good as hitters will be fooled with the same arm action and spin on the ball. This year, the difference in speed is a mere 6 mph, causing more balls to be put in play or at least fouled off.
With all of this information, why will Greinke have a better second half?
Greinke is only 53 innings into the season after being out with a rib injury. If he is completely healthy and has no mental hang-ups, his velocity should increase in due time. Even if it does not, his ERA should come back to slightly above 4.00. By now, the Brewers have to know he pitches better with Lucroy behind the plate as well.
Me and Casey McGehee
I want to believe in Casey McGehee. He is very likeable. But likeable is getting more and more difficult with his current production. Moreover, it’s hard to figure out exactly why the mighty Casey is struggling at the bat.
McGehee had two great, albeit surprising, seasons for Milwaukee. This year, he has been mired in a season-long slump with a .232 batting average, a .289 on base percentage, and a .327 slugging percentage.
These numbers are far from what McGehee did this last two years.
So why will McGehee bounce back?
In short, because he has nowhere to go but up. He has been miserable at the plate and in the field. It’s not for a lack of effort because McGehee has put in a lot of extra time to try to right the ship.
His statistics suggest he is seeing the ball ok, but he may need to make adjustments to his approach or pitch selection. He is striking out at a similar rate to the past two years and his walk rate is similar as well.
The biggest issue is that he is hitting far more ground balls than ever before. That would be great if he were Willie Mayes Hayes in the movie Major League; but alas he is not.
If he keeps putting in the work, the adjustments will come. He just has to grind it out and likely start hitting to right field more like in years past.
Edinson Volquez can be an ace of the Reds staff. Though he has not looked the part of an ace this year, Volquez’ velocity and strikeouts remain high.
His issue is command as he is walking nearly six batters per inning and giving up more home runs than usual. Though Volquez can be erratic, his command issues could still be attributed to his Tommy John surgery in August of 2009.
Location is generally the last part of a pitcher’s repertoire to come back and Volquez already has everything else back. Even if he continues to try to strike everyone out, as his command improves he and the Reds will reap the rewards.
Scott Rolen has been a great hitter throughout his career and this year will be no different. Rolen has struggled to find his groove this year but has also spent more than three weeks on the disabled list.
Rolen simply needs time to get in a groove and of course the fortune of good health. He may already be on his way as he is playing more and more. The results have been positive as he is eight for his last 21 with a home run and four doubles.
Reports for Alvarez were not good even before the season began. He had noticeable weight gain and not the good kind. Add a slow start and a quadriceps injury and Alvarez never got going at the plate.
Much like Casey McGehee, Alvarez is hitting more groundballs this year and less fly balls. Also like McGehee, Alvarez is not a speedster.
The increase in ground balls may be due to the common sophomore slumps hitters go through after pitchers made adjustments to them from the previous year. This appears to be the case for Alvarez as he has seen noticeably less fastballs and more off speed pitches.
His plate discipline has actually been better this year so it may just be a matter of him making the adjustments. Can he do it this year? Time will tell.
One thing is certain. Even if he does not make the adjustments, his confidence should be soaring after his minor league rehabilitation stint after the all-star break. This alone should boost his numbers a little when he returns to the big leagues.
The only knock on Ramirez this year is his lack of extra base hits. His peripheral statistics are all in line with career averages.
That means he has either lost power due to age or injury or the power will still be there in the end. He is on pace for 11 home runs this year. I still cannot bet against a man with a track record like Ramirez.
In the past ten seasons, he has only failed to hit 25 home runs twice. In 2002, he hit 18; in 2009, he hit 15…in about a half a season.
As the weather warms up and the winds blow out of Wrigley Field, Aramis Ramirez will heat up too.
Tyler Colvin has been downright awful this year. His batting average of .105 in the majors means he has to be better in the second half of the season.
Currently, Colvin is batting .270 in Triple-A, even hitting for the cycle just a week ago. Colvin definitely needs more seasoning in Triple-A as he made the jump from Double-A to the majors in 2009.
The Cubs may very well keep him in Triple-A for the rest of the season and call up someone like heralded prospect Brett Jackson instead. If Colvin comes back, he will be better. He just needs time to figure things out.
Ryan Dempster is a bit of an enigma this year. ERA aside, his statistics, pitch types and frequency of them, velocity, and movement are all nearly identical.
The defense behind him is not phenomenal but it should not be so poor to bring his ERA to 5.46. If you take defense out of the equation, his ERA stands at a reasonable 4.14.
So is it just bad luck? Teams haven’t really hit Dempster any harder than in the past. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess, but if he has consistency in all of his other statistics, his ERA will have to come down.
Much like Dempster, Chris Carpenter has fairly similar numbers in comparison to previous years. In fact, he has had better velocity and struck out more batters per nine innings this year than usual.
Two things are currently going against Carpenter though. One is that he has been horrible on the road. His road ERA stands at 5.57 with a 1.51 WHIP and opponents hitting .316 against him. I don’t know what the solution is to this problem and evidently neither does Carpenter.
The remaining issue is that he is having a hard time getting right-handed hitters out. If that seems odd to you, it should. While Carpenter’s 2011 season numbers against lefties are very close to his career norms, righties are batting .302 against him this year compared to his .251 career average.
Carpenter has to figure out how to get right-handed hitters out. He certainly knows how to pitch and even with his struggles, he still has perhaps the best pitching coach in Dave Duncan to help him figure it out.
Lastly, we have Carlos Lee. Father time may be catching up with Lee a little bit as he is 35 years old. As such, it became evident last season that he is past his prime.
Lee is still a better hitter than what he has shown this year, however. He currently has five home runs and 37 runs batted in, both of which are on pace for career lows. Most of this damage has come against left-handed pitchers as well which is unusual based on his career splits.
It is worth noting that he currently has a high pop up rate, up nine percent from last year. This could mean he is not quite seeing the ball well enough to center on it.
He could stay in a slump the rest of the season, but he could also put together a hot streak. When Lee is going right, his numbers will increase dramatically. Based on his career to date, his second half will definitely be better than the first.
Several players have not met their respective team’s expectations this year. Whether age, health, lineup protection, or growth and development stand in the way is speculation.
If analyzing current and career statistics means anything, the NL Central will be an even more exciting race than it already is. A better Zack Greinke, Edinson Volquez, and Chris Carpenter are a good start.