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After 2016 Bust, Zack Greinke Can Earn $206.5M Megadeal with Epic Playoff Run

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 4, 2017

Arizona Diamondbacks' Zack Greinke warms up during the first inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, in Phoenix. The Rockies defeated the Diamondbacks 5-4. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

It wasn't long ago that the central questions regarding Zack Greinke were when and how the Arizona Diamondbacks would rid their books of his $206.5 million contract.

Now, here he is with an opportunity to show why he's worth every penny.

At least to start, "here" will be the pitching mound at Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks are set to throw down with the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday evening. Arizona manager Torey Lovullo couldn't have gone wrong in picking a starter from an elite rotation, but only Greinke has a chance of picking up a second Cy Young come awards season.

The Rockies are up against a wily 33-year-old who posted a 3.20 ERA across 202.1 innings to finish fourth in the Senior Circuit with 6.1 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

But it isn't just Greinke they have to worry about. The Diamondbacks finished hot with a 26-12 run. They were nigh unbeatable at Chase Field all year, putting up a 52-29 record that was driven by hot hitting.

These are among the top reasons why the D-Backs are favored to win and advance to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series, according to Odds Shark. Once there, Greinke would get at least one chance to continue Arizona's momentum.

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What a difference a year makes.

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 11:  Free agent aquisition Zack Greinke of the Arizona Diamondbacks tries on his new hat as General Manager Dave Stewart looks on during a press conference at Chase Field on December 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Fr
Ralph Freso/Getty Images

When Greinke became a free agent after 2015, some team was bound to back up the Brink's truck to sign him. While nobody predicted the Diamondbacks would offer a six-year deal worth a record $34.4 million per year, perhaps somebody should have.

He was an established ace who had just led MLB with a 1.66 ERA and a staggering 9.3 WAR. The Diamondbacks had just endured one of the worst starting ERAs in the National League, and they had a new TV contract to help fix that.

It was as if a matchmaker from up above had designed the perfect plans for fitting a round peg in a round hole. But with baseball being baseball, it's only natural that everything crashed and burned upon takeoff.

Injuries limited Greinke to just 26 starts in 2016, and he wasn't his usual self in putting up just a 4.37 ERA when healthy. This wasn't the only reason the Diamondbacks face-planted and lost 93 games, but it may have been why the organization dismissed general manager Dave Stewart and manager Chip Hale and demoted front office czar Tony La Russa.

Thus came the question of whether the Diamondbacks, now led by former Boston Red Sox executive Mike Hazen, would extend the house-cleaning effort down to their major league roster. If so, that would surely mean jettisoning the guy who had taken up 35 percent of the previous season's payroll.

Perhaps this didn't happen only because Hazen couldn't find a serious taker for the $172.5 million left on Greinke's contract. Or maybe the real truth is found in something Hazen said in April.

"We saw the talent on this team and we really wanted to do everything we could to make this team as strong as possible," Hazen told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. "We saw strength in the starting rotation and having a No. 1 starting pitcher like Zack, someone we’re very fortunate to have. He’s throwing the ball extremely well."

The gamble, if you can call it that, paid off. 

Greinke's three true outcome rates (strikeouts, walks, home runs) all bounced back, and he generally spent the year bending batters to his will. He collected 234 outs on pitches outside the strike zone, 12 more than any other pitcher.

He owes catchers Jeff Mathis and Chris Iannetta some credit for that, as they got him more calls outside the zone than he had in 2016. But it was also a case of Greinke just being himself. By way of pinpoint command and deceptive pitch sequencing, he usually does justify a low zone rate with a high chase rate.

That act isn't unique to Greinke, but he carries it out better than anyone else. And if anything, that act is suited to play even better in October than in the regular season.

Per Baseball Savant, hitters have recently been more likely to chase outside the zone in the postseason than in the regular season:

This undoubtedly has something to do with the quality of the pitching in the playoffs versus the regular season. But it's also easy to assume that batters are more antsy about making something happen and thus more likely to take swings they're going to regret.

If Greinke reaps the benefits of antsy hitters this October, it wouldn't be the first time. In 92 regular-season starts for the Dodgers between 2013 and 2015, he got hitters to chase 31.9 percent of his out-of-zone offerings. In six postseason starts, that figure jumped to 33.4 percent.

That helped lead to some eye-popping results—namely: a 2.38 ERA and a 41-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41.2 innings.

Any more of that would be a heck of a spearhead for a Diamondbacks surge that could go much further than most (including your narrator) want to admit is possible. The road ahead won't be easy to navigate, but it's possible to see a way to Arizona's first World Series since 2001.

This is what Greinke is there for. If he gets it done, even $206.5 million will sound like a bargain.

          

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Contract and payroll info courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

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