The Astros’ quirky quiet assassin

If this post had been titled the Astros Quiet Assassin, it might have been talking about Michael Brantley, who has been a force this season when he was not dealing with a quadriceps injury. But adding the word quirky in there points to only one player, the enigmatic Zack Greinke.

In the last couple months of 2019, Greinke pitched extremely well for the Astros, going 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA. And he was completely overlooked as the #1 and #2 pitchers in the rotation, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole battled tooth and nail for the Cy Young Award. That battle included Verlander’s September no-hitter (thank you Abraham Toro) and Cole winning 16 straight decisions. He almost grabbed the spotlight as he pitched brilliantly in the 7th game of the World Series, entering the 7th inning with a one-hitter and leaving with a 2-1 lead. However, that spotlight shifted as the bullpen lost the lead and the game and the focus turned to what would have happened if Gerrit Cole had entered in the seventh inning in place of the eventual loser, Will Harris. No one asked what would have happened if Greinke had been allowed to work through the rest of the 7th inning.

Turn the page to 2020 and with Cole in New York and Verlander in dry dock, you would think that Greinke would be the story as the team’s veteran ace. But between COVID and protests and hurricanes and the emergence of young arms like Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier, Greinke has continued to toil almost unnoticed. But just like in 2019 and just like for almost his whole career, Greinke has been quietly solid this season with a 3-0 record and a 2.91 ERA. Among qualified pitchers in the AL he is 8th in ERA, 6th in WHIP (0.971), 3rd best in walks allowed (1.4/ 9 IP), and 5th in K’s/ walk (6.29). In his eight starts this season, he has only had one subpar start, that being the first where he seemed not quite prepared and low on stamina and gave up 3 runs in 3.1 IP. Since then he has been super steady and a little unlucky as he received a no-decision against the A’s (6 IP and 0 runs allowed) and Colorado (8 IP and 0 runs allowed).

His pitching style probably contributes to his lack of recognition as he is all about location, mixing pitches and topping out most days at 89 mph. Not quite the 99 mph of Cole or the 97 mph of Verlander.

The most recognition he gets is for his quirkiness. It is hard to keep track of it all, but here is a shot at things we have seen since he arrived, especially in 2020 when the lack of fans allows us to see and hear a lot more from him on the mound. This year there were discussions about how he was “calling” his game from the mound prior to pitches, how he often yells out when he throws a pitch where it does not belong, how he throws some of the slowest stuff (54 mph curveball) in the majors at times, how he likes to do that weird crouch down on the mound, how he was uncomfortable with how the mound was set up in San Diego but did not have it fixed right away because he did not want to slow the game down on the get-away day, how he sat cross-legged on the ground watching the ground crew do repairs, and how he has some of the frankest and oddest post-game interviews around.

One of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski, wrote a bit about him with the D’Backs and I find it a fascinating portrait of an inscrutable person. 

But again what gets lost here is what a terrific ballplayer he is. He may be the best fielding pitcher to ever pitch for the Astros as he flashed so often in crucial spots in the 2019 World Series run. With the universal DH spot gaining momentum, we, unfortunately, may never get to see what a fine hitter he is again. When he was traded from the D’Backs in 2019 he was slashing .271 BA/.300 OBP/ .883 OPS with 4 doubles, 1 triple and 3 HRs.

But what he is best at is pitching. Watching him pitch is sometimes like watching a sleight of hand magician up close. How does he do it? He hardly ever leaves one over the heart of the plate. Often he does not put a single pitch over the plate to a hitter, but somehow he makes them think the pitches are going to be over the plate. He nips the corners, nudges up against the top and the bottom of the zone and often hypnotizes the umpires to give him a Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine strike zone. His 89 mph fastball is nothing to write home about, but it looks a lot faster when paired with a 65 mph curve on the outside corner.

The Astros rotation would be hurting without the contributions of the youngsters, but the foundation that the rotation builds upon in 2020 is a quirky, quiet assassin named Zack Greinke.

32 comments on “The Astros’ quirky quiet assassin

  1. He’s one of my favorite baseball players. And he might be the best 36 year old athlete in the game today. He does not miss many starts. It’s remarkable how he continues to reinvent himself. One stat that really sticks out: His BB – K ratio is the second best of his career. Impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Greinke is an interesting personality for sure. He doesnt seem to be a distraction at all. When thats the case its a good thing to have a bit of colorful behavior on the club. Helps keep things loose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, rj – yes we have. Thought it was well done – follow-on for Jesse. Maybe not huge action, but satisfying for BB fans and of course well written. Thanks for suggesting it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wow on Pruitt… I just cannot get over all these arms falling off. Put it on your schedule to check in on Austin next June /sigh.

      So that’s Sanchez (Biagini) and now Pruitt who literally gave us next to nothing for our trade. Payback karma for Franklin Perez? Another good reason to just keep and develop your own guys so you know a little better about what’s under the hood.

      On Greinke, he’s a national treasue. Lucky to get to watch him in midst of Hall of Fame career.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Here’s a quick snippet from a guy I’m real excited about, Austin Hansen. Many players have said the same thing since their Day 1 with the org. Even Greinke mentioned that what we’re doing to develop players is special.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Speaking of, trip down memory lane with McCann saying the same thing. What the Astros do in the back room is, “Big Time.”

      Also, notice the question about using multiple signs even without men on base! MAC didn’t throw anyone under the bus, but it’s more than obvious the culture in baseball, even as late as Oct 2019, after the famed memo.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your starter goes zero innings.
    You walk 11 of the opposition’s batters.
    Your batters strike out 13 times.
    Your batters go 3 for 24 with runners in scoring position.
    The very definition of failure for a team who is supposed to be good.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ll say it… the team has this better record due to smoke and mirrors. But then, to be fair and to use excuses, many stars are out due to injuries. The managing is not that great either.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Some thoughts after last night’s loss:
    – McCullers picked a terrible time to give us nothing but a 3-0 hole (OK one scored after he left, but still…). Doubleheader today and doubleheader Tuesday. Thank goodness these are 7 inning games.
    – Luis Garcia did one heck of a job – going one short of 5 innings, when this guy had never pitched above A+ ball? He sure has a weird wind up
    – I still look at this lineup and think about 2017 MVP (who was just starting to hit – out. 2019 ROY – out. 2019 MVP runner up – out. We are getting too many ABs from Toro and I can’t see Reddick up at the top of the lineup, but that is what happens when you are missing huge bats.
    – With two outs and two strikes in the 9th inning and a guy on second, one run down, I’m wanting Kyle Tucker up there. Fouled off a few, worked the count and then sliced one in the corner
    – It was too bad Michael Brantley could not have batted in the top of the 11th with two outs and the runner on 2nd, but he was pinch run for by Straw in the 9th. Of course if Straw was not running, Brantley would not have scored in the 9th and could not have batted in the 11th. My head hurts.
    – They do such a terrible job of making unproductive outs in extra innings and even earlier. They did not score:
    – With a guy on first and second – 0 outs in the first
    – After scoring 2 in the 4th – they did not score with a guy on 1st and 2nd and one out
    – A guy on second one out in the 6th
    – A guy on second and no out in the 7th
    – The bases loaded and one out in the 8th
    – And of course a guy on second an no out in the 10th and 11th
    – I mean they did not even move these guys up if I remember right
    – A lot of pressure on Bielak and Urquidy to eat some positive innings today
    – Why the heck is this doubleheader today starting at 6:00+ our time? They show the second game starting at 9:30 our time, which would take a miracle the way these games are going to go with a lot of pitching changes. I’m thinking it will be more like 10PM here and end 1:30AM???
    I guess this gets more eyes on the game in LA

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I often check the “stats” on this site to see how many folks are visiting, how many times in a day, which articles draw more attention, etc. Obviously the current articles get the most hits – sometimes the three articles that are referenced after the post get a handful of hits.
    One of the articles that gets a steady flow of visits even though it was posted way back in March is this one…..

    https://chipalatta.com/2020/03/27/the-toy-cannon-has-gone-silent/

    That was a very personal article and I thank those who go and read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lance is likely done for 2020. Everything the Astro organization does for the balance of this exhibition season should be based on what is best for the club in 2021. We might back into the post season, but I do not care one bit about it.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’ve got many thoughts on the Astros right now, but for the first time I’m not prepared to give our manager a free pass. Framber gutted out 7 tough innings in 110 degree heat and was then sent back out there in the 8th. I’d rather have seen Devenski get bombed to start the inning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You think we need another manager for 2021? I’m not impressed either. Of course I haven’t watched a game since “the event” but I’ve checked in occasionally. It’s just not the same this year.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. -When Diaz hit his home run to lead off the top of the second inning, it gave the Astros a 3-0 lead and I told my wife that the Angels had the Astros right where they wanted them.
    It was like the Angels knew every pitch that was coming for all four games.
    – I liked Chris Devenski better when he was on the IL.
    – This was a full nine-inning game and the Astros were a mere 0 for 4 w/RISP.
    -For the entire series, not one move Dusty Baker made worked.
    -If I was Oakland, I wouldn’t be worried about anything.
    -So glad Yuli got some rest today, what with 5 days off in the last week and a grueling 60-game schedule.
    -I walked outside this morning and sat on the porch with a cup of coffee. I watched our three goats: one of them standing on the seat of the ATV, one of them standing in the bed of the ATV eating the hay from last night and the third goat was standing on the roof of the ATV and I was reminded of the Astros. I went to save the ATV from getting its seat eaten, but not before launching that cup of coffee at one of the goats who tried to get in it with me.
    My day went downhill from there.
    -Remember how September was supposed to usher in cooler weather. It hasn’t. The one cool day was when it rained five inches.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Here in my neck of the woods, our goat keepers make sure they lock up their herds at night to keep them secure. At first light though, they are let out to graze all day, maybe roaming a mile or more in search of good stuff. When finding an accidentally open gate, they can quickly do a real number on an acre of floral gardens or vegetable crops.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Since there weren’t many positive things to write about this weekend and this post is about Greinke, I found it interesting that Baseball Reference rates Greinke and Verlander as similar pitchers. Surprisingly (to me), Greinke leads in career WAR. They both also have better career numbers than HOFer Roy Halladay.

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/greinza01.shtml

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/v/verlaju01.shtml

    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hallaro01.shtml

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Our 2020 OPS is .760. In 2019 it was .848. Not one regular bat from 2019 has had a significantly better year. Several have had much worse years. We lost Alvarez. Tucker has provided us with a slightly lighter version of Yordan but arguably has had just as much impact. Maldonaldo and Cirinos have been a push. Our bench has been flat out bad. My friend Honest Abe still might hit one day (see Tucker) but the more he plays the more you see that he’s really a defensive liability. Myles is fast. What else? Mayfield is not an answer.

    I’m not even going to go into our pitching woes. It’s all pretty clear. Although Dusty Baker did Valdez a disservice yesterday, I really can’t hold him accountable for our 21 – 19 record this morning.

    As I noted yesterday, let’s keep the healthy guys healthy over the next 20 games. No sense trying to bring Verlander or Altuve or McCullers or anyone else back unless they are absolutely 100% healthy. And a guy like Urquidy should not be over worked.

    The sense I get is that plenty of guys just want to get through these next 20 games and go home. After five games this week in Oakland and then two against the Dodgers, they might get their wish. Zanuda, depending how our guys look this week, if there is any sign of mailing it in, then I could start souring on Dusty. But isn’t he already signed up for 2021?

    There are bright spots. Tucker has convinced me that he will be our left fielder for the next five years. He can really hit. He’s pretty smart on the bases. Defensively, with help from his speed, he might be better than adequate. And he can become a better thrower, if not a stronger one. Framber has really matured. I like him. Javier and Paredes seem to be keepers too.

    Other than that, our GM has some holes in his roster. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with those holes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right. Dusty is signed through 2021 but that’s never stopped management from making a change when one is needed. I just don’t know if he was the right choice but that’s a debatable issue. Something is missing from the team this year and I don’t believe it’s just one thing. We have a lot of pitching prospects playing major league ball who have never played beyond A or AA. I believe that the “scandal” has had an impact on some of these guys mentally. And as you mentioned, I think some are just going through the motions and waiting for next year. There are others who are using the opportunity and making the best of it. When this year is over I suspect many will look back and say that wasn’t a lot of fun was it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is my old grumpy man response Z, but I really don’t care if the players are not having fun right now. Who is? Trying to run an engineering project with people scattered to the winds is not fun either. People not being able to work or working reduced hours or working with a mask on 8 hours a day is not fun. Guys, suck it up. I don’t care if it is “not fun” having to stay in your fancy dance hotel room on the road. Call room service and eat something good and thank God you are getting paid to play a kids game.

        Liked by 2 people

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