Over the last week, one player in particular has dominated my Twitter mentions.
People can’t help but worry about Zack Greinke.
Absent all context, it would appear justified. His fastball sat in the mid-80s in a start against minor-leaguers last week, and asked if it was normal afterward.
“Yeah, it happens every year,” Greinke said. “But I mean every year I’m nervous that it might or might not come by the time it needs to.”
If he’s nervous, shouldn’t we be? Well … you have to know the source.
Thinky like Greinke
It’s Zack Greinke — a certifiable Eeyore. Yeah, I’m sure he does worry the velocity won’t come back, just like I worry every time the circulation gets cut off in my arm and I wake up to a limp, lifeless limb that amputation is the only cure. It’s not rational, knowing the science behind it, and even just based on personal experience, I have no reason to believe it’s true. But nonetheless, in those 20 seconds it takes to regain the feeling, my mind goes to the darkest possible place. Maybe you’ve never experienced that particular dread, but I believe it’s fueled by a universal truth: Until you actually see something happen, you’re going on faith that it will, and that’s difficult for most people to do.
But most people, particularly in the sporting world, are better at faking it. Any time you hear anyone say “trust the process,” you can be sure that person has at times doubted the process. It’s just that it’s not terribly helpful to acknowledge or entertain that doubt. So to hear someone do it, particularly in an environment where self-confidence runs amok, short-circuits our sensibilities.
But again, it’s Zack Greinke, who has shown time and time again that he doesn’t process these things like most athletes do. He’s honest in a way that forces us to grapple with our own dishonesty or even to reexamine what it means to be honest. So yeah, he has doubts, but I suspect they’re the kind of doubts most of us instinctively know to compartmentalize just to get through the day.
What makes me so confident? Well, even if you’re not buying the Greinke-being-Greinke theory, there’s also the fact that he put us through this same ordeal last spring. His velocity came around then, just like it always has, but yes, in the interest of full transparency, we can never say for sure it will until it does.
Funny thing is his second start Wednesday against the Reds, in which he was sitting in the low 90s in the first inning, might have put everyone’s mind at ease if he wasn’t limited to just the one inning because of a groin injury.
And what of that?
“It seems pretty small at the moment, so hopefully not a long-term thing,” Greinke said, and his manager Torey Luvollo agreed.
Coming from the most honest man in baseball, I believe it. From where I sit, Greinke still looks like one of the safest of a dying breed of 200-inning aces, especially with the new safety net of the humidor at his home park.
Paxton is back
You know whose drop in velocity this spring hasn’t gotten much attention, probably because he had the good sense not to voice his most fundamental levels of concern? James Paxton, whose success depends a little more on velocity. A jump to the 97-to-100-mph range a couple years ago is what put him in the ace conversation in Fantasy, but for his first three spring starts, he sat in the low 90s and was pummeled to the tune of a 14.85 ERA.
The excuse from the Mariners, ye men of faith, was that his long and lanky delivery needed more time than most to get in sync. And apparently, that’s true, because he was throwing 96-97 in Wednesday’s start against the Giants in which he struck out seven over 4 2/3 two-run innings.
Draft with confidence.
Testing their Braun
If you needed a reminder Ryan Braun is still someone the Brewers should want in their lineup, the 34-year-old hit two home runs, including a grand slam, Wednesday against the White Sox.
Why the need for the reminder? Well, things aren’t playing out entirely as hoped in Brewers camp. Braun was manning first base Wednesday, so they haven’t completely abandoned that plan. But he recently expressed that he’s not remotely comfortable at the position, which has opened manager Craig Counsell’s mind to playing him in right field.
Why only now? Well, presumably Counsell was hoping Braun would really take to first base so he could reserve right field for Domingo Santana. But the Brewers do have a pretty good option at first base in Eric Thames, so it’s possible Braun’s discomfort with the position could make Santana the odd man out more often than not.
Santana is certainly still draftable in mixed leagues, but it’s time to lower him in the rankings.
Carpenter breaks out the hammer
Matt Carpenter got his first start at first base Wednesday, giving even more reason to believe his balky back won’t hold him out for the start of the season, especially since he also got his first hit, a home run.
The irony is it came a day after he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was done “selling [his] soul for home runs.” Carpenter indeed put the ball in the air more than ever last year, continuing a four-year trend, and it would have put him within shouting distance of 30 homers if he had been a little healthier.
But he also hit just .241 despite mostly high-quality contact.
“I’m not going to hit 50. So why am I selling out for 50? That’s not who I am. I am not a .240 hitter. It kind of opened my eyes that I want to go back to being that guy,” Carpenter said. “I want to be the guy who can hit .300 with 50-plus doubles and 15 homers. Maybe 20.”
Obviously, we like seeing players hit more home runs in Fantasy, but Carpenter’s most impactful year was 2013, when he hit .318 with just 11 home runs (to go along with 55 doubles) and an .873 OPS in 626 at-bats.
The environment was quite a bit different then. I would suspect a healthy Carpenter could hit 20 home runs by accident in today’s environment. And these days, there are enough .260-hitting, 30-homer guys that the .300-hitting, 20-homer guy might actually be a better fit for some Rotisserie teams. I don’t think his stated goal is altogether a negative development.
Remember Preston Tucker? The older brother of Astros prospect Kyle Tucker himself made a splash for the Astros in 2015, hitting 13 home runs in 300 at-bats. But according to MLB.com, he tried to play through a bum shoulder thereafter, finally giving into surgery at the end of 2016.
His immediate return last year didn’t go so well at Triple-A, but he seems to have regained his old form this spring. With a double and a home run Wednesday, his batting average is up to .364, and he has struck out only once in 33 at-bats.
“This was the best offseason I think I’ve ever had,” Tucker said. “I wasn’t up [with Houston] in September, so I had the whole offseason to get stronger. This is the best my body has ever felt.”
He’s the Braves’ leading candidate to start in left field until Ronald Acuna is ready to debut, and if he carries this form into the regular season, it’s not crazy to think he could overtake Nick Markakis thereafter.