Greinke Finishes Strong In What Could Be His Final Start for Royals…So How Will He Be Remembered?

The Royals blew a three-run lead in the bottom of the 8th and lost in extra innings 4-3 to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday evening at Comerica Park. Royals starter Zack Greinke did all he could to give the Royals the win, as he pitched maybe his most sterling outing of the year with zero runs allowed and only four hits in seven innings of work.

With the Royals now 63-91, it will be interesting to see what Kansas City does with their rotation down the stretch.

The Royals have eight games remaining, including six against the AL Central division champion Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field. With both teams having little to prove down the stretch, it could be an opportunity for the Royals to give some arms in Omaha a chance, with perhaps Jackson Kowar, Austin Cox, or Drew Parrish being ones to gain that chance for a spot start with the 2022 season pretty much over (though the latter two would have to be added to the 40-man roster to do so).

Which could mean that Tuesday’s start for Greinke may not just be his last of the 2022 season, but perhaps his last as a Royal and professional pitcher as well.

It’s fitting that Greinke would get the no-decision in his Royals “swan song.”

Even though he will be 39 years old in 2023, I think Greinke would be worth bringing back to Kansas City for another year, if he wants it of course.

After Tuesday’s start, Greinke lowered his season ERA to 3.98 in 25 starts and 131 innings pitched this season. Of Royals starting pitchers who have thrown 10 or more innings this year, Greinke is one of two pitchers who has produced an ERA under the four mark (the other being Brady Singer, who’s posting a starting pitcher ERA of 2.85 in 142 IP). For a Royals rotation with plenty of question marks heading into next season, Greinke would at least provide stability, even if he may not be a “top of the rotation” pitcher anymore.

However, the vibe in the Royals clubhouse and in Kansas City, in general, seems to hint that Greinke may be walking away from the game after the conclusion of the 2022 season.

First off, in JJ Picollo’s most recent interview with Cody and Gold of 610 AM Radio, it seemed like Picollo wasn’t exactly “banking” on Greinke being a part of the “pitching turnaround” in 2023 (hinting that the Royals may know something about Greinke’s future plans).

And second, The Athletic just release a Greinke “Oral History” that had all kinds of entertaining anecdotes chronicling Greinke’s season with the Royals (with most of the stories coming from the Royals’ younger players). While the story was certainly enjoyable for Royals fans with long and fond memories of the former Cy Young winner, it did feel like a “final farewell” to Greinke and all he has done for the Royals this season (he could’ve signed elsewhere and gotten another chance to compete for a World Series ring).

Thus, it’s likely that Royals fans will be seeing the finals days of Greinke in a Royals uniform and maybe Royals dugout, though who knows what the future holds for him in baseball after his playing career is done (he would be a great coach or manager).

On Tuesday, in what could be his last professional start, Greinke pretty much did what Greinke did all year long: he didn’t generate a lot of strikeouts or whiffs in general, but he was efficient enough to get the job done across seven innings of work on the road.

Here is a look at Greinke’s player breakdown data from Tuesday’s outing via Baseball Savant:

While his whiff rate wasn’t high (14 percent), he was able to command his pitches on the edges of the strike zone to produce an effective CSW rate overall.

As I wrote about in my previous article, Greinke has thrived with his four-seamer, despite its lack of premium velocity. The four-seam fastball only averaged 89.2 MPH on Tuesday. And yet, it produced the highest CSW rate (34 percent) of the four pitches he threw tonight.

The four-seamer has been an effective tool in generating the double-play ball this year. That was on display in his last start at Kauffman Stadium on September 20th, as this four-seamer below against Minnesota’s Gio Urshela produced an easy 5-4-3 double play initiated by Royals’ third baseman Nate Eaton.

Greinke could still strikeout batters at times with the four-seamer though, especially when he was able to ramp it up in the 90 MPH range. Against Kyle Garlick in a September 14th starts in Minnesota, Greinke was surprisingly able to blow a four-seamer by Garlick on a 3-2 count, thus showing he could still be aggressive with his four-seamer in the zone, even if the velocity wasn’t what it once was.

Of course, the 3.98 ERA shows that Greinke wasn’t quite “dominant” in 2022.

He had great outings like tonight, sure, but he also had his share of duds as well. While his ERA did improve from 4.64 in the first half to 3.50 in the second half, his WHIP actually did rise from 1.33 before the All-Star Break to 1.49 after the All-Star break.

What does this mean? It’s complicated honestly.

According to Fangraphs splits, his BABIP rose from .295 in the first half to .344 in the second half, which is not a good thing. On the other end, Greinke did lower his HR/9 from 1.27 before the All-Star Break to 0.58 after the All-Star break. This included an increase in his groundball rate from 38.7 percent in the first half to 46.7 in the second half of 2022.

Greinke got better at keeping the ball in the ground after the All-Star break. While that did result in a higher WHIP and BABIP, it also led to less “productive” contact against him in the second half (i.e. home runs).

Is that sustainable? That is hard to say, especially for a pitcher nearing 40 years of age soon.

At the very least though, Royals fans were able to see Greinke continue to be a student of the game, learn from his mistakes in the first half, and finish the 2022 season strong.

Which was capped off by his stellar outing against the Tigers tonight.

It’s a shame the Greinke didn’t get the decision tonight, but that’s been the MO for him in what is likely his last season in Kansas City.

Greinke’s record for the year is 4-9, which is the first time he’s been in the single digits for wins (in a non-pandemic season) since 2007. His 131 innings total is also his lowest number in a non-pandemic season since 2007 as well, and his 72 strikeouts are only five more than his total amount in 2020 (and that was in 12 starts).

Royals fans certainly were tempering their expectations when the Royals brought Greinke back to Kansas City via free agency. That being said, it is still surprising to see Greinke so mortal in 2022, especially after seeing him be one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball back in 2009.

Age comes for us all though. As expected, Greinke is no exception to the rule.

That shouldn’t damper though what Greinke has brought this year to this young Royals group, even if it didn’t result in Kansas City turning a corner in the AL Central this season. His quirky influence seemed to have a positive impact on this group, and he was able to set some special records in a Royals uniform, which isn’t too common for pitchers in the history of this franchise.

2022 will certainly be a blip in Greinke’s illustrious, and likely Hall of Fame career. His last season in Kansas City mirrors his last start of 2022 (most likely): solid, but unspectacular, and lost in the midst of all the other Royals issues going on around him.

But he got to finish his career in Kansas City in Royal blue and white.

And that was cathartic…for both Royals fans and seemingly Greinke himself.

Even if Greinke won’t exactly be eager to say that, both now and after his retirement.

Photo Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

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