On Sunday, Zack Greinke made his debut as a Los Angeles Angel. Greinke, acquired from Milwaukee for a package headlined by former top Angels’ prospect shortstop Jean Segura, will likely only make about 10 starts for Los Angeles before reaching free agency in the winter. However, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto deemed Greinke worthy of the huge investment, as he’ll both provide a big push over the last two months of the playoff race and solidify the team’s rotation for the postseason.
It should be no surprise to see the Angels bringing one more piece into the fold, as they likely see Greinke as the missing link that will take the team to the next level. The core of the team was put in place over the offseason, with the signings of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, and the emergence of Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo has lifted the offense to among the most potent in the AL. Wilson joined Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana at the top of the rotation. As history has taught us, the combination of injury and ineffectiveness will nearly always expose the depth of a team’s rotation over the course of the long season, and the Angels are no different. While Wilson and Weaver have been excellent, Haren’s 4.59 ERA is nearly a full point above his career 3.65, and his 3.91 SIERA also suggests his season hasn’t gone as he or his club had hoped. Likewise, Santana’s ugly 6.00 ERA/ 4.59 SIERA suggest that he’s on the way to the worst year of his career.
With Haren and Santana stalling, the Angels rotation was not nearly as effective as had been expected when the Wilson signing was announced. Overall, the team’s 3.95 ERA has been near the top of the AL, but their 4.19 SIERA is pretty close to league average, suggesting a change needed to be made. Those numbers would look a lot worse if not for Wilson and Weaver putting the team on their back, as the three pitchers behind them in the rotation (Haren, Santana, and Jerome Williams) have pitched over 300 innings with an ERA north of 5.
While Greinke’s ERA of 3.44 suggests a mid-rotation pitcher, the truth is that he’s been much better than that. Striking out nearly a quarter of the batters he’s faced, while offering free passes at a rate slightly below his career 6%, Greinke’s SIERA sits at 2.94. There are reasons to expect improvement from Greinke other than his outpitching his ERA, as well. Inducing grounders at a rate of 53.7% on batted balls, Greinke has been in the top 10 pitchers in the NL so far and is on pace to set a career high. This will allow him to benefit from the excellent Angels’ defensive infield. Pujols, Howie Kendrick, and Alberto Callaspo and are among the top five AL players in UZR since 2010 at first, second and third bases respectively, and Erick Aybar has also proven to be a roughly league-average shortstop. Because of the better gloves behind him, it seems unlikely that Greinke’s BABIP with the Angels will be as high as the career-worst .326 he’s had with the Brewers so far in 2012.
Greinke’s been an embattled pitcher throughout his career, dealing with anxiety issues that have at times had a major impact on his ability to perform between the white lines. While Kansas City and Milwaukee provided him something of a shelter from the media during the early portion of his career, Greinke won’t have the same protection in the buzzing media market that is Los Angeles. However, he will likely be able to find success because he clearly will not be the focal point of this team. In Kansas City, Greinke was clearly a main face of the franchise. However, with the Angels, Greinke will have much of the attention deflected by his rotation-mates, as well as Pujols and the team’s young offensive studs. Greinke’s psyche was said to be a concern for many teams interested in acquiring him, especially among clubs based in the country’s largest and most baseball-crazy media markets, but Dipoto clearly believes Greinke can thrive in Los Angeles.
Acquiring Greinke achieves three main objectives for the Angels. First, adding his arm is simply extra ammunition in the Angels’ AL West battle against the Rangers. Those two teams are clearly among the best in baseball, and while Texas got off to a hot start Josh Hamilton’s slump and Trout’s emergence have pulled the teams to within four. Second, if the Angels cannot overtake the Rangers, they will help Greinke can lead them to one of the two Wild Card spots. The last month of the season will certainly be exciting, as the Angels will need to compete with an underachieving Tigers team that is beginning to heat up, four excellent AL East clubs, and the upstart A’s, all of whom currently sit within five games. Finally, the acquisition of Greinke makes the Angels’ rotation one of the most formidable, and one of the toughest to match up with, of any playoff team. Teams such as the Rays (Price and Shields) and White Sox (Peavy and Sale) might be able to boast a front two starters capable of going toe to toe with Wilson and Weaver. However, no team in the American League can boast a troika of starters as impressive as the one the Angels can now run out. As my Giants made clear on the way to their 2010 World Series Championship, a solid rotation is often key to a team’s playoff success. If Weaver, Wilson, and Greinke can extend their regular season success into October, Los Angeles is certainly a team to watch in the postseason.
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