The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to pitch. But Greinke has never been one to consider himself just a pitcher. He’s a baseball player, and with this season and the next five coming in the National League, that means he’s a hitter, too.
Greinke went 1 for 2 with a walk, his fourth RBI and a sacrifice in Monday’s win over the Cubs. It was a nice supplement to his 8 2/3 inning masterpiece, in which he struck out nine Cubs and came one strike away from a shutout before Brian Bogusevic doubled in Chicago’s only two runs.
Greinke is now hitting an absurd .340 with a .426 on-base percentage and a .383 slugging percentage on the season — those latter two stats are good enough to lead all pitchers with at least 30 plate appearances. His walk was the sixth of the season. He has struck out just six times as well — his 10.2 percent strikeout rate is another league best — and he is on pace to become just the fourth pitcher since 2000 to walk at least as many times as he has struck out (minimum 30 plate appearances).
This is nothing new for Greinke. He was a two-way star for Apopka High School outside Orlando, where he hit .400 for his career. In 2000, during his sophomore season, the Orlando Sentinel asked, “Can software sleuths who can pit Babe Ruth against Roger Clemens on a Sony PlayStation digitalize this dream high school baseball showdown: Zack Greinke vs. Zack Greinke?”
Greinke didn’t get to hit with Kansas City, but he did with Milwaukee, and he took it seriously. As Jerry Crasnick reported before his first season in Milwaukee in 2011:
“Zack was definitely excited about hitting,” [fellow Brewers starter Randy] Wolf said. “I gave him a hard time right away. I said, ‘Hey man, this pitching staff can hit. We have a lot of hits and a high batting average, and I don’t want you bringing us down.’ He said he likes to hit homers.”
Greinke hit a pair of home runs with Milwaukee, one in 2011 and one in 2012, but he hit just .171/.198/.280 in 97 plate appearances with the club.
After a pit stop in the American League with the Angels — where manager Mike Scioscia mentioned how he “loves to hit” — Greinke is back in the National League with the Dodgers. In a press conference shortly after he signed, Greinke talked again about his relationship with hitting — it had soured a bit:
“I use to,” answered Greinke [when asked about his love of hitting]. “I went to Milwaukee and loved to hit there, but when you focus on hitting it takes away from your ability to pitch, so as time went on, I had to give that up.”
Greinke’s results in Milwaukee were somewhat disappointing — his 3.67 ERA over 294 innings as a Brewer comes out to a 110 ERA+, a number expected more out of a number two or three starter than the ace Greinke was supposed to be. This was all despite brilliant peripheral statistics — Greinke struck out just under a batter per inning and had a 4.4 K/BB, among the best in the league.
Distraction at the plate might be too convenient an explanation for the dissonance between his 3.67 ERA and his 3.03 FIP. But it’s difficult to argue with how much better Greinke’s results have been in Los Angeles. He owns a 2.86 ERA with the Dodgers — the ace-level performance they paid for — despite a 3.43 FIP.
It’s doubtful Greinke, the two-way high school star who loved hitting as recently as a year ago, has forsaken the art and science of the bat. But, as Greinke said last night, “Pitching is like the business, and hitting is more the fun part.”
If last night and the rest of his 2013 season are any indication, Greinke is having plenty of fun in Los Angeles, both at the plate and on the mound. Maybe that’s just what he needed.