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If the series goes long enough for Greinke to get another start, he and Jonathan Lucroy may have to figure out a different game plan.
If the series goes long enough for Greinke to get another start, he and Jonathan Lucroy may have to figure out a different game plan. (Photo: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

Breaking down Greinke's breaking ball

It would be an understatement to say Zack Greinke did not pitch well in Game 1 of the NLCS. His final line of 6+ IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, and 6 K probably looks worse than he actually pitched, but no one in their right mind would say he had a good outing. If you want to rate him using Bill James' Game Score, Greinke's mark of 36 ranks as the 6th-worst start in Brewers postseason history, and the worst since CC Sabathia's flop in the 2008 NLDS.

Most of the damage was done on David Freese's three-run home run in the 4th inning, a ball that looked like a pop fly off the bat but kept carrying until it cleared the fence. The homer came on a first-pitch curveball that was poorly located (about as close to down-the-middle as you can get) and dropped right into Freese's swing. Greinke's curveball isn't typically a bad pitch, but it is one that opponents can lock onto if it's overused. As the season has worn on, it appears Greinke has started to toe that line.

According to the pitch f/x data at FanGraphs, Greinke used his curveball 16.7% of the time this season -- his third-most used pitch this year, behind his fastball (55.9%) and slider (18.8%). If that seems low, it's because the average is thrown off a bit by his early-season outings, when he wasn't throwing it nearly as much. In August and September, that rate has climbed closer to 25%.

On Sunday, though, 36 of Greinke's 107 pitches (33.6%) were curves. That's the most he's thrown in a single start since June 6 at Florida, when he threw 38 in 111 pitches (34.2%). On that day, Greinke was leaning heavy on his breaking stuff overall, as he also threw 17 sliders. On Sunday against St. Louis, Greinke seemed to abandon the slider (statistically his most effective pitch this year), only throwing it eight times.

Earlier in the year, the worry was that when Greinke was throwing so many fastballs, opponents were waiting back for him to make a mistake with it. Now, as Greinke has mixed in more breaking stuff, it looks like teams – or at least the Cardinals – have made adjustments and are waiting for Greinke to make a mistake with the curve. Aside from Freese's home run, Lance Berkman's RBI single in the 5th inning to make the score 5-2 also came on a first-pitch curveball.

The Cardinals had the best offense in the National League this year for a reason. Top to bottom, their lineup is filled with smart hitters who know what they're looking for. When they do get the pitch they've been waiting for, they take advantage. When they have the advantage of seeing a pitcher for a fourth time this season – like they did against Greinke on Sunday – they're even more dangerous.

The Brewers were able to survive this time, but if the series goes long enough for Greinke to get another start, he and Jonathan Lucroy may have to figure out a different game plan.

Talkbacks

Midwest | Oct. 10, 2011 at 11:17 a.m. (report)

Good stuff.

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