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John Dewan's Stat of the Week

Zack Greinke's Defense

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Let’s hear it for pitcher defense!

This is a topic we don’t get to touch on much but it’s pertinent this week with Zack Greinke re-signing with the Royals.

Why? Because this is the Defensive Runs Saved leaderboard for pitchers. SIS began tracking the stat in 2003.

Greinke is tied for the lead with Mark Buehrle, though there’s an asterisk there. Though Greinke’s career began in 2004 and is thus entirely encapsulated by Runs Saved, Buehrle’s career began in 2000 and thus is not entirely captured by our data.

Nonetheless, we can agree that Greinke is very, very good. He’s still a terrific athlete even at age 39 even if he hasn’t quite kept pace with his early-career numbers. His 9 Runs Saved over the last three seasons rank tied for 6th among pitchers. Consistency is a differentiator both for Greinke and Buehrle. Each has nine seasons with at least 5 Runs Saved, most of any pitcher.

Greinke has excellent reflexes (one example here), is quick off the mound (here), can keep runners close (or pick them off), and his throws to any base are right on target (here’s one to home plate). There isn’t much bunting done these days but you probably don’t want to bunt on Greinke. His 14 Bunt Runs Saved rank 2nd among all players, trailing only Adrián Beltré’s 15 (here’s one good Greinke bunt play, as called by Vin Scully).

Greinke generally plays the position mistake-free. He hasn’t been charged with an error since getting in Charlie Blackmon’s way and getting called for interference as Blackmon was rounding first base and trying to go to second base in a game in July 2019.

Our Video Scouts have credited him with only one Defensive Misplay the last three seasons, picking up and then rushing a throw on a Shohei Ohtani roller that appeared to be heading foul in April 2021.

By our accounting, the last instance we have of Greinke not cleanly fielding a ball that cost his team a potential out was in August 2019 on a play where bat and ball came at him at the same time, thus preventing a possible double play (they still got one out).

There are no active pitchers even close to Greinke’s accrued Runs Saved. As you can see in the chart, Dallas Keuchel is 33 runs behind, but given that he had a 9.20 ERA last season, there’s no guarantee he’ll pitch again in the majors. The next-closest active pitchers are Clayton Kershaw (34), Johnny Cueto (33), and Justin Verlander (31).

Someone asked me the other day if Greinke was a Hall of Famer. I think the answer is similar for him as it is for Scott Rolen. It’s a close call looking at his basic career stats. But there are some other things to consider, like standard-setting defense, that could help in pushing him over the top.

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