SCOTTSDALE — Zack Greinke pays attention to every detail, especially the ones that play into his game, like catching metrics. When it was mentioned last spring that former Dodgers battery mate Yasmani Grandal was ranked among the top pitch-framers in the game, Greinke gently reminded the reporter that Grandal ranked first in one rating system.
Greinke is also a good teammate.
When Welington Castillo was non-tendered this winter, making him a free agent, Greinke lost the man who caught 24 of his 26 starts in 2016, a man who drove in a career-high 68 runs and threw out 38 percent of potential base-stealers, well above the league average. He also lost a man who cost him about three strikes a game, according to research done by StatCorner, which uses a computer generated strike zone to evaluate every pitch thrown in every game using pitch F/X.
Greinke threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Tuesday to newly acquired catcher Jeff Mathis, and the two compared notes for a good 15 minutes following the session.
If Mathis, as it appears at first blush, is to be Greinke’s personal catcher this season, the net gain will be about seven strikes a game, StatCorner said. Mathis was credited gaining more than four strikes per game for his pitchers in Miami last season, two more per game in 2015 and one more in 2014.
Stealing strikes, duping the home plate umpire, gamesmanship, whatever you want to call it, getting five, six, seven more strikes per game is a major deal. Per research done by the Los Angeles Times, major league hitters were batting .342 on 2-1 counts when the story came out in late August and .169 when the count was 1-2. It was the biggest difference from any one count to the next.
Greinke may prefer a new mate, but did not throw Castillo under the bus.
“I’ll be fine with whatever,” Grenike said. “I liked ‘Welly,’ though.”
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Greinke reiterated his belief that a personal catcher is beneficial for continuity while acknowledging that bumps, bruise and matchups can preclude that during the course of a 32-start season.
“It’s always a preference, because if something is working, that person saw you the start before and you don’t have to start over with a new communication system. Very rarely does that work out that you can throw to the same guy every time, but it is a little nicer.”
Asked if is was a mistake to let Castillo go, Greinke said: “I wouldn’t say that. There is money involved in this game. You can’t keep everyone. I like a lot of guys, but I liked him.”
Castillo signed a $6 million contract with Baltimore with a $7 million player option for 2018 this winter. The D-backs, who appear likely to carry three catchers, have committed $2 million to Mathis, $937,500 to Chris Herrmann and $1.5 million to Chris Iannetta, the three most experienced catchers on a 40-man roster that also includes Oscar Hernandez.
Greinke did not find fault with anyone but himself for a 13-7 season that included a 4.37 ERA and injuries to his left oblique muscle and his right shoulder. He won seven straight starts before the oblique injury in late June but never recovered the form that led the D-backs to give him a seven-year, $206,5 million contract before last season.
“I kind of didn’t pitch as good as I probably could have or should have,” he said.
On his expectations for 2017: “I still have really high hopes for our team. I thought we were going to be really good going into last year. We pretty much have the same team or a very similar team. I think we should be good. I’m shocked we didn’t do better last year.”
On new closer Fernando Rodney: “He’ll probably be all right. You can’t do much better than (Brad Ziegler) did last year, so if he can do what Ziegler did, that would be pretty amazing.”
On new manager Torey Lovullo: “The thing I’ve noticed with him is, anyone who has ever had time with him has said the best things about (him), so that’s a pretty good quality, I guess. If everyone that you know likes you, it’s good.”