Going into the 2021 season, the starting rotation for the New York Yankees consisted of Gerrit Cole and four question marks. Surprisingly, that patchwork proved immensely successful, as the Yankees pitching staff became the backbone of the team and propped up a struggling offense. Even so, despite this success, the Yankees rotation currently sits in the exact same place as it did last winter, as all the starters except for the Cy Young runner-up have question marks — and that’s even before ignoring the fact that Jameson Taillon will likely begin the season on the injured list as he recovers from ankle surgery.
Unfortunately, most of the top players available on the free agent market, such as Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, and Kevin Gausman signed before the lockout began. Once a deal is signed and the new CBA is in place, the team will have to dive into the question marks still available on the market — the players with major injury concerns like Clayton Kershaw, the 2021 breakout players lacking a lengthy track record of success like Carlos Rodón, or has-beens like Matt Harvey and J.A. Happ.
It is in this third category that Zack Greinke can be found. The veteran right-hander has put together an impressive 18-year career as a member of the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Houston Astros, winning the 2009 AL Cy Young Award and finishing in the top-10 five times — including a brutal second-place finish in the 2015 NL race, as his 8.9 bWAR and 1.66 ERA finished behind Jake Arrieta’s 8.3 bWAR and 1.77 ERA due to his superior 22-3 record. His 219 wins trails only Justin Verlander since he made his debut in 2004, and his 63.8 fWAR is fourth behind Verlander, Kershaw, and Scherzer. Furthermore, he has been a workhorse throughout his career: his 3110 innings pitched leads all active players by more than 100 innings, and he has thrown at least 171 innings 13 times in his career.
Unfortunately, Father Time is undefeated, and it looks like he has begun to close in on Greinke. Sure, his overall performance in 2021 was far from bad — his 4.16 ERA and 4.36 xERA are still solid, albeit a definitive step down from his career norms. Greinke’s Statcast numbers, however, weren’t exactly pretty.
Despite a low walk rate and an ability to avoid hard contact, Greinke finds himself in the lower third of the league in pretty much all the metrics that Statcast provides a percentile ranking for. Most concerning of all, however, was the decline in strikeout percentage and whiff rate that he saw:
While it’s not impossible for a pitcher to succeed with declining strikeout and whiff totals, the margin of error becomes that much smaller. Furthermore, he had a fairly high fly ball rate of 32.2 percent in 2021, 25th worst in the league. Again, it’s not impossible for a pitcher to succeed with a high fly ball rate — Robbie Ray and Gerrit Cole were among the eight worst offenders, and Max Scherzer had the highest — but the combination of a declining strikeout rate and a high fly ball rate does not exactly bode well for success in Yankee Stadium, dead ball or not.
Once upon a time, Greinke might have been the addition that would have put the Yankees over the top — perhaps he would have been the difference between a World Series appearance and a disappointing ALCS elimination to the Astros in both 2017 and 2019. Bringing him to the Bronx now, however, would put him into the category currently headlined by Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltrán: the right player, but years too late.