To start off the ALCS, the Yankees will have Masahiro Tanaka going against 2009 Cy Young winner and six-time All-Star Zack Greinke.
In 33 starts between the D-backs and Astros this season, Greinke threw 208 2/3 innings (6.32 IP per start) and produced a 2.93 ERA with a 3.22 FIP and 3.20 DRA. His strikeout rate went down from 24 to 21 percent after his trade to Houston, some of which is likely from no pitchers spot in the lineup. Still, he maintained his impressively-low 3.6 walk rate after the trade.
The 35-year-old right-hander is coming off a dud in ALDS Game 3 in which he allowed six runs (three homers) in 3 2/3 innings as the Astros lost to the Rays.
Greinke no longer possesses anything resembling elite velocity, yet he produces ace-level numbers with guile and veteran know-how. According to Statcast, he threw eight different pitches this season. That includes an eephus pitch, which is essentially the slower classification of his curveball.
The right-hander employs his high-80s, low-90s fastball about 40 percent of the time. Behind that, he goes to his changeup, slider and curveball as his primary offspeed offerings while throwing a few sinkers and the eephus about once a start. He mostly shelved the sinker at the end of the season.
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Against right-handed hitters, he attacks with the fastball and a mid-80s slider, mixing in the curve and a few more sinkers. He adjusts to southpaws by upping his hard-changeup, which averages just two mph slower than his four-seamer.
Underneath all of this is the curveball, his secret weapon. It a slow curve, registering around 70 mph and often settling in nicely below that. He doesn’t throw it often enough (15 percent) for hitters to sit on it, and the extreme change in speeds leads to some ugly whiffs.
The pitch registers as the second slowest curve among qualified starters and the slowest for those who threw the pitch at least five percent of the time.
With a dominant changeup (fourth-best change in Fangraphs Pitch Values), Greinke actually has a reverse platoon split. Even so, don’t sleep on his fastball, which was also hard to hit despite its low velocity.
Overall, despite allowing plenty of balls in play, he mixes and matches well enough to induce weak contact and befuddle hitters. He won the last five Gold Gloves in the National League and is a cerebral pitcher who thinks well ahead of the opposition. If he weren’t facing the Yankees, he’d be a joy to watch.
Greinke faced the Yankees twice while in Arizona this year, though the lineups are going to be significantly different. Aarons Judge and Hicks as well as Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, Didi Gregorius and Gio Urshela were all out of the lineup the first go-around, while Stanton, LeMahieu and Brett Gardner were missing the second time.
The right-hander tossed 12 2/3 innings and allowed just seven hits to the Bombers while fanning 14 and walking four. However, ask him and he’ll throw those numbers right out.
“Not much,” Greinke said of what to take away from those starts. “Their whole team was hurt both times that I faced them pretty much.”
That’s a pretty succinct answer from the famously laconic veteran.
The Rays hit Greinke hard after a long rest, but he’ll be on a more normal schedule heading into this start, and he’ll be at home. Beating Greinke at least once is imperative for the Bombers to take the series, and he hasn’t faced as talented a lineup all year.
While Tanaka could struggle with Houston’s starting nine, Greinke has the same combustibility in Game 1.