Friday, May 1, 2009

First to Third: The Emergence of Zack Greinke

The most dreaded ailment for any major league pitcher to be placed on the disabled list for is not an actual physical injury, but a psychological one. Rick Ankiel's pitching days were numbered because he could no longer find the strike zone. Dontrelle Willis won 22 games in 2005 and only 22 since. He's currently on the DL with the Tigers for an "anxiety disorder." Then there's Zack Greinke.

In 2006, a 22 year old Greinke was on the DL for "psychological issues" and even took time away from baseball before returning to make 14 starts and 52 appearances for the Royals in 2007. Through his first five starts in 2009, however, Greinke has only allowed two earned runs for an ERA of 0.50. He's pitched a shutout and two complete games with 44 strikeouts in 36.0 innings, 24 hits and eight walks.

With the advancement of modern medicine, it's become very routine for athletes to recover from physical ailments. Tommy John surgery doesn't even scare anyone anymore. Psychological issues, on the other hand, are a bit more frightening and even more difficult to come back from. It seems as if Greinke, who was once a highly regarded prospect, has made it all the way back in a way that few pitchers have, and I find that impressive.

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Marc Edelman said...


I love the post. One of my close friends is a psychiatrist and I am still trying to get him to write a guest column for SportsJudge on this issue.

Over the years I think a lot of other players may have suffered from anxiety (rather than purely physical) issues but they were never diagnosed. How else do you explain Chuck Knoblauch or Steve Sax losing the ability to throw from second to first (yet having no trouble making throws from other positions), or Mackey Sasser suddenly one day not being able to throw back to the pitcher.

I think fans forget some time the extreme microscope that professional athletes are under and how if they have any predeliction toward anxiety issues that such issues will come out in this forum.

But anyway, to echo your words, good for Zack Greinke. Kansas City is a great baseball town, and hopefully Greinke will keep succeeding there.

Brian Doyle said...

Let's also not forget he had a very very good rookie season for a 20 year old on a horrible team back in 2004 and had an ERA under 4 until the end of May in 2005.

I was in Canada and happened to watch this game back in May 2005. It took about an hour and a half to play and I think it's when Greinke realized he'd never get run support. He was 0-4 with a 3.46 ERA six weeks into the season. I like to think that was the beginning of the unraveling that led to his second half of 2005 and all of 2006.

Chris said...

Meeting Zack last week it was obvious that this kid is on a mission to succeed. His work ethic was better than any other pitcher I've seen thus far and he had a look of determination while he was here.