Monday June 29th, 2015

1. Dodgers have Zack's back, for a change

Zack Greinke finally got a bit of support from his teammates on Sunday against the Marlins: two whole runs, as many as the Dodgers had scored for him—and as many as he himself had allowed—in his previous three outings. Thanks to that outburst, Greinke notched his first win since May 5, spinning his longest scoreless start of the season at 7 2/3 innings to lower his league-leading ERA to 1.58.

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Indeed, while the baseball world has been asking, "What's wrong with Clayton Kershaw?" (answer: Not a lot besides his 17.2% home-run-to-fly-ball rate, around 2 1/2 times his previous career norm), Greinke's season has flown under the radar. It's been the 31-year-old righty's best year since his 2009 AL Cy Young-winning campaign, and one of the best in the entire league: Beyond the ERA, he's second in the Baseball-Reference.com version of WAR (4.3, behind only Max Scherzer's 4.5) and innings (108 1/3), tied for sixth in walk rate (1.7 per nine) and seventh in FIP (2.84).

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Greinke's season thus far is its sheer consistency. He's pitched at least six innings in each of his 16 starts and allowed two runs or fewer in 13 of them; he's done scoreless work in five of them, allowed one run in six, two runs once, three runs twice and five runs once. That total of 13 stingy starts is tied with Shelby Miller for the major league lead. Miller has managed that in one fewer start, and while he has two complete games (Greinke has none), he's also worked shorter than six innings three times.

Greinke's total of 15 quality starts not only leads the majors (Kershaw is second with 13), but his 94% rate is also among the best in recent history. Using a 16-start cutoff to include both him and one strike-shortened season, here's the leaderboard for the post-1992 expansion era:

rank player year team gs qs qs% era
1 Greg Maddux 1994 Braves 25 24 96.0 1.56
2 Zack Greinke 2015 Dodgers 16 15 93.8 1.58
3 Clayton Kershaw 2014 Dodgers 27 24 88.9 1.77
4 Felix Hernandez 2010 Mariners 34 30 88.2 2.27
5 Joey Hamilton 1994 Padres 16 14 87.5 2.98
6 Pedro Martinez 2000 Red Sox 29 25 86.2 1.74
7 Randy Johnson 2002 D-backs 35 30 85.7 2.32
8 Johnny Cueto 2014 Reds 34 29 85.3 2.25
9 Felix Hernandez 2009 Mariners 34 29 85.3 2.49
10 Kevin Appier 1993 Royals 34 29 85.3 2.56

That's some outstanding company: three Hall of Famers (Johnson, Martinez and Maddux) en route to Cy Young-winning seasons plus two other Cy Young winners (Hernandez in 2010 and Kershaw). All of the aforementioned led their leagues in ERA that season, as did Appier.

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​Greinke's opposite numbers have been nearly as stifling lately, holding the Dodgers to two runs or fewer in eight of his last nine starts. The one time he got more was on June 2 in Colorado, where the Dodgers' nine runs were enough to paper over his season-high five allowed. Prior to that, he'd actually been well-supported; the team scored 33 runs in his first seven starts, and so his overall mark of 3.8 runs per game isn't anything close to the league's lowest rate.

Still, despite his relatively unassuming 6–2 won-loss record, Greinke belongs in the NL Cy Young discussion, which Cliff Corcoran will take up in Wednesday's Awards Watch, and he's likely to net himself quite a windfall this winter assuming he exercises the opt-out clause in his contract. He's guaranteed $71 million over the next three seasons, and barring injury, there's little reason to think he can't better his current six-year, $147 million deal, particularly given that the Dodgers would likely be among the bidders.

• TAYLER: Steven Matz amazes on mound, at plate in debut for Mets

Bob Levey/Getty Images

2. The start of a great Correa

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa has been as advertised thus far, looking big-league-ready at the tender age of 20 and showing why he was the No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft. Not only did he hit a home run off the YankeesMasahiro Tanaka on Saturday, but he also had a comical "Little League homer" on Sunday, scoring on his own hit by way of an error and some downright sloppy defense. His fourth-inning fly ball fell between leftfielder Garrett Jones and centerfielder Brett Gardner; the latter slipped and fell amid his attempt to pick it up, then uncorked a throw as flat as last week's champagne while Correa motored around the bases:

Whew! The run tied the score in a game the Astros went on to win, 3–1, enabling them to salvage a split from their four-game series with the Yankees and, at 44–34, remain four games ahead of the pack in the AL West. It didn't count as a homer for Correa; it was scored a double and a two-base error on Gardner. Even so, he has five homers to go with a .314/.337/.593 line thus far, and his 14 extra-base hits through his first 20 games are tied for second in the post-1992 expansion era:

rank player year team 2b 3b hr xbh
1 Chris Dickerson 2008 Reds 8 2 6 16
2T Jeff Francoeur 2005 Braves 7 0 7 14
  Brennan Boesch 2010 Tigers 9 2 3 14
  Josh Rutledge 2012 Rockies 6 2 6 14
  Carlos Correa 2015 Astros 9 0 5 14
6T Craig Paquette 1993 Athletics 8 1 4 13
  Jorge Soler 2014 Cubs 7 1 5 13
  Carlos Santana 2010 Indians 9 0 4 13
  Hunter Pence 2007 Astros 6 3 4 13
  Stephen Drew 2006 D-backs 8 3 2 13
  Daric Barton 2007 A's 9 0 4 13
  Mike Aviles 2008 Royals 9 1 3 13

Meanwhile, Correa's 51 total bases over those 20 games rank eighth in that same span, with the 2013 edition of Yasiel Puig leading the pack with 58, followed by Dickerson and Rutledge with 56.

Indeed, Correa has been scalding the ball. Via Baseball Savant's Daren Wilman, he has the majors' highest percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 100 miles per hour:

rank player team 100+ bip pct 100+
1 Carlos Correa Astros 24 67 35.8
2 Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 66 187 35.3
3 Joc Pederson Dodgers 52 163 31.9
4 Randal Grichuk Cardinals 31 98 31.6
5 Mike Trout Angels 65 206 31.6
6 Danny Valencia Blue Jays 25 81 30.9
7 Miguel Cabrera Tigers 65 211 30.8
8 Jorge Soler Cubs 38 124 30.6
9 Yoenis Cespedes Tigers 68 223 30.5
10 Ryan Howard Phillies 54 180 30.0

Obviously, the sample size is small given his recent arrival, but when the ball is rocketing off your bat with a frequency to rival Stanton, Pederson, Trout and Cabrera, you're keeping excellent company.

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Speaking of Little League home runs, at this past weekend's Society for American Baseball Research conference in Chicago, they were the subject of an award-winning presentation by Chuck Hildebrandt. Alas, I was not in attendance, so I don't have any facts and figures to accompany that note, but I do have links to videos of the Cubs' Kris Bryant (April 20 against the Pirates), the Cardinals' Mark Reynolds (April 23 against the Nationals), the Pirates' Starling Marte (June 15 against the White Sox) and the Rays' Steven Souza Jr. (June 17 against the Nationals) performing the feat earlier this season. Here's Souza's, which began as a bunt and was no doubt aided by the wet conditions:

Sloppy and silly, for sure, but also vastly entertaining. Cue “Yackety Sax”!

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