Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Don't make the mistake of doubting Zack Greinke this season, because the Brewers righty will crush you.
That's right, sleep on Greinke and you'll be quite sorry you missed the boat on a top-three fantasy starting pitcher. Yes, top three, right there with Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw.
Now, it's actually pretty easy to see why Greinke hasn't been drafted higher this spring (43.7 Yahoo ADP, 10th among starting pitchers), but that doesn't make it right.
Greinke's Milwaukee tenure got off to an inauspicious start last season when he broke his rib playing pickup basketball in spring training. Greinke then returned to give up four earned runs or more in three of his first four starts, so he didn't exactly turn heads immediately.
His poor first half from an ERA standpoint meant that Greinke had to spend the rest of the season working down that figure, so his 2.59 second-half ERA was masked unless you did some split-stat sleuthing.
Greinke hasn't missed a beat this spring, posting a 0.93 ERA in 19 1/3 innings. More importantly, however, is his tidy 14:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (28 Ks).
That type of pinpoint control is a rare spring statistic that you can actually expect to carry over to the regular season.
Meanwhile, Greinke continues to post an off-the-charts K/9. Last season, the right-hander struck out 201 batters in just 171 2/3 innings, a K/9 of 10.54, second only to Brandon Beachy among starting pitchers in the entire league.
His 2011 K/9 was up from 7.4 in 2010 and 9.5 in his Cy Young award-winning 2009 season.
So why did Greinke only register a good-but-not-elite ERA of 3.83? Well, as I mentioned above, Greinke posted a 5.45 ERA in the first half, so he had to work that down after the All-Star break. The better question is why did Greinke possess that high of an ERA in the first half with a WHIP of 1.25 and a K/9 of 12?
We must first look at his home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB). Greinke allowed a home run on 13.9 percent of fly balls, well above the league average of 10.6 percent. Greinke's career average is nine percent, so its not like he's had a propensity for eclipsing the league average in the past.
In using Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), we are able to quantify a pitcher's expected ERA based on homers, walks and strikeouts. The xFIP statistic is calculated using the league average HR/FB rate in place of the pitcher's current rate, with the assumption that this rate will eventually regress to league average.
According to FanGraphs, Greinke's xFIP in 2011 was 2.56, well below his actual ERA of 3.83.
Greinke also had a .318 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against him, also well above his career average of .308, meaning he had some poor luck with balls put in play finding holes instead of ending up in his teammates' gloves.
For those concerned with the hit Greinke might take in the win column after Prince Fielder departed for Detroit, fear not, as Aramis Ramirez and Mat Gamel are more than capable of contributing similar value to the Brewers as Fielder did.
In 2011, Fielder had a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value of 5.2, meaning he provided the Brewers with 5.2 more wins than an average Minor League replacement would have. Ramirez wasn't that far behind, giving the Cubs a WAR of 3.6.
Meanwhile, Mat Gamel socked 28 homers in Triple-A last season, and has hit four this spring.
The Brewers also lucked out with Ryan Braun, as the outfielder escaped his positive test for an elevated level of testosterone without a 50-game suspension, so don't expect too much of a downswing for Milwaukee's offense in 2012.
All of these factors will add up to a dominant 2012 season for Greinke. Move him up in your rankings if you're participating in a late draft, and if you've already drafted and couldn't grab Greinke, explore a trade and see how his current owner values him.
You won't regret making Greinke the ace of your staff, as you'll be able to sit back and watch him pile up numbers similar to his otherworldly 2009 season all year long.