Book Excerpt: Brothers In Arms, By Jon Weisman
Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition is an excellent book by Jon Weisman. It’s now available on Amazon for you to order. Within this book you will read about legends like Koufax and Kershaw but also pitchers like Tommy John and Zack Greinke. We have provided a great excerpt below from the Zack Greinke chapter. We hope that you will enjoy reading Brothers in Arms as much as we have.
In his first season with the Dodgers, Greinke threw 177 innings with a 2.63 ERA (135 ERA+), while also rolling a .409 on-base percentage to win the Silver Slugger Award for pitchers. His most singular game came July 13, when he threw a two-hit shutout with one walk against the Rockies in which no outfielders were required to record a single out: nine strikeouts, 14 groundouts, two popouts, a soft liner to third, and a caught stealing. His steady season extended to the playoffs, where in three starts Greinke averaged seven innings with a 2.57 ERA, though two of the starts ended in hard-luck Dodger losses after Greinke left the game.
The following year, Greinke increased his innings count to 202 and 1/3, accompanied by a 2.71 ERA (129 ERA+), with the piece de resistance September 13 in San Francisco. That night, the Giants were looking for a win to create a tie with the Dodgers atop the NL West. Instead, Greinke pitched six scoreless innings, doubled and hit his first homer for Los Angeles in the 17–0 victory, the biggest shutout ever in the Dodgers-Giants rivalry. He then pitched seven run-free innings against the Cardinals in his only playoff start of 2014.
As impressive as this was, the world wasn’t prepared for his otherworldly 2015. Not since Greg Maddux in 1995 did anyone have a lower ERA than Greinke’s. Not since Roger Clemens in 2005 did anyone have an ERA+ better than Greinke’s 222.
“A big part of Greinke’s excellence that year could be attributed to his changeup,” says FanGraphs analyst Eno Sarris. “It was harder than it had ever been. Most people espouse a big velocity gap between the fastball and the change, but Greinke’s was the second-smallest in baseball. Research by Harry Pavlidis at Baseball Prospectus, though, suggested that movement is more important than velocity. And Greinke’s somehow had the most drop of his career, even though it’s going so fast.”
On June 18, Greinke began a scoreless streak that lasted 45 and 2/3 innings, the sixth-longest in MLB history and longest since Orel Hershiser’s record 59 innings in 1988. At the All-Star break, his ERA was an unreal 1.39, the tiniest by any pitcher since 1968, before the pitcher’s mound was lowered.
“Greinke’s command of all his pitches improved over time, and I think that’s important,” Sarris says. “He found ways to get batters to reach for pitches they shouldn’t reach for, and make weak contact, and it’s not always about being in the zone.
“He also tinkered with his pitches. He had a cutter for a couple years, in order to have another velocity range to complement his fastball. But then he found that the slider and the cutter interacted poorly and made both worse. So he stopped throwing the cutter, and he got more whiffs on the slider after doing that. The new changeup was getting the most whiffs of his career.”
“I’ve probably changed more than anyone else in baseball over the past 10 years,” Greinke himself said before the All-Star Game. “There have been a lot of changes — going from control pitcher to power pitcher to power pitcher that wasn’t very good to control pitcher that was okay. I’m kind of a mix right now.”
“He has so many weapons,” Kershaw noted. “If, going into a game, he thinks one pitch is going to work and it doesn’t work, he can go to one of his other four or five. And he’s a big thinker, but it’s one thing to think and another thing to execute. When he thinks about the way he pitches, it’s so that he can execute a game plan.”
On top of everything else, Greinke’s athletic abilities—the ones that earned him a Silver Slugger in 2013 and Gold Gloves in 2014 and 2015— hinted that he was some kind of closet decathlete.
“The stuff that comes easy to him is pretty obvious,” (Joe) Posnanski says. “He’s got a very loose and easy motion. He’s a shortstop playing pitcher. That’s the thing I always thought of him when he was young. That kid on your Little League team who’s your best shortstop, and when you put him on the mound, he’s your best pitcher. He’s never lost that.”
Greinke’s feats of baseball alone would make him an object of fascination, but the added allure of his personality traits and quirks transformed him into a cult hero.
“He sniffed his bat one night,” says Molly Knight, author of The Best Team Money Can Buy, the 2015 bestseller on the Dodgers. “I don’t remember a hitter sniffing his bat that deliberately—it was like he was smelling chocolate chip cookies or something. I love it when he yells ‘Good take!’ at a hitter when a hitter takes a particularly tough pitch.
“I think he really came into his own. I think that he is more outgoing than he thought he was, growing the hair out and walking up [to bat] to ‘Careless Whisper’—that’s not something that I think a wallflower would necessarily do. Friends say once he knows you, you can’t get him to shut up. It just shows me he became very comfortable in his surroundings, and that’s a beautiful thing for someone who felt so uncomfortable when he was younger.”
His celebrated honesty when being interviewed, which hit some people sideways earlier in his career, now came off as simply charming, a core aspect of his appeal. (True to form, Greinke said he pitched better in 2009 than 2015, when he was “kind of getting some breaks.”) Even the notion that he never smiled was put to rest, as he was frequently captured on camera with a grin on his face.
“You talk to him now, there’s still some of that quirky Greinke stuff,” Posnanski says. “He’ll still look at the ceiling when he’s talking to you, as if there are answers written up there. You ask him a question that gives him an opening to make a smart-aleck remark, he’ll still do that in a fun way. But he’s a pro now. There’s a different vibe about him than when he was young.”
In 26 of his 32 starts in 2015, Greinke allowed two runs or fewer. In four other starts, he allowed three runs. Twice all year did he allow more. Once was, not surprisingly, at Coors Field in Colorado. In the other, Philadelphia stunned him with a five-run first inning. But Greinke, who batted .224 that year, came back with two singles and a home run of his own and ended up winning the game anyway.
That Greinke didn’t become the sixth player to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues was nearly impossible to believe. It wasn’t for lack of a strong finish: his post–All-Star ERA was 1.99. In his final four starts, he threw 30 innings with a 1.50 ERA. However, Jake Arrieta of the Cubs came charging down the stretch, allowing only four earned runs in his final 88 and1/3 innings, including an August 30 no-hitter at Dodger Stadium. Arrieta’s season-ending 1.77 ERA (215 ERA+) and 8.7 wins above replacement didn’t better Greinke’s, but the voters’ what-have-you-done-for-me-lately focus enabled him to edge out Greinke for the honor.
I haven’t been able to read through the entire book yet – but what I have has been incredibly interesting. I love that Weisman brings in knowledgable writers like Eno Sarris and Joe Posnanski to help tell his story. Without this chapter, how easy it is to forget the dominance of 2015 Zach Greinke. That was easily one of the best pitching seasons in Dodgers franchise history, and Weisman does a great job of commemorating it within his work. My favorite thing about this book so far is the detail in history that Weisman offers. Readers will enjoy this in Brothers in Arms, especially within the Koufax and Kershaw chapters.
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Would anyone be interested in a book about Koufax and Kershaw exclusively, my personal reaction to the careers of the two greatest lifetime (barring another mistake by management) Dodger pitchers.
This is truly useful, thanks.