This updates the March 29, 2019 Part II blog, in a series on Gold Gloves (GG) earned by MLB players who played pro ball during the winter months in the Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League. Eight MLB pitchers who once hurled in Puerto Rico, including Zack Greinke, have 30 Rawlings Gold Gloves (GG) between them: five in the American League (AL) and 25 in the National League (NL). This covers 1957-to-2019. In 1957, GG were awarded to nine total MLB players by position. From 1958-on, separate AL-NL recipients received this award.
Zack Greinke won his first two GG with the 2014 and 2015 Los Angeles Dodgers, followed by four more with the 2016-to-2019 Arizona Diamondbacks. Greinke—acquired by the Houston Astros by the July 31, 2019 trade deadline—pitched two-thirds of his 2019 MLB season in the NL. Moreover, Greinke was named recipient of the 2019 NL Silver Slugger (SLG) Award for pitchers, an award announced Thursday, November 7, 2019. This was his second Silver SLG; he also won it in 2013 with the Dodgers. Silver SLG awards were instituted post-1980 MLB season.
The eight MLB pitchers who played in Puerto Rico, and earned GG, including Greinke, are:
- Bob Gibson, 1961-62 Santurce Crabbers, won nine straight GG with St. Louis, 1965-to-1973, second all-time in the NL to 18 by Greg Maddux.
- Harvey Haddix, 1952-53 San Juan Senators, won three straight GG with the 1958 Phillies and 1959-1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.
- Phil Niekro, 1961-62 Arecibo Wolves and 1963-64 Mayagüez Indios, earned five NL GG with the Atlanta Braves from 1978-to-1980, 1982 plus 1983.
- Steve Carlton, 1965-66 and 1966-67 Ponce Lions, took home the 1981 NL GG as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
- Jim Palmer, 1968-69 Santurce Crabbers, won four straight GG with the Baltimore Orioles, 1976-to-1979.
- Mike Boddicker, 1980-81 Caguas Criollos, won the 1990 GG with the Boston Red Sox. He and Palmer pitched for 1983 Baltimore, World Series champions.
- Mike Hampton, 1993-94 San Juan Senators, won a 2003 GG with the Atlanta Braves. Hampton won five straight Silver SLG awards, from 1999-to-2003.
- Zack Greinke, 2002-03 Mayagüez Indios, won six straight GG with the Dodgers, 2014-15, and Diamondbacks, 2016-19, plus two Silver SLG awards—2013 Dodgers and 2019 Diamondbacks. The 2009 AL Cy Young Award recipient is a 1x AL and 5x NL All-Star.
Greinke is just the second pitcher in NL history to win a GG AND Silver SLG award in the same season (2019), following Mike Hampton, who accomplished this feat in 2003, when Greinke was pitching in the minors in the Kansas City Royals system. Let’s examine Greinke’s minor-league and Puerto Rico Winter League career, before we highlight the RHP’s MLB accomplishments.
The 36-year old Greinke was born in Orlando, Florida, October 21, 1983. He was drafted by the Royals out of Apopka (Florida) High School, in the first found (6th overall) of the June 2002 MLB Amateur Draft. His five combined starts—at age 18—included three for the Gulf Coast Royals (4.2 IP, 1.93 ERA); and two for low Class A Spokane Indians (4.2 IP, 7.71 ERA). Greinke hurled two scoreless relief innings for high (advanced) Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks.
Mayagüez Indios (2002-03)
Kansas City sent Greinke to Mayagüez to get further seasoning, 2002-03 season. While he pitched well—0-1 W-L, 2.45 ERA—he returned to the States after 11 innings of work. The author is not sure why Kansas City sent Greinke to Mayagüez, or why he only pitched 11 innings for the Indios. Tony Peña took over the managing reins of Kansas City during the 2002 AL season. Peña had played for, and managed, the Aguilas Cibaeñas, and was a big believer in winter ball for young prospects. Tom Gamboa, the Royals first base coach in 2002, had managed Mayagüez in 1988-89 and during much of the 1990s, and knew the value of winter ball for imports and native players. Guy Hansen, Gamboa’s pitching coach with Mayagüez during part of the 1990s, also served as the Royals pitching coach, prior to Greinke being drafted in 2002.
Nick Leyva, the 2002-03 Mayagüez manager, led his club to a league title and a berth in the 2003 Caribbean Series, hosted by Puerto Rico. Mayagüez (5-2 W-L) came in second to the Aguilas Cibaeñas (6-1 W-L) from the Dominican Republic after the latter team won the tie-breaker seventh game. The Caguas Criollos (2-4) and Los Mochis from Mexico (0-6) rounded out the field. Caguas replaced the potential Venezuelan club, due to political protests against then-President Hugo Chavez, protests which ended Venezuela’s Winter League season. David Ortíz (.462 BA, 11 RBIs) starred for the winning Aguilas Cibaeñas.
Minors, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2003-2012)
Greinke, post-Mayagüez, was 11-1, 1.14 ERA, for Wilmington in 2003, before his promotion to class AA Wichita—4-3, 3.23 ERA. In 2004, Greinke’s six starts for class AAA Omaha reflected a 1-1 record, but a 2.51 ERA, good enough for Kansas City to bring him up in time for his May 22, 2004 MLB debut. Greinke was 8-11, 3.97 ERA in 2004, with 24 starts and 145 innings. He struggled for the 2005 Royals—5-17, 5.80 ERA, with 33 starts and 183 innings. A demotion to Wichita in 2006 helped Greinke—he was 8-3, 4.34 ERA at Wichita in 17 starts, but 1-0, 4.26 ERA in three relief appearances for Kansas City.
From 2007-to-2010, Greinke was a combined 46-39 for Kansas City. He only started 14 of 52 games in 2007, but started 98 contests between 2018 and 2010. His 2009 AL Cy Young and All-Star campaign featured six CG in 33 starts; a 16-8 record, league-best 2.16 ERA, 242 strikeouts in 229.1 innings; and a league-leading 1.073 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). On December 19, 2010, Kansas City traded Greinke with Yuniesky Betancourt and cash to the Milwaukee Brewers for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.
Greinke’s nearly two seasons with Milwaukee resulted in 49 starts, a 25-9 record, 3.67 ERA and 323 strikeouts in 294.2 innings. He was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on July 27, 2012, for three players, including Jean Segura. Greinke was 6-2 for the Angels in 13 starts, prior to becoming a free agent after the 2012 season.
Los Angeles Dodgers (2013-2015)
The Dodgers signed Greinke as a free agent, December 10, 2012. He rewarded this franchise with 51 wins to 15 losses, a 2.30 ERA, 602.2 innings, 555 strikeouts-to-129 walks (better than a 4-to-1 ratio) and three-year WHIP of 1.027. He led the NL with a .789 won-lost PCT (15-4 record) in 2013 and went 19-for-58 at the plate (.328 BA), a .328/.409/.379 slash line, to win his first Silver SLG. In 2014, he won his first of six straight GG, and made the NL All-Star team en route to a 17-8 record and 2.71 ERA. His 2015 season featured 200 strikeouts-to-40 walks in 222.2 innings; a league-best 1.66 ERA and .864 W-L PCT (19-3 W-L); and 0.844 WHIP, also best in the NL. But he was granted free agency on November 5, 2018.
Arizona Diamondbacks (2016-2019)
Greinke’s three full seasons and two-thirds of 2019 with Arizona resulted in 55 wins and 29 losses. Most impressive was his 1.093 WHIP over this period. He made three All-Star teams, 2017-to-2019; committed two errors in his entire Arizona tenure. He posted a .271/.300/.583 slash line in 2019, with a .883 OPS in winning his second Silver SLG award. Greinke clubbed three HR in just 48 AB in 2019, the equivalent of one HR per 16 AB, or roughly 34 per 550 AB.
Houston Astros (2019) and Greinke’s Legacy
Greinke was acquired for four players and cash by Houston on July 31, 2019. He started 10 games for the AL champions, going 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA. His 1.069 WHIP was remarkable. Greinke did not fare well versus Tampa Bay in the ALDS—0-1, 14.73 ERA in 3.2 innings. He was 0-1, 3.48, against the New York Yankees in the ALCS, before starting two World Series contests against the Washington Nationals, with two no-decisions. Greinke was pulled from his Game Seven start, October 30, 2019, holding a 2-1 lead in the seventh frame, but the Astros bullpen gave up the lead. Ironically, Greinke’s 2.45 ERA in the 2019 World Series was identical to his 2.45 ERA with the 2002-03 Mayagüez Indios—11 innings pitched in each setting.
One of Greinke’s greatest best MLB accomplishments, in 16 MLB seasons, is his current ranking of 85th place all-time in WHIP, per https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/whip_career.shtml.
Greinke’s 1.1588 WHIP, through the 2019 MLB season, is behind #83 Babe Ruth’s 1.1586, but ahead of Dennis Eckersley’s 1.1608. Justin Verlander ranks 55th all-time with 1.1351 WHIP; Gerrit Cole, 44th at 1.1289; and ex-Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw 4th at 1.0076. Mariano Rivera (1.0003) is third-best, behind Addie Joss (0.9678) and Ed Walsh (0.9996). Two pitchers for the 2019 Washington Nationals—Stephen Strasburg (1.0857), #15 all-time; and, Max Scherzer (1.0921), #23 all-time, have impressive WHIP credentials.
The eight pitchers who performed in Puerto Rico with 30 GG—23.8 percent of 126 GG awarded to pitchers—include four Cooperstown Hall of Famers (Carlton, Gibson, Phil Niekro and Palmer) and 10 combined World Series titles: three-Palmer, two each-Carlton, Gibson and Haddix, and one for Boddicker. The eight hurlers performed well in Puerto Rico and used that league as a steppingstone to MLB greatness. Combined, they won 20 games or more 25 times; made 41 All-Star teams; had 10 Cy Young and seven Silver Slugger awards.
Photo: Rafo Espinet