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Blaming Greinke’s Bad Start on Anxiety is Lazy

Zack Greinke‘s battles with social anxiety are well-documented. They’re very real, and it’s something Greinke will continue to battle for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, they also make for a convenient explanation whenever he struggles on the mound — especially when he’s playing in big markets.

Greinke had a poor start against the Yankees on Tuesday night. There’s really no debating that, and even as someone who has defended his performance thus far, I’m not going to make any excuses. Yes, the defense was terrible in the first inning, but Greinke’s control was off from the first pitch. He pitched poorly. There isn’t much else to it.

If early reaction is any indication, though, that’s not how many people are going to see it. Instead, most of the blame is going to (again) go to Greinke’s anxiety problems, and the perception that he can’t handle the pressure of pitching in New York.

That perception goes back to his Kansas City days, and after Tuesday night’s start, his ERA in New York is now over 11.

It’s an easy explanation. But like all the debate on who is clutch and who isn’t, it’s also lazy and based on a handful of innings. As Jacob Peterson of Beyond the Boxscore pointed out, Greinke’s far from the only pitcher who has struggled in New York, especially since the new Billion Dollar Bandbox opened. James Shields and Jered Weaver are two very good pitchers. They both have ERAs approaching 6 in New York. They must have anxiety issues we don’t know about, too. CC Sabathia was terrible against the Yankees before signing his free agent deal, but apparently that $160 million contract was enough to cure his problems. And don’t forget about Wednesday’s starter Shaun Marcum — he has a career 6.55 ERA against the Yankees. Maybe he can’t hack it in the Big City, either.

Or, you know, like Greinke, they’ve all struggled in small samples against a team that’s consistently been among the top offenses in the league.

Is it possible the anxiety played a role on Tuesday night, with things literally going wrong from the first at-bat and snowballing from there? Sure. But think of Occam’s razor, people. The Yankees are an elite team that hits mistakes hard, and they don’t get themselves out. Greinke threw just 32 of his 56 pitches for strikes, didn’t draw a single swinging strike, and for the first time in his career he failed to strike out a batter. And looking at the pitch f/x numbers, compared to his start against Tampa Bay, just about every one of his pitches were straighter and flatter.

Psychology doesn’t have to be a factor here. It’s okay to say he just sucked, just like Yovani Gallardo did in Boston, Randy Wolf did against San Diego, and Chris Narveson and Shaun Marcum did against the Reds. Unfortunately, it seems like every time Greinke struggles, we’re going to have to hear questions about what’s going on inside his head.

Greinke himself said he just couldn’t locate anything, and the Yankees weren’t swinging at good pitches. Can we take him for his word just this once? Or should we just keep playing amateur psychologist?