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Like the rest of us, Greinke and Salvy are fighting losing battles with Father Time

It is the twilight of their careers

Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals talks to Zack Greinke #23 against the Minnesota Twins during a mound visit in the first inning of the game at Target Field on September 14, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals talks to Zack Greinke #23 against the Minnesota Twins during a mound visit in the first inning of the game at Target Field on September 14, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Photo by Matt Krohn/Getty Images

Everything has an end. Every movie, every era, every friendship, every meal, every relationship, every joy, every suffering. If we’re fortunate, the good things last for a long time, and the hard things are over quickly. But that is the human condition: for everything to come to an end, even as the rest of existence and time marches ever onward. Ann Leckie, award-winning sci-fi novelist, put it beautifully in the waning moments of her novel Ancillary Mercy:

There is always more after the ending. Always the next morning, and the next. Always changes, losses and gains. Always one step after the other. Until the one true ending that none of us can escape. But even that ending is only a small one, larges as it looms for us. There is still the next morning for everyone else. For the vast majority of the rest of the universe that ending might as well not ever have happened. Every ending is an arbitrary one. Everything ending is from another angle, not really an ending.

We know that our favorite players will stop playing baseball. They know it, too. It is inevitable. There are always young, hungry, talented baseball players on the horizon. No veteran can keep their job forever. But it is especially true for players who seemingly hold off Father Time...until they can’t anymore.

Salvador Perez is the longest-tenured Royal. He debuted with the team in 2011 and has never played for another organization. He is a legend, and one of the most well-regarded catchers of the 2010s. At the age of 30, he resurrected his offensive career, and in his age-31 season, he smacked a club record 48 home runs.

But earlier on this year, a hot streak covered over the fact that he is also in decline and has been. In the following graph of his 50-game rolling wRC+, you can see Perez peaked in 2020. Since then, he’s had his ups and downs—except his hot streaks are progressively cooler, and his cold streaks are getting colder.

Salvador Perez, slowly getting worse

Perez was selected to his eighth All-Star Game, but only because someone had to represent Kansas City. Since May 28, he’s hit .183/.226/.270, striking out ten times for every walk he’s taken. Could he bounce back? Absolutely. It’s just that, at some point, he won’t. That might be now. He’s 33 and has caught 9800 big league innings with all the physical toll that comes with it. This could be it.

And Perez isn’t the only one going through this right now. Zack Greinke debuted for the Royals the same year that Mean Girls and National Treasure were released in movie theaters. He won the Cy Young in 2009 and has put in a Hall of Fame career. On June 23, the Tampa Bay Rays tagged Greinke for seven runs—all earned—on nine hits and a walk in less than five innings. In the postgame interview, Greinke sounded defeated.

I didn’t strike out enough guys, and that’s what happens. You always have to make pitches, and there’s never really an at-bat I feel like I’m completely in control anymore. The stuff’s just not nasty enough for that to be the case.

Greinke’s right: his stuff isn’t nasty enough to blow by people. The year Greinke won the Cy Young, his average fastball was over 94 MPH, and he touched 100 MPH. But Greinke has not thrown a single fastball over 95 MPH since 2016. It has averaged under 90 MPH for six seasons.

Zack Greinke’s fastball velocity by game.
Zack Greinke’s fastball velocity by game.

In his age-39 season, Greinke is posting career worsts in ERA (5.44) and FIP (4.95). Ten of Greinke’s 18 starts this season have had negative Win Probability Added. And now, Greinke is on the Injured List with shoulder tendinitis.

The good news, such as it exists, is that the struggles of Perez and Greinke aren’t significantly impacting the team; the Royals would be just as bad if those vets were performing well. However, it would be more fun for everyone—Perez and Greinke included—if they were killing it out there.

We just might be witnessing Greinke’s final season, and we might be witnessing the last chapters of Perez as an everyday catcher. Father Time always wins, like he does against the greatest of baseball players and the rest of us alike. It is what it is, so enjoy the moments we have with each other. They will end. That’s what makes those experiences human.