Shane Greene was supposed to be really good. At least, that's how I remember thinking before the 2015 season started, but that's mostly because I am a simple-minded person who is very easily influenced by MLB highlight reels. When the Tigers announced that they were getting Greene for the 2015 rotation, I watched a highlight video of one of his 2014 outings against the slugging Baltimore Orioles, and I think I actually salivated on my keyboard. Against a lineup of home run hitters, he struck out an estimated 391 batters, including Nelson Cruz (twice), Chris Davis (twice), and J.J. Hardy (twice).
It was that sinker, man. Or slider. Or whatever you call it, the point is that it had a lot of heavy downward movement, and it got a lot of batters hacking at air, or weakly bouncing into groundouts. I was convinced he would be the second coming of Rick Porcello, which was quite handy, considering the actual Rick Porcello had been traded for Yoenis Cespedes.
And for the first few outings, he validated all of that drooling I did. He went 21 ⅔ innings without allowing an earned run at one point, something that we pointed out here on the site "hadn't been done by a Detroit Tigers starter since Jack Morris did it in 1984."
Oh yes, we said some very laudatory things here at BYB about Shane Greene's first few outings. Things like "Shane Greene is the best pitcher in baseball at the moment," and "We can at least be convinced that Shane Greene is no fluke." Some people got really carried away, like Detroit Free Press writer Steve Schrader, who penned the headline, "Too soon to talk Cy Young for Tigers' Greene?" ESPN's David Schoenfield included him in a list of "Five sleeper 2015 Cy Young contenders," noting that although Greene was "the longest shot on the board," still "breakout potential is there."
Despite everything that happened next, I think that statement is still true, even if things got pretty ugly starting late in April. I mean, like, "put a mask on it and call it The Phantom of the Opera" ugly.
- April 24, 2015: 4 IP, 8 ER
- April 29, 2015: 4 ⅔ IP, 7 ER
- May 5, 2015: 2 ⅔ IP, 5 ER
- May 30, 2015: 1 ⅓ IP, 7 ER
- June 10, 2015: 3 IP, 5 ER
- July 12, 2015: 4 ⅔, 7 ER
That led to some very different headlines being splashed across the BYB home page, headlines like "Greene day doesn't rock for Tigers," or "Tigers' Shane Greene on path to statistical infamy." We were writing things like, "Greene became the first player in Major League Baseball to surrender five home runs while working fewer than two innings," and "Since 1901, only three Detroit Tigers pitchers have thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title AND posted an ERA of 5.80 or higher."
So to recap, Shane Greene went from being a topic of conversation for the Cy Young Award to being historically awful. That usually means one of two things: sports writers suffer from premature adulation, or the player in question in injured. Or both.
In this case, as early as mid-May, Shane Greene was diagnosed with mild ulnar neuritis after experiencing numbness in the ring and pinky fingers of his pitching hand. Greene had formerly undergone Tommy John surgery in 2008, so perhaps this was to be expected. But later in the season, a new diagnosis emerged: a pseudoaneurysm in the circumflex artery, which required season-ending surgery to remove the offending blood clot.
Started out with three straight stellar starts. Then he collapsed and landed on the DL. He was never the same and bounced back and forth between Triple-A and Detroit before undergoing season-ending surgery on Aug. 26 to repair a pseudoaneurysm in the circumflex artery in his right shoulder. He'll be ready for spring training but it was a disappointing season when he was expected to contribute heavily to the team.
It's tough to give a guy such a low grade when his performance issues were almost certainly linked to a season-long injury, and I'm more inclined to give him a solid "incomplete" grade myself, but one thing is indisputable: whatever the reason, his performance did not match the preseason expectation, and Greene was a non-contributor in a season when the Tigers needed some stability in their imploding starting rotation.
Expectations for 2016
The good news is that Greene's struggles probably, maybe, come on pleeeeeaaase ended with the corrective surgery. That sinker/slider still looks like a legitimate weapon, as does his changeup. And if new pitching coach Rich Dubee can have some impact in helping the youngster develop even further, Greene could potentially be a force to be reckoned with in 2016. He prefers to pound the strike zone, he can get quick groundball outs, and he has some swing-and-miss stuff to work with. If Rick Porcello could throw multiple shutouts in 2014, Greene should be able to do the same kind of thing. I'm right about this, I just know it.
(Don't argue with me here, ok? I need this.)