Most Detroit Tigers fans got their first glimpse of Shane Greene on August 7, 2014, and weren't happy with what they saw. Greene carved up the Tigers over eight shutout innings for the win. For many, it seemed a case of an unheralded young starter stepping in for a beleaguered New York Yankees rotation to throw the game of his life against the vaunted Tigers offense.
Three weeks later, the Tigers looked for revenge as they faced Greene again at Comerica Park. This time they were able to post two runs against the young righthander, but the result was the same. Greene coolly worked his way through the Tigers lineup and again came away victorious. Over two starts, Greene scattered 10 hits and four walks in 15 innings with 13 strikeouts. As the Tigers struggled for traction against the surging Kansas City Royals, a rookie had humbled the Tigers' bats and left many asking the question, "Who is this guy?"
Shane Greene was selected by the Yankees in the 15th round of the 2009 amateur draft. For the former University of West Florida star it was a rapid reversal of fortune. In 2008, Greene had lost his scholarship and potentially his future in the game when he required Tommy John surgery at age 19. The Florida native transferred to Daytona Beach Community College while rehabilitating his elbow. In the process he found that once healed, he’d gained several miles per hour on his fastball. He found himself in the Yankees' organization just a year after the surgery.
After a brief and disastrous debut in relief against the Boston Red Sox early in the 2014 season, Greene spent two months at Triple-A before being called up for his first big league start on July 7. Greene handled the assignment with ease, going six innings and surrendering just one run against the Cleveland Indians as he earned his first career win. He would not leave the Yankees rotation the rest of the way, compiling a 5-4 record with a 3.78 ERA over 78 2/3 innings.
Clearly, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski liked what he saw from Greene. On Dec. 5, Dombrowski rebooted the much reviled Doug Fister deal, sending Robbie Ray to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a three-team deal that netted Greene for the Tigers.
Since that point, Shane Greene has often been described as Rick Porcello 2.0, with the team control clock turned back. But how accurate are those comparisons?
In some ways the similarities leap right off the page. Porcello and Greene’s batted ball profiles were nearly identical last year, with each of them posting a ground ball rate around 50 percent and matching line drive and fly ball rates as well. However, they get there in very different ways.
While Greene has consistently shown more ability to generate whiffs than Porcello, most of his experience is at the minor league level. He posted a crackling strikeout rate of 9.27 per nine innings last year, but that was actually better than he had managed during most of his years in the minor leagues. Where Porcello has shined, and Greene has struggled, is in his ability to pound the strike zone and limit the free passes. Greene will have to continue to improve on his command in order to limit baserunners and solidify his breakthrough in 2014.
Greene throws both fastballs at 93-94 miles per hour, and his four-seamer has late tail and riding action, while the hard sinker has excellent depth and decent tail as well. Greene backs up the heat with an 87 mile-per-hour cutter. It has good horizontal movement on it, and has enormous depth for a cutter. His 83 mile-per-hour pitch is a sweeping slurve that typically features huge horizontal movement. Greene already features a pretty solid, whiff generating changeup, and under Jeff Jones' tutelage, expect to see it more against left-handed hitters after pounding them away with fastballs. Tigers’ announcers will no doubt refer to the nastiness of his "stuff" all year long. Former teammate Brandon McCarthy attested to this arsenal, referring to it as "stupid electric stuff."
Greene will make the league minimum this season of $507,500. He has just over half a year of service time at this point and isn't arbitration eligible until 2018. He won't reach free agency until 2021.
Stats and Projections
I'm going to paint both Steamer and ZIPS as Greene's floor for the 2015 season. He has only thrown a half season's work in the majors, so we're looking at a small sample. It's reasonable to assume that Greene isn't going to strikeout a batter per inning. He was never a dominant strikeout artist until hitting the majors. He does walk more batters than the Tigers would like to see as well. Last season he was throwing to several quality pitch framers in the Yankees, and that, coupled with hitters unfamiliar with him, may have boosted those strikeout rates a bit beyond what Tigers' fans should expect to see this year. There is certainly potential for some negative regression.
However, leaving Yankee Stadium should help Greene in the home run department, and the Tigers defense up the middle should be far better than what the Yankees ran out there last year. For a guy who generates such a high ground ball rate, that's going to be a huge help. You can also expect the Tigers to encourage Greene to put Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler to work by pitching to contact early in counts. If he can be more efficient, I see no reason why the 26-year-old Greene won't throw close to 175 innings. He has cleared 150 IP each of the last two seasons with no issues.
It's also worth keeping in mind that many observers really bought into Greene's breakout as completely legitimate. As a guy who took some time to really gain traction after Tommy John surgery, he took longer than most to reach the majors, but he burst on the scene with authority when he finally did.
Greene threw next to nothing above the strikezone against lefties last year. He may need to climb the ladder a bit more to keep hitters from sitting on the sinker. If he can control the power numbers against him from the left side and cut down on the free passes a little, he's capable of putting up numbers similar to what Porcello gave the Tigers last year. If he can, the Tigers have a middle of the rotation type starter under team control for six seasons. If that proves a bit optimistic, I still expect Greene to post an ERA a little under 4.00 while providing quality depth to the Tiger rotation in 2015.