2018 was a disappointment for Shane Greene by most measures. The Tigers looked for him to close out games and he was unable to back up his fine 2017 season with another consistent campaign. Instead, struggled at times, veering back and forth between dominant reliever and punching bag. There wasn’t much in-between. And while it’s tempting to point to Greene’s 32 saves in 38 chances and argue that it was still a pretty successful year, from the Tigers’ perspective that inconsistency cost them more than games.
Greene’s ERA was 5.19 over 63 1⁄3 innings this season, and the rough stretches clearly outweighed his best work on the year. After a rocky start in April, the 29-year-old right-hander came on strong in May and most of most of June. His walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed trended in the right direction, and it looked like the Tigers would have a valuable chip available at the July 31st trade deadline.
Unfortunately, things came unglued in late June. Greene was hammered in consecutive outings at home against the Oakland Athletics, and was out of action for most of the next three weeks with shoulder inflammation. While he looked like he was regaining strength in July, there were still too many baserunners, and too many runs. Teams looking for relief help probably weren’t offering a whole lot in trade. Greene pitched very well in August, and then completely ran out of gas in September as the Tigers struggled to the finish line.
Shane Greene will be 30 next year, yet the Tigers still have two more arbitration years of control. MLB Trade Rumors estimates that Greene will receive $4.8 million for his services in 2019, after making just under $2 million this season. He might actually be an interesting case to watch if he and the Tigers went to arbitration. Changes in the way teams are deploying their best relievers are altering how they are evaluated and compensated. It would be interesting to see how Greene’s save totals are valued against his poor overall numbers. However, the Tigers don’t like to go to arbitration, and presumably will come to an agreement with Greene before it gets to that point.
One big stat: 1.71 home runs per nine innings (HR/9)
There was a disturbing amount of hard contact against Greene this season. He gave up 12 home runs as compared to just six in 2017 with a similar workload. An isolated power number of .115 last season spiked to .197 this year. He posted the worst groundball rate of his career and paid heavily for it. Greene’s slider remains a dynamite pitch when he’s right, but right-handers mashed his twoseam fastball in 2018, while lefties mashed his cutter.
There are no notable changes in his mechanics or stuff to point to as an obvious concern. Two things stand out. Greene threw the highest rate of first-pitch strikes in his career, at 66.3 percent. And hitters ambushed him first-pitch, posting a .472 wOBA in 0-0 counts. Because he threw so many first pitch strikes, Greene was a great pitcher to be aggressive against, and opposing batters hit him hard when they were.
Greene actually trimmed his walk rate to 6.8 percent of batters this year. His strikeout rate was a little off but still good at 23.3 percent. Both are a little above league average. He still had the stuff to be an effective pitcher.
It’s important to remember, that heading into September, Greene’s numbers actually looked solid. He held a 3.69 ERA backed by a 3.76 FIP. Not dominant numbers, but then we’ve never seen more than flashes of excellence from the Tigers’ closer. At his best, Greene is a very good reliever with the constitution to handle the pressure situations. He’s not in the elite class of relief arms.
Still, Greene was clearly laboring in September, and his overall season numbers may be a bit deceiving as a result. With a better season from a health standpoint, and a little better batted ball luck, he may rebound and have a fine 2019 season. It’s just that he remains a bit of a prisoner of his arm. The bouts of numbness, the shoulder inflammation and slightly diminished command and velocity that accompanied his rough stretches this season make it hard to expect too much.
All this makes it tricky to project Greene’s 2019 season, and to figure out how to deploy him next season. Joe Jimenez dethroned him as the Tigers’ most effective reliever this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Jimenez should close games next year. Locking your best reliever into a ninth inning role isn’t good policy, so it may still be best to give Greene the first crack at the job again next year. The question is whether Ron Gardenhire and general manager Al Avila look at it that way.
It’s not impossible that Greene could be traded during the offseason, but unless we’re talking about a multi-player deal, the Tigers aren’t going to be able to demand a whole lot in return. He’s no longer cheap, and teams will question how much surplus value is still available over the next two seasons. The Tigers will seek an opportunity to deal him for a higher price, but they have to balance that patience with the risk Greene carries with him.
For now, you can probably expect Greene to be back in the Tigers’ pen when the 2019 season gets underway. As a standalone piece, the offers for him this offseason just aren’t going to be enticing enough for the Tigers to sell. They aren’t flush in talented young relievers, and keeping Greene helps stabilize the back end of the bullpen. Instead, they’ll hope he can rebuild his value, and fetch a nice price in prospects when he’s traded in July. Hopefully, the Tigers can get him to that point healthy and pitching his best.
What grade would you give Shane Greene’s 2018 performance?
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