Shane Greene faces perhaps the biggest test of his young career tonight when he takes the mound against the division-leading Orioles.
Not only is winning this game crucial to the Yankees razor-thin playoff chances, but the O’s are the first team who will see him a second time as a starter (he has pitched against the Red Sox twice, though one game was a relief outing where he faced only five batters).
Greene has made six starts and has mixed results so far, with three excellent outings and three mediocre outings. One of those outstanding starts was a month ago in Baltimore, the same place he’ll be pitching tonight.
What can we learn from the differences in his pitching performances during his good starts versus his bad starts, and can he neutralize the strong Oriole bats again tonight?
The biggest takeaway from looking at his good/bad splits is that he needs to keep the ball on the ground to be successful.
SHANE GREENE AS STARTER
|Vs CLE, BAL, DET||0.178||0.241||0.219||20%||6%||63%||0.84|
|Vs TOR, BOS, TEX||0.288||0.347||0.424||17%||7%||52%||5.74|
In his three quality starts – Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit – his groundball percentage was 63 percent, more than 10 percentage points higher than his other three starts. That was especially true when he faced the Orioles last month, recording his highest groundball rate (69%) and second-most groundball outs (10).
It should be no surprise that Greene is at his best when he is able to locate the ball down in the zone, throwing seven out of every 10 pitches mid-thigh or lower during his three good outings.
Keeping the ball low also helps him limit hard contact. He allowed only two “hard-hit” balls among the 79 batters when pitching against the Orioles, Indians and Tigers. In his other three starts, he faced nearly the same number of hitters (72) but allowed a total of 14 hard-hit balls.
Don’t sweat it
The ability of Greene to get outs when behind in the count was also key to his success against the Orioles, Tigers and Indians.
Even though he predictably throws his sinking fastball more than three-quarters of the time in a hitters’ count, the pitch was much more effective in those situations during his good outings.
SHANE GREENE AS STARTER
FASTBALL IN HITTERS’ COUNTS
|Vs CLE, BAL, DET||0.214||0.389||0.214||64%|
|Vs TOR, BOS, TEX||0.385||0.556||0.692||46%|
The reason for his success is not shocking – location, location, location. Nearly three-quarters of his sinkers in hitters counts were down in the zone against Baltimore, Detroit and Cleveland; in his other three starts that rate was less than 60 percent.
Set ’em up, strike ’em out
Greene has been most effective this season when using his slider/cutter combo to set up hitters for a strikeout or an easy out.
During his three quality starts, in at-bats where the preceding pitch was either a slider or cutter, batters were 2-for-30 with nearly half (12) of the outs coming via strike three. In his three poor starts, opponents were 6-for-31 with only seven strikeouts in those same situations.
Last month the Orioles were especially vulnerable to this pitch sequence, going 1-for-10 with six strikeouts while missing on nearly half of their swings in at-bats that followed a slider or cutter from Greene.
Another encouraging trend for Greene heading into tonight’s game (though not related to his good start/bad start splits) is his improvement over the last two games when going through the lineup multiple times.
During his first four starts, batters hit .321/.387/.464 the second, third and fourth time facing Greene in a game; in his last two starts, they are just 7-for-31 (.226) with no extra-base hits. Here’s a look at the difference in heat-map form:
The key for him has been pounding the zone early and getting called strikes. When he is able to do that and get ahead in the count, he can then put away hitters with his 94-mph sinker or a well-located breaking ball on the corners even if they’ve seen that pitch from him in previous at-bats.
Greene will definitely be challenged to repeat his performance from July’s outing against the Orioles again tonight. But if he can locate his pitches down in the zone, keep hitters off-balance with his secondary pitches, and continue to get outs the second and third times through the order, he should give the Yankees a chance to win.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t swing a bat…