Will Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka be healthy? When will Ivan Nova pitch? Will Hiroki Kuroda or Brandon McCarthy be brought back? Shane Greene is starting to prove that he is not among those question marks.
When Greene was first brought up expectations were pretty low. He only had a 4.61 ERA in Triple-A and was not a highly touted prospect. He has blown those expectations away at the MLB level, which in most cases would be some kind of fluke like Chase Whitley's first few starts were. However, by watching Greene's stuff and looking at his peripheral numbers you can see that he looks legitimate.
Greene has a 5-3 record in 13 starts for the Yankees with a 3.24 ERA and a 3.37 xFIP. The thing that you love about Greene is that he often gets the two best results a pitcher can hope for-- a strikeout or a ground ball. He has struck out 9.12 batters per nine innings this season and has a 50.9 percent ground ball rate.
Most sinker pitchers like Greene get the ground balls, but have a tougher time generating strikeouts. So, they rely a lot on infield defense and luck of where those grounders are placed.
The factors in Greene getting strikeouts are that his sinker is thrown particularly hard (93.8 avg MPH) and his slider has been nasty. Opposing batters are only hitting .177 against Greene's slider with a 14.18 percent whiff rate.
Chien-Ming Wang was a great sinker pitcher for the Yankees, but never could strike out guys like Greene has shown the ability to do. Wang threw a hard sinker for the Yankees--but not quite as hard as Greene's-- and Wang never had an out pitch like Greene's slider. Wang only averaged 4.13 strikeouts per nine innings for his career, or in other words less than half of what Greene has done this year.
Greene's cutter has also been solid for him this year, which has kept him from only being a two pitch pitcher and is a good compliment to his sinker. Opposing batters are only hitting .217 against the cutter with a .084 ISO.
The common argument to disprove an unexpected surprise like Greene is to wait until he goes around the league a few times. His first time against an opponent for the second time was against Boston on Sep. 2 and he got crushed allowing six runs in 2 2/3 innings.
However, his last two starts against Baltimore and Toronto were his second time facing those two teams and he only allowed two earned runs on 10 hits in 12 combined innings. Obviously, that's a small sample size, but encouraging nonetheless that he shut down two good offenses the second time seeing them.
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild should be commended for the job he has done with Greene and others on the Yankees pitching staff this season. Unlike with hitters under hitting coach Kevin Long, pitchers seem to be getting better when they come to New York from the minors or another team.
Not a lot of good has come out of this Yankees season, but Greene is certainly one of them. I'm not saying he should be counted on as top of the line pitcher next year or to be as good as he was this season. However, he has shown enough that you would feel comfortable with him in the back end of the rotation next year. That is a big step for a guy who nobody had many expectations for.