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April 25, 2007

Player Profile

Khalil Greene

by Marc Normandin

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Khalil Greene is an intriguing player. The Padres shortstop is capable of hitting for some power at a difficult defensive position, but he lacks discipline at the plate, cannot seem to hit in his home park, and developed something of an injury bug during his time in the majors. Entering his age-27 season this year, PECOTA expects him to be solidly above average for his position the next five years, and it seems as if the scouting reports and advanced fielding metrics finally agree on Greene's place in the defensive shortstop hierarchy (hint: it's lofty).

Khalil Thabit Greene played baseball for Clemson University for four years, putting up very good-to-great numbers and finishing his run by taking home the Golden Spikes Award in 2002. He had been drafted by the Chicago Cubs the previous summer, but declined to sign, and ended up on a Clemson team that made it to the College World Series semifinals instead while hitting an absurd .470/.552/.877 for a 1429 OPS in 285 at-bats. It's no surprise he was drafted a wee bit higher during the 2002 draft, jumping 395 spots to #13 overall and the San Diego Padres' first pick. The most interesting part of all of this is that the Cubs were able to snag Greene with a pick in the 14th round just one year prior, and then he hit like a man possessed for the whole season. Considering Greene's production on the road during his career-and the fact that Cubs fans have had to endure a whole lot of Neifi during the past few years-it is hard not to say, "What if…".

Greene would sign at the end of June that same year, and started his professional career at Low-A Eugene and High-A Lake Elsinore:

          AB   AVG/OBP/SLG   XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Eug.(A-)  37 .270/.400/.297  10%  .027    1   11.1%  13.3%
LkE.(A+) 183 .317/.368/.525  33%  .208   10    6.0 % 16.4%

That's a solid debut for Greene, who would not stay in the minor leagues very long at all. His plate patience left a little something to be desired at Lake Elsinore, but his bat looked very good, and that kind of power out of a shortstop is pretty tasty. Baseball America 2003 would rank Khalil Greene the #2 prospect in the organization heading into his first full season in the minors:

All of Greene's tools are average or better, and he supplements them with excellent instincts. His bat speed, hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition and ability to adjust make him the best pure hitter in the system. He also has surprising power for his size. Scouts question whether he's a pure shortstop, but his hands, range, arm, first-step quickness and body control are all assets. Greene's range and arm earn 55 grades on the 20-80 scouting scale, which means they're above average but not extraordinary for a shortstop. The Padres believe his total package will allow him to stay at short. His only drawback at the plate is that he makes contact so easily that he doesn't draw many walks.

Greene would start the 2003 season at Double-A Mobile, take a quick trip to Triple-A Portland, and finish up the season at the major league level, where the current Friar shortstops were Ramon Vazquez, Lou Merloni, and Donaldo Mendez:

           AB   AVG/OBP/SLG   XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
Mob.(AA)  229 .275/.327/.406  35%  .131   19    6.5%  22.2%
Por.(AAA) 319 .288/.346/.442  32%  .154   19    5.6 % 14.6%
San.(MLB)  65 .215/.271/.400  50%  .185    5    5.7%  27.1%

Besides a rehab assignment, that was the last Greene would see of the minor leagues. Greene's numbers suffered in Mobile, a tough park for guys who live on power. He bumped his numbers up slightly at Portland, with the largest gains coming in his Isolated Power. The problem with this, of course, is that Portland is in the Pacific Coast League. Portland's a decent hitter's park, but it is not as extreme as some of the other PCL parks, so you might not want to knock off as much as you normally may from his line. It's a little discouraging to see the lack of power in Greene's numbers in Triple-A, but he may not have adjusted entirely by the time the Padres called him up for the end of the year. Greene clearly was not ready for the big leagues yet, although the little bit of power increase he showed was promising, albeit in such a small sample.

Baseball America once again ranked Greene the #2 prospect in the organization, this time behind Josh Barfield rather than Xavier Nady. Baseball Prospectus 2004 liked Greene, although they felt the Padres may have been hurrying him through the minors a bit:

The Padres rushed Greene, who was just getting by at Double-A, through two levels last year and had him at Qualcomm just 15 months after draft day. A short, muscular player with decent power potential, Greene hasn't shown the plate discipline as a pro that helped him become the 13th pick in the 2000 draft. While he probably needs another half-season at Triple-A, or at least a job share with Ramon Vazquez to start the year, the Pads look likely to hand him the keys right now; he'll start being a productive full-time shortstop in 2005. Think John Valentin if the walks come, Rich Aurilia if they don't, with similarly underrated work defensively.

Greene had been the first position player from the 2002 draft to reach the majors, and now he was the starting shortstop for the Padres. PECOTA forecasted a .252/.308/.400 season for Greene, and lucky for both the Padres and Khalil, he was able to best that by quite a bit.

        AB   AVG/OBP/SLG   XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
2004   484 .273/.349/.446  38%  .174   35    9.9%  19.4%

While we're still somewhat on the subject of Jackie Robinson's legacy in MLB this month, calling the award for the most productive rookie by the title it was given in 1987 (and the player it was originally given to) happens all too rarely. Greene finished second in the Jackie Robinson Award vote behind outfielder Jason Bay-although there are many who still think Greene and his defensive acrobatics were robbed by a corner outfielder who hit for some power. Bay's had himself a pretty neat career since then, but the award is not based on who is going to have the more significant career-just ask Bob Hamelin or Ben Grieve.

PECOTA was a bit more optimistic about Greene's production in 2005 and 2006, although not really that excited: .260/.327/.424 and .257/.318/.427 for the two years, and Greene ended up underperforming and matching them, respectively:

        AB   AVG/OBP/SLG   XBH%  ISO  2B+3B  BB%   K%
2005   436 .250/.293/.431  43%  .182   32    5.4%  21.3%
2006   412 .245/.320/.427  43%  .182   28    8.6%  21.1%

Between a drop in BABIP as well as a sharp dip in his walks, Greene struggled at the plate in 2005. His .293 OBP is pretty inexcusable, although he did hit a somewhat more manageable .244/.308/.465 on the road. You can blame this drop in production on injuries, as Greene managed to break a toe and a finger-twice-during his short time in the majors. His line drive rate was the highest of his major league career, so you have to figure he encountered a stretch of bad luck-or just softly hit liners, due to finger problems (think Coco Crisp, who I profiled previously)-that kept him from collecting as many hits.

In 2006 he was able to rebound somewhat thanks to a much healthier walk rate-it's interesting to note that his plate discipline did not change all that much from 2004-2006, but that his walk rate itself bounced up and down-and so far this season, is off to quite the start at .300/.333/.600. Yes, it is in under 100 plate appearances, but seeing Greene hit for any power at PETCO-he's currently slugging .562 at home with 2 homers-is a plus.

In the past three years, Greene has had a large disparity between his home and road numbers, enough to make it look like he cannot really hit much, even for a shortstop:

      Home            Road
2004 .241/.345/.338  .301/.353/.543
2005 .256/.285/.399  .244/.308/.465
2006 .210/.282/.346  .280/.356/.507

Any shortstop who can slug over .500 while drawing walks at a decent rate has a lot of value-combine that with his defensive prowess, and you have yourself something pretty special. Greene was the fourth best shortstop defensively in 2006 according to David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range:

image 1

You can see that Greene is mostly average on grounders, although he's more problematic going to his left. He is very good with liners and flyballs though, thanks to his excellent positioning and defensive instincts. John Dewan's Fielding Bible gave Greene a favorable report:

Greene is a very good defender despite having only average range and arm for the position. He has superb instincts, always positions himself well and and has a quick release that makes up for his lack of arm strength. He is also very smooth turning double plays.

Baseball Prospectus 2007 also noticed that Greene's numbers and scouting reports may have finally matched up in 2006:

The disconnect between a more tools-oriented appreciation of Greene's glovework and statistical analysis seems to have finally resolved itself, with the systems belatedly agreeing with the scouts that he's a plus defender. This merely highlights the need to use as many metrics as possible--whether you like Dave Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range, John Dewan's plus/minus system, or our own Clay Davenport's Fielding Translations, the best way to use these different metrics are in concert and in addition to scouting reports and other analytical tools. All three systems concur that Greene's 2006 was his best year afield yet, and while there's an ingrained tendency to think of fielding as more of a fixed quality that changes gradually over time, Greene's numbers have shifted radically while the scouting reports remain essentially the same.

Greene has always been somewhat of an extreme flyball hitter, which is part of the reason he has trouble in PETCO. Guys who hit more doubles and make their living off of line drives-please see Gonzalez, Adrian-are more apt to succeed there, as are players who exude a bit more plate patience than Greene is known for. Of course, if Greene were to, on average, hit his flyballs deeper at PETCO, then we would be discussing how cool it is that he hit 25+ homers as a shortstop in the most severe pitcher's park around. He certainly seems to be hitting more of them, which is a start, in 2007:

Year P/PA  FB%   LINERD%  GB%   IF/F%  HR/F%  BABIP eBABIP Dif.
2004 3.8   45.5%  18.3%  36.2%   9.9%   8.3%  .312   .303  -.009
2005 3.8   44.4%  22.4%  33.2%  14.8%   9.7%  .287   .344  +.057
2006 3.9   46.2%  19.3%  34.6%   9.9%   9.9%  .277   .313  +.036
2007 3.4   53.7%  17.9%  28.4%  16.7%  11.1%  .317   .299  -.018

Greene underperformed his eBABIP by a significant amount in 2005-2006; in fact, his lines should have been something like .307/.350/.488 and .281/.356/.463, both improvements on the actual ones. You can blame the underperformance on injuries and PETCO for the most part, as all the tools are certainly there for Greene. He's utilized them plenty in the past at almost every level of play, and has started out 2007 fairly well. He will need to boost his walk rate to 2004 and 2006 levels, rather than falling back to the 2005 ones that took away a lot of his value. You have to love the power he has displayed so far though, and he is an interesting one to track throughout the season given his park and batted-ball tendencies.

Even if Greene were not able to hit very well at home, when you consider his defensive value and the fact that he has a valuable bat for 81 road games, he's still a very useful player to have. If he does ever learn to hit at least half decently at home-let's say, .260/.320/.430 or so-then the Padres are going to be very pleased with the rest of their time with Greene.

Marc Normandin is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Marc by clicking here or click here to see Marc's other articles. You can find some of Marc's other work here.

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