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We all have transitional moments in life, and in sports, all with different degrees of significance and magnitude. That moment when you recognize that you’re not good enough to play college ball and that you’re essentially done playing competitively. That moment when you realize that you’ve met the one you’re going to marry. That moment when you graduate from docile fan to obsessive fanatic of your favorite team. That moment when you moved from catcher to pitcher and it just clicked.

One of mine happened in seventh-grade Little League. Like a myriad of pre-teen boys, I adored baseball. My summers consisted of my exhausted parents shuffling me from one baseball practice to another, then to an evening mid-week game, and ultimately to a two-day weekend tournament out of town. My dream was to play second base for the Milwaukee Brewers, to be the next Jimmy Gantner or Mark Loretta.

I was a decent enough player. I played on multiple traveling all-star teams, played all over the diamond, but my coaches thought I had a confidence problem that they couldn’t cure. That is to say, they couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t better. My swing looked solid, my pitching motion was good enough; however, I always batted at the bottom of the order. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t break through that glass ceiling. I couldn’t take the crucial next step. They assumed the issue resided in my psyche.

One day, I straight-up missed a steal sign at first base. My coach later gave me the business in the dugout: “You were looking right at me, kid. I can’t trust you on the basepaths going forward if you’re just going to ignore my signs.” I finally shrugged my shoulders and told him I couldn’t see what he was doing. It was all blurry.

Like many kids, I didn’t know I desperately needed glasses. I simply thought everyone struggled to see the blackboard in class or squinted across the room to see the clock. I didn’t know any different, as it all happened so gradually. But, in the end, my parents took me to the eye doctor and I managed to pick out only slightly nerdy RayBan glasses.

My parents took me to my baseball game the next afternoon. In the dugout prior to the top of the first inning, I chomped at the bit to step into the batter’s box. As I watched the pitcher warm up, I could see the ball throughout his windup. Hell, I could see the damn laces from the moment he let go of the baseball. I couldn’t believe it. For a lack of a better word, it felt unfair.

Top of the second (remember, I batted near the bottom of the order). First pitch—boom—fastball over the center-field fence. My first Little League home run. I exuberantly rounded the bases and felt invincible, as if I’d unlocked a secret weapon or input some sort of cheat code. Needless to say, I [expletive] raked the rest of the summer.

*****

The New York Yankees called up a relatively unheralded Shane Greene to make his first big-league start on July 7th, 2014 against the Cleveland Indians. It went as well as one could have expected, as he tossed six innings, struck out a pair, walked no one, and picked up his first win. Fantasy owners may have muttered “who’s this guy?” under their breaths as they perused the box scores that evening; however, it was his subsequent outing that made him one of the hottest waiver-wire pickups of the second half.

Greene took the mound against the potent run-scoring Baltimore Orioles, his second game on the road and in a hitter-friendly ballpark. No matter. Greene fanned nine over 7 1/3 scoreless innings, securing his second win and looking like a surprise “answer” to the Yankees’ starting rotation conundrum. Owners scrambled to acquire him on the waiver wire, and he delivered immediate results. Greene posted a 3.11 ERA in July and August, striking out 53 batters over 55 innings with a stingy six percent walk rate.

Two things spoiled the Cinderella story: (1) he faltered down the stretch, compiling a 5.40 ERA in September with significant command issues, and (2) people began to dwell on his significant platoon split and questioned whether he truly profiled as a starting pitcher.

It’s hard to get too worked up over a rookie pitcher having a poor month to end the year. The platoon-split issues, though, and the fact that he lacked a weapon to neutralize left-handed hitting, raised significant red flags. Greene featured a fastball-cutter-slider repertoire that made him vulnerable to lefties. This clearly played out in the underlying statistics:

K%

BB%

K/BB

AVG

OBP

SLG

BABIP

vs. LHH

16.6%

9.9%

1.67

.281

.365

.400

.325

vs. RHH

31.1%

6.7%

4.64

.240

.305

.356

.337

Without a legitimate changeup—he only threw it four percent of the time—Greene became ineffective against opposite-handed hitters. They hit .290 off his sinker, .267 off his cutter, and mashed his four-seam fastball with a .290 ISO. In short, his limited repertoire became exposed the longer he pitched in the majors.

Fantasy owners have rightfully been intrigued by Greene this spring, due to his 9.27 K/9 and 50.2 percent ground-ball rate, but they’ve been reluctant to invest in him for the aforementioned reasons. On average, he was the 93rd fantasy starter selected on draft day, behind guys like Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, and Nathan Eovaldi. Such a strategy from owners suggests the obvious: They need to see him have consistent success against lefties before they’re willing to fully buy in.

Of course, that success against lefties begins and ends with his changeup. The rest of his arsenal isn’t really in question. Even major-league pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who was teammates with him in New York last season, tweeted over the winter that Greene’s stuff “is top 1 percent” and insinuated that he expects greater success as he gains experience.

But one doesn’t simply bank on random improvement over the winter from a starting pitcher. Standard stories of Shane Greene focusing on his changeup or focusing on consistency with his changeup popped up throughout spring training, but those are often amount to nothing more than lip service once the regular season heats up.

One article stood out, though. Ashley Dunkak of CBS Detroit wrote that Greene switched grips on his changeup “every month” with the New York Yankees, trying to find something comfortable and effective. Near the end of the year, though, Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild taught him a new grip that clicked with Greene. No more tinkering. He found his changeup grip and spent all offseason and spring training honing it.

Fast forward to Thursday’s start against the Minnesota Twins. How did the new changeup fare?

First of all, it’s instructive to note that Greene threw 10 changeups on the afternoon. Nine of those changeups went for strikes—he induced seven swings and generated a pair of whiffs. Best of all, el cambio yielded no hits and had a desirable eight-mph velocity differential from his fastball.

The strike-zone plot against lefties from Thursday indicates that Greene had solid command of his changeup:

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Aside from one changeup that appears to have gotten away from him in the middle of the zone, every single one was down and away. That’s precisely what the Tigers want to see from Shane Greene, an offspeed pitch that breaks away from lefties that can keep them off his fastball. Furthermore, the fact that his horizontal movement on his changeup matches the movement on his two-seamer is golden.

Description: horzspeed.php

A pitch that mirrors his two-seam fastball, except its seven- to eight-mph slower than his two-seamer. That’s music to everyone’s ears, aside from American League hitters, I suppose.

How Greene worked from his fastball to his changeup can be illustrated in back-to-back pitches against Kennys Vargas on Thursday. The right-hander first worked a sinker away:

After establishing the hard stuff, though, Greene returned with his new changeup low-and-away.

Vargas had no prayer, and this is coming from a guy who hit .309/.338/.561 against righties a year ago for the Twins. Greene was able to keep Vargas off-balance a couple pitches later with a 1-2 changeup that Vargas barely fought off—before freezing on a fastball at the bottom of the zone for the punchout.

And before anyone worries about the mere five strikeouts in eight innings against the Twins on Thursday, it should be noted that Greene generated 13 swings-and-misses in 85 pitches. That’s a robust 15.3 percent swinging-strike rate. Missing bats wasn’t an issue, as it wasn’t a year ago. In fact, the changeup could conceivably lead to more whiffs.

Suddenly developing a good changeup after learning a new grip isn’t novel. Jake Odorizzi is perhaps the best recent example of this, as his split-change he learned once joining the Tampa Bay Rays has made him a solid mid-rotation starter. If Greene’s new changeup can truly stick and be an average offering for him against lefties, he’s suddenly much more attractive in fantasy formats. After all, he already has the strikeout-grounder combination going.

Now that I’ve spent the better part of 1,000 words gushing about Greene and his improved repertoire, a couple caveats must be mentioned:

(1) This was just one outing. Before anyone does too many cartwheels about Shane Greene and labels him the potential breakout arm of the season, he will have to show that this changeup is here to stay. I mean that both quantitatively and qualitatively. He must continue to feature the pitch roughly 10 percent of the time, and it must continue to be effective for multiple outings.

(2) It’s the Minnesota Twins and they’re bad. PECOTA predicts that only the Philadelphia Phillies will win fewer games than the Twins. It’s dangerous to read too much into one performance against one poor ballclub; however, that’s why I tried to dig into the qualitative nature of the changeup instead of simply analyzing the start as a whole.

The problem with fantasy baseball is that owners don’t get very long to capitalize on potential value-buys. Much like the Jake Arrieta and Carlos Carrasco situations a year ago, fantasy owners have to decide whether or not to trust significant improvements that haven’t had a chance to stabilize. In other words, does one buy on Greene now before the price tag increases dramatically, fully knowing that his brief improvements could be illusory?

BUYER’S ADVICE: BUY

Early in the fantasy baseball season, you have the opportunity to buy low on guys before the book has been written on them. These windows don’t remain open for long, though. If Shane Greene dominates throughout the rest of April, his price tag may become prohibitive or rival owners may no longer be willing to sell. In these moments, you have to trust your gut and be willing to make a call on a guy. Do you believe this improvement has a chance to stick and be something impactful throughout the season? I’m willing to roll the dice and believe Greene has found one of those transitional moments that will up his fantasy stock. At the very least, I think that the potential reward outweighs the miniscule risk, as the price tag isn’t exorbitant. For now.

Thank you for reading

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jsherman
4/13
Stats in first table look reversed
jimmyb1799
4/13
You're correct. Thanks for the quick find.
HowieBruno
4/13
2 hours later still haven't been fixed?
HowieBruno
4/13
whoops, nevermind
DetroitDale
4/13
while it does appear from the article that Larry Roschild is true hero here, Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones has made a career in Detroit of making good pitchers better and helping them maintin good mechanics or recover them mid game as opposed to after multiple bad starts. Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello all left Detroit better pitchers than when they arrived (or in Porcello's case after Jones arrived)

So yeah, I'll second the author's buy recommendation on Shane Greene
hotstatrat
4/13
Good stuff. To me, this is far more interesting and relevant than the development of obscure minor leaguers several levels away from the Majors. And I enjoyed the personal touch at the beginning.
Anchovies
4/13
Is Minnesota's offense that bad? They were 7th in the majors in runs scored last season. Their pitching is atrocious, but that has nothing to do with Greene's matchup.
jimmyb1799
4/13
They started the corpse of Torii Hunter, Trevor Plouffe, Eduardo Escobar, Chris Herrmann, and Jordan Schafer. Their offense is really bad when they trot those five out, no matter how good the other four are -- and Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas, Brian Dozier, and Joe Mauer aren't exactly behemoths.
Anchovies
4/13
Outside of a reasonably equal Willingham for Hunter swap, how is this different than 2014?
DetroitDale
4/15
Update: Shane just threw 8 scoreless innings on the same Pirates lineup that put a year's worth of home runs on Anibal Sanchez the day before. Still two games is too small a sample size, but "it's just the Twins" doesn't apply anymore.