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What happened to Shane Greene against Boston?

Shane Greene was splendid last week against Detroit, but when he faced off against Boston he faltered. We take a look at why things went wrong.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit marked an important milestone for Shane Greene. The seven-inning, two run performance marked the first time that the 25-year-old former 15th rounder had faced a team for the second time.  The second start against a team is always considered a big test for any Major League starting pitcher.  Whenever a young pitcher first plays a team there is always some element of surprise, even in this age of scouting reports and detailed analytics, most players will contend that the best way to get a feel for a pitcher is to face them in the batter’s box.  For all involved, the second go around is all about adjustments.  Unfortunately, his start against the Red Sox did not go nearly as well as his bout against Miguel Cabrera and company, but what did he do differently between those two starts that caused so much variance in the results?

Shane Greene’s most recent start against Boston was ugly.  Six earned runs off six hits and three walks in only 2.2 innings is about as ugly a game as a pitcher could throw and represented a huge drop-off from the seven-inning, two-run masterpiece against Detroit in the start prior.  Against Boston, the right-hander managed to throw 57% of his pitches for strikes, down from the otherworldly 68% he threw against Detroit, but still a decent rate.  Sadly, not all strikes are quality strikes and Greene showed that to great effect in the drubbing he took from the Red Sox.



The graph above is from the September 2 start, where it is apparent that Greene was leaving a lot of pitches up and in the middle of the zone.  This is in stark contrast to the Detroit game where he pounded the zone away and kept most of his pitches low.



Shane Greene is at his best when using his sinker/slider combo to generate harmless ground balls. Although the rookie right-hander possesses above-average velocity, a flat slider or a sinker that refuses to sink makes for a meatball destined to be hammered.  Greene's lack of command is only a small part to a greater question behind his bad game. By digging deeper into the data, we find that an inconsistent release point greatly hindered the pitcher's ability to command his slider and trademark sinker.  In the August 27 game chart against Detroit, notice how tightly clustered the shapes are.



Now look at the chart from September 2, and there is a flatter, less condensed grouping. (For those who are having issues seeing the differences, I suggest visiting this site and performing a breakdown of the release points for the individual Boston and Detroit games)



Although the change in release points from one game to another may only be, at most, an inch in any one direction, that small variance can drastically affect the path of the ball and mean the difference between the quality strikes shown in August and the hanging pitches seen on September 2.