Last night Hunter Greene took the mound in Dayton, making his 4th start of the year. It was his 7th career start since being selected 2nd overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft.
The Reds have been very careful with how much they pitch Hunter Greene. Last night he threw the most pitches he’d thrown as a professional in a game with 60. He’s thrown just 12.1 total innings in his seven starts, and if you look at his ERA, it’s not a pretty number. For his career it’s sitting at 13.86. That’s more earned runs than innings pitched.
We are dealing with an obvious small sample size here. He’s essentially thrown the equivalent of two starts for a Major Leaguer. The results in terms of allowing hits, and runs, isn’t good. We’ve mentioned the ERA. But he’s also allowed 26 hits in 12.1 innings pitched. That’s more than two hits allowed per inning.
How is that possible? I think it’s a fair question to ask, and the answer is a bit more complicated. Hunter Greene has outstanding stuff. His fastball, in three of his four starts this season has worked 97-100 MPH and touched higher. At times it’s got good movement, too. His slider is an above-average offering right now. And after his first outing, he’s started showing the change up more, particularly to left handed hitters. So, what’s the deal?
Well, let’s dive into the numbers a little bit. In his career, Hunter Greene has now faced 70 batters. He’s struck out 23 of them, hit one of them, and he’s walked seven of then. That leaves you with 39 times in which the batter made contact with the baseball against Greene. One of those times the batter homered. Of the remaining 38 times that a batter hit the ball and a fielder had a chance to make a play and turn it into an out, they did so just 13 times.
There’s a stat for that called batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. The average BABIP is generally around the .300 mark. In the minor leagues you can get certain leagues, or players where it will vary from that mark a little bit, but generally speaking we tend to look at the .300 mark as where players should fall around. The BABIP for Hunter Greene in his career current resides at .658. That’s literally more than twice what you would reasonably expect to be happening.
Now, the idea out there is that once you make contact, generally speaking, you can’t control whether it’s a hit or not, unless you are hitting it over the fence because at that point no one can field it. If I were out there pitching, the BABIP threshold would rise some, but not as much as you would think. In the Major Leagues from 1970 through August of 2011, when a position player took the mound to pitch, a total of just over 200 innings, their combined BABIP was .296. Exactly in line with what you’d see out of an average Major League pitcher.
When you are looking at small sample sizes, crazy things happen in the stats. Hunter Greene has struck out every third batter he’s faced in his professional career. But with a .658 BABIP against him, it’s going to really skew the numbers overall.
Let’s take a look at his start last night as an example of how lucky hitters were in terms of the ball just finding the right spot to land. The first batter of the game singled up the middle and was a legit line drive single to center field. The next batter looped a single into right field. His bat snapped in half, but it goes as a single. The next three batters either struck out (two) or walked (one). Justin Lopez gets an RBI single after that on a ball that literally hit 3 inches in front of the plate and bounced 20 feet in the air before it could be fielded 10 feet in front of the second base bag, but everyone was safe by that point. The final batter of the first inning struck out.
So, in the first inning, he absolutely destroyed a guys bat, and a guy hit another ball a grand total of 75 feet, but both went down as hits. The first batter of the second inning singled to center. It wasn’t hard hit, but it got there cleanly. The next batter singled on a ground ball to shortstop. The next batter hit a blooper that landed two feet beyond the infield dirt, but it made it’s way through.
To this point in his career, there’s been a whole lot of that going on. There’s next to no chance that it keeps happening in the long run. But to this point in his career it has happened, and the line doesn’t look good. It’s also why we need to have the context and understand what it is that’s happening. Hunter Greene gave up six hits last night. One of them was actually hit hard. Two of them didn’t leave the infield. Another one left the infield by two feet. And a fifth one was on a completely destroyed broken bat.
When the BABIP Gods correct things, and it’s eventually going to happen, Hunter Greene’s stat line is going to start looking a whole lot better. His ERA may take a while to recover, but what’s happened this season in terms of his hits allowed has been incredibly fluky. Last night was a continuation of that flukiness.