Articles by Paul Sporer

Sporer covers pitching for RotoWire. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus and publishes an annual guide on starting pitchers. In his spare time, he roots for the Tigers.

Shane Greene’s Strikeouts Will Come

Shane Greene is off to a fantastic start for the Tigers with 0.39 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in 23 innings en route to a perfect 3-0 record. Of course, you know fantasy players so even though a guy is wildly exceeding expectations early on, they’re still not satisfied so we’re hearing a chorus of “where are the strikeouts?” questions related to Greene. Joking aside, it’s s a fair question. He has a 14% strikeout rate so it is kinda hard to get really geeked about the start with such a low strikeout rate. After all, we’re questioning Nick Martinez’s 0.45 ERA through three starts because he has a paltry 11% strikeout rate.

Where Greene differs for me is that we’re seeing him clearly opt for efficiency in lieu of the strikeouts, but he is still missing bats throughout the game. He needed just 85 and 81 pitches to go eight innings in each of his first two starts. He was up at 102 for seven innings in the third as four walks inflated his count, but he is still the AL’s most efficient and the league’s fifth-most efficient pitcher from a pitches per plate appearance (Pit/PA) standpoint. Wily Peralta leads the league at 3.12 followed by Henderson Alvarez (3.28), Jon Niese (3.33), Bartolo Colon (3.34), and then Greene (3.35).

Despite nearly a 10 percentage point drop in strikeout rate from 23.5% to 13.8%, Greene hasn’t seen nearly the same drop in swinging strike rate (SwStr%). After operating at a 9.9% rate in 2014 en route to better than a strikeout-per-inning (9.3 K/9), he’s still at 9% so far this year despite the alarming five-strikeout-per-nine drop to 4.3 K/9 through three starts. He’s getting the misses, he’s getting the first-pitch strikes (up from 59% to 70%), and he’s getting overall strikes (raw strikeout percentage up from 63% to 69%), but he’s getting ahead early (70% first-pitch strike rate) and inducing a ton of weak contact (52% GB, 18% infield fly rate).

It will get tougher on Greene, even the most optimistic on him don’t see anything close to a 0.39 ERA. At the very best, that ERA is set to raise 2.50 runs, and that’s if he has some transcendent breakthrough season. I think a reasonable expectation tacks about three runs on that current figure. So yes, it will get tougher, but as that happens, he will lean on the strikeout more and even if we don’t see it rise all the way to 2014 levels, he should be around the 19-20% mark which is more than acceptable when you’re getting quality ratios and strong wins potential on as part of a contending team.

Melancon’s Velocity Way Down Early On

Mark Melancon was one of the reliable closers for me coming into 2015. He wasn’t quite the unquestioned elite like Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, and Dellin Betances (we see how well putting him into the unquestioned elite has worked out for me), but he was right there with pre-injury Kenley Jansen, Cody Allen, David Robertson, Steve Cishek, and Trevor Rosenthal. Melancon was brilliant filling in Jason Grilli in 2013 and then wrestled the job way altogether in 2014 after a down period from Grilli (that eventually led to his trade to LAA).

A key to Melancon’s success has been a 93 MPH cutter that he leans on. He used it 76% of the time in 2013 and 65% in 2014, always with big results. Batters managed just a .580 OPS on the pitch the last two years, 11th-best in baseball over that time (looking at cutters, sinkers, and four-seamers). He only had a 16% K rate on the pitch, but like most guys, he doesn’t get his Ks off the fastball offering so his rate is essentially average (15.5%). It’s been just three appearances this season, but is there reason to be concerned about Melancon’s cutter?

Robertson Move Shuffles Closer Ranks

When David Robertson turned down his $15.3 million dollar qualifying offer, it was a bit of a surprise. He was the favorite to be the first to accept the QO, but instead opted to test the market for length instead of taking the gaudy one-year deal. Rumors suggested the Yankees were still very much in on their incumbent closer even after they signed Andrew Miller away from Baltimore, but we learned after he signed his deal with the White Sox (4 years, $46 mil.) that they never even made an offer to him after the declination of the QO.

Cleveland Gambles on Brandon Moss

The mass exodus from Oakland (juxtaposed with the now-bizarre Billy Butler signing) continued on Monday with the trade of Brandon Moss to the Cleveland Indians for prospect Joey Wendle. The trade doesn’t come as a huge surprise as the two teams were linked for a Moss deal for a while now, but the return for Oakland feels a bit underwhelming. Wendle is a 25-year old second baseman who spent his season in Double-A, but also missed a month due to a right hamate injury in late-June.

Using the Remaining Schedule as a Trade Guide

With just over two months left in the regular season, every tiny edge can be that difference between the memorable title and a forgettable second-place finish. Sure, a second-place finish can be a financial boon, but it’s all about that title. The schedule can be a source of said edges as you can use it to guide some of your moves, via either free agency or trade. Let’s start at the top with pure volume.

Total Games Left

The Detroit Tigers are a full five games behind of some of their division mates thanks to a rash of unplanned off days due to weather combined with multiple scheduled off days early on. Their 63 games remaining are the most in baseball, just ahead of the Cubs and Nationals at 62 apiece. The White Sox, Dodgers, and Brewers all have 58 games remaining. It might seem trivial, but if you need to attack your counting stats, then you should be looking at these teams with more games remaining.