March 12, 2012; Melbourne, FL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tyler Greene (27) hits the ball during the spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
Hello, Mike Matheny; hello, Tyler Greene. For all the talk about the open competition that dominated the early part of spring training's second-base talk, studded with reassurances that Tyler Greene's increased playing time at the position would only signify the Cardinals' desire to see more of him at an unfamiliar position, it looks like all Greene had to do was play well to win the job—in the Jason Motte, not-closer kind of way—by default.
In his defense, he's hit a little better than well—not really-well, but well-plus—but Daniel Descalso, his most relevant competition, outplayed him both in spring training and in 2011. Spring numbers:
For the last year Descalso's played as well as he could possibly play—he hit .264/.334/.353 as a rookie pressed into near-regular playing time in an offensive environment so depressed that was worth an OPS+ of 93, and in the spring he's turned into Dave Magadan. And the Cardinals are still going with Greene.
There are other situations in which this same disguised doggedness would worry me; if the Cardinals pull the same trick, say, with a veteran over a rookie with great MLEs, the default blog response has been and will always be to yell and hashtag until they finally #FREEKENPHELPS. Right now, though, I get it. Daniel Descalso is going to be in the dugout, a double-switch away; he's already proven his value as a position player and there's a built-in platoon advantage that can be manipulated depending on how the nominal starter is performing on a given day. This is a vote of maybe-confidence; the Cardinals are giving him the job because it will clear more things up if he has the job than if he doesn't.
In the meantime, it's been 316 MLB at-bats and seven years in the minor leagues and countless breakouts and near-breakouts. And Tyler Greene is somehow still a scouting problem.
This year Greene projects slightly worse than Descalso as an offensive player. ZiPS has him hitting .233/.309/.364 (with 22 stolen bases in 26 attempts) to Descalso's .263/.328/.378. It's an OPS+ of 84—which would be a career high. That says a lot about Greene's MLB performance today.
This says a lot, too: It's his Davenport Translations—Clay Davenport's translation of minor league numbers into major league equivalents—next to his actual MLB performance in the three years since he's pushed against the end of the 25-man roster.
I don't know if it's possible to look at these numbers and come to a satisfying conclusion about them that doesn't end with something you'd read in one of those great Zander Hollander annuals from the 80s, probably that he's a quadruple-A player with big holes in his swing who can't hit a big-league [pitch] and is insufficiently [moral quality inferred from box scores].
Probably his BAbip in the major leagues is too low. Greene has incredible speed, and it translates to in-game quickness better than any of the Cardinals' other fringy burners, but his MLB average on balls in play is .284. All that's speed made him slightly below the National League average on ground balls—.228, against last year's league-wide average of .237—in 101 career grounders, though he's also 6-9 on bunt attempts, against a league average of .392.
That's probably denting his MLB cameos; a guy like Greene might not be able to run down an Ichiro (.300), but he should probably be closer to Derek Jeter (.261) than Yadier Molina (.221.) But what appears to have really malfunctioned, if you buy this kind of small-sample-slicing, is his other conspicuous tool, the surprising power; on 77 fly balls he's got just 13 hits, for an average of .171 and a slugging percentage of .408. Even last year, in the Increasing Amorphous Period of the Pitcher, fly balls were worth .218/.575 to the average batter. He's even short on line drives—.628/.837 vs. .722/.971.
All of that's poison to a guy who doesn't put many balls in play anyway, and it's clear that he's not doing it in the minor leagues. Maybe he is the one real AAAA guy—the one who makes a ton of weak contact on major league breaking balls and feasts on mid-80s trash in the Pacific Coast League. It's more likely that he isn't, but I don't know what that leaves him, either; the great minor league numbers and the bad MLB numbers are all a part of his permanent record, and it's hard to guess where the awesome MLEs and that .220-ish hacker will come together. (Probably his projections, but that somehow just doesn't seem right.)
In naming Tyler Greene the starter, Mike Matheny and the Cardinals are spending a month or two of at-bats to see if that's clearly true or clearly not true. Either outcome would be an improvement, and at this point either rseems equally likely. That's not the kind of endorsement any prospect is looking for, but after all this time it's the one the Cardinals have to offer.