Cardinals fans got their first big-league glimpse of Tyler Greene in 2009. Over 48 games, he hit .222/.270/.324, struck out a ton, played slightly below average defense, and didn’t display a full understanding of big league pitching. He raked in Memphis that year though (.291/.362/.489), so things were looking up.
He returned in 2010, hitting .221/.328/.327 over 44 games while striking out a ton, playing slightly below average defense, and appearing genuinely befuddled by big league stuff. He raked in Memphis that year though (.284/.355/.486), so things were looking up.
Mr. Greene was back in St. Louis in 2011, hitting .212/.322/.288 over 58 games. He still struck out a ton, still played below average defense, and showed few if any glimpses of his supposed power. He raked in Memphis that year though (.323/.422/.579), so things were looking up.
Greene’s struggles at the big league level were a mystery – to management, to fans, and, likely, to himself. During this last offseason, when the departure of Nick Punto made it clear that Tyler Greene was the high-upside answer at second base, diehard fans wondered why Memphis Tyler Greene wasn’t friends with St. Louis Tyler Greene. Was Greene doomed to be the quintessential quadruple-A player? Or could his woes be attributed to those intangible things that we often cast aside – the coaching staff, clubhouse morale, or his own personality traits? Did Greene, in Rasmus-esque fashion, simply disagree with Don Tony’s approach? Did he simply need a vote of confidence and regular playing time? Did he need a bout of extended one-on-one time with McGwire, to smooth out any kinks or holes in his swing? Was Tyler Greene a loner – or an asshole – who had trouble meshing in with a relaxed, veteran clubhouse?
Say what you will about Greene’s demeanor (I frankly don’t think he is someone I would want to casually kick it with), but one thing is clear: Dude needs to start hitting. Tony La Russa is gone, Mark McGwire seems to have ignited almost everyone else with insane confidence at the plate, and it seems impossible not to be having fun in a clubhouse that features Lance Berkman, Adam Wainwright, David Freese, and Yadier Molina. True, Greene hit 2 homeruns that one game in Houston. But other offensive highlights? He had a three game hitting streak in his first three games…and he hit a homerun and stole a base in a game against Cincinnati…and, that might be it. But, hey – he’s yet to strike out three times in one game, so there is that.
Greene is the "faces-lefthanders" portion of our second base platoon, so it would serve him well if, at least, he started hitting lefties. He is 6 for 31 with 13 strikeouts (and 3 homeruns) against lefties this year. The pop is nice, but that strikeout rate – 39.4% -- is astonishing. And it is not just a 2012 occurrence; he hit .209 against lefties in 2011, .208 in 2010, and .188 in 2009. Lefties have sent him down swinging 25.7% of the time on his career. Tyler Greene remains our best option against lefties – Double-D shouldn’t be allowed within 200 feet of a southpaw (I wonder if he and Jaime Garcia are friends…) and Skip Schumaker hits .211 with absolutely zero power against lefties – but that we can have this discussion is not good news for Mr. Greene.
Did you know that Tyler Greene has the third highest three pitch strikeout rate since the start of last season? Nor did I, but apparently 32% of his strikeouts have been on three straight pitches. So, in other words, Green often has no real clue what’s coming when he steps in the batter’s box. Or maybe he does know what’s coming, he just can’t hit whatever that pitch is. This may explain why Tyler Greene has seen more sliders than any other hitter on the Cardinals roster. Over 20% of all pitches Tyler sees are sliders, and I’ve seen him chase more than enough sliders away to assume that this is the serious loophole in his approach that opposing pitchers are exploiting (Can’t find the stats on this, but I think lefthanders also throw him a bunch of sliders – I vividly remember numerous swings and misses on pitches down and in versus lefties). His 15.1% swing-and-miss percentage is tops on the roster.
A quick aside: If you click the link, you’ll notice that Baltimore SS J.J. Hardy also appears among the leaders for three-pitch strikeout rate. Hardy sure strikes out a lot, but he also has above-average power (30 homeruns, 27 doubles in 2011; 8 homeruns, 8 doubles so far in 2012) and rates well defensively according to both BaseballReference and FanGraphs. At his best, he is between a 3 and 5 WAR player, depending where you look. If Greene were to ever figure out the big league slider, I think JJ Hardy is a good comparison for his potential – though Greene may never rate as well defensively.
Oh, that pesky defense. Many people, most notably Al Hrabosky, are enamored with Tyler Greene’s speed and thus assume that this makes him a sound defensive player with plus range. I don’t know how sabermetricians best quantify range, but I do know that, range aside, Greene doesn’t appear to be a fundamentally sound infielder. I remember a game against the Cubs during that frustrating series at Wrigley: tie game in the 10th, runners on 1st and 2nd, two outs, Alfonso Soriano at the dish. Soriano hits a groundball right at Tyler Greene, whom inexplicably squats to the right of the ball and tries to field it from the side. It was a difficult hop, but because he wasn’t squared up, the ball bounces on into the outfield instead of into his chest. Run scores, game over. I’ve seen Scotty Rolen field many a side hop, but Tyler Greene is not Scott Rolen and shouldn’t be gloving grounders from his side – unnecessarily, at that – at critical moments. I’ll grant that one mistake doesn’t define a player, but Greene doesn’t have the leeway to be making those kinds of mistakes. I’m sure Mike Matheny was grimacing and spewing clean words in a negative manner (you know, because he doesn’t curse).
Tyler Greene no longer has any minor league options, so he’s stuck on the roster unless we want to release him for nothing (which would not be wise because, unlike Greene, current Memphis second baseman Pete Cozma has zero upside). This leaves management with two options: play Greene consistently in the hope that he can, sort of, find his swing and increase his trade value; or bury him on the bench and relegate him strictly to unimportant pinch-hitting duty. I’m inclined to play Greene as much or more as we are now -- especially if Mike Matheny remains steadfastly opposed to the prospect of Allen Craig at second base -- if only because we might be able to trade him in July to a team like Toronto in exchange for a lefty and Corey Patterson (jokes!). Our team productivity might suffer (Did you know that since 2009 the Cardinals have a .446 winning percentage in games Greene starts, and a .575 winning percentage in games he doesn’t? Not all his fault, but just saying), but the NL Central is weak enough this year that we can afford to play these business games for a couple months.
In conclusion: Oh praise thee, Kolten Wong, our holy savior. Where art thou?