In addition to Chris Martin and Mark Melancon, the Braves’ midseason attempts to bolster their relief corps were rounded out with the acquisition of Shane Greene. For the privilege, the Braves sent Travis Demeritte and Joey Wentz to Detroit; in exchange, they got two months of decent relief work and the ability to retain Greene’s somewhat-pricy services for the 2020 campaign.
What were the expectations?
Hopefully, no one expected Greene to continue preventing runs the way he had in Detroit prior to the trade — his 25 ERA- was insane, and not at all supported by a still-good 80 FIP- / 83 xFIP-. Decent-to-good relief work seemed to be the general expectation; Greene was pitching well in 2019 but was notably ineffective as recently as the 2018 campaign. Again, the Braves weren’t looking for dominant so much as “just not as horrible as what we’ve had so far,” and to that effect, Greene delivered.
What went wrong in 2019?
Flipping the format of these a bit, it makes sense to talk about what went wrong for Greene as a Brave before we get to what went right. Greene’s first six outings as a Brave went very poorly. In fact, it took over two weeks and his seventh appearance for him to finally post notably positive WPA in a Braves uniform. Those first six games were just brutal. Anointed the closer upon his acquisition, due to him serving that role in Detroit while Chris Martin and Mark Melancon were used in a set-up capacity, Greene was stripped of his ninth-inning duties before recording a single save. The details are fairly gruesome:
- August 3: Greene allows three singles in the ninth to blow a one-run lead. The Braves would win on a walkoff in ten, but Greene suffered -.202 WPA nonetheless.
- August 4: After the Braves tied the game in the ninth on an electrifying Ronald Acuña Jr. homer, Greene allowed four hits, including a three-run homer to Tucker Barnhart, to sink the Braves by a 6-3 tally. -.460 WPA for Greene.
- August 6: Greene closed out the game, but not before allowing a home run to Eddie Rosario in a six-run contest. A marginally positive .004 WPA.
- August 9: Greene came on the eighth, potentially having lost his role, with a man on second in a three-run game. He allowed a single to make it a two-run game, but finally ended the inning with a strikeout. He earned -.014 WPA for his efforts, and Mark Melancon worked the ninth.
- August 10: Greene had no runs charged to him in this span, as he was attempting to clean up Melancon’s (and the defense’s) mess, but failed to do so. With the bases loaded, the tying run on first, and one out, Greene allowed a single and a double to tie the game before ending the inning. Sean Newcomb and an unlucky fire extinguisher would bear the brunt of the bullpen meltdown a few minutes later. Another nasty WPA performance to the tune -.317 WPA for Greene.
- August 13: Greene came in with a four-run lead. He allowed two hits and then got an out, before departing. Both runners would come around to score, but the Braves wouldn’t allow anything else. The -.035 WPA seems light by comparison.
Things just weren’t going well. In these six outings, Greene amassed a 327 ERA-, 200 FIP-, and 103 xFIP-. He didn’t deserve all of what was charged to him (65.6 percent strand rate; a wOBA-against .183 points higher than his xwOBA-against), but he wasn’t actually particularly good (a ghastly .431 xwOBA-against).
What went right in 2019?
But, believe it or not, Greene recovered. Past performance is not a fate-sealer of future results. Greene would make 21 more appearances for the Braves in the regular season; he recorded negative WPA in just two of them. In fact, he turned himself around the very next day from his most recent bad outing, throwing a 13-pitch 1-2-3 inning to preserve a four-run lead in the eighth. He wouldn’t allow a single run until nearly a month later, and would allow just four runs the rest of the way. The end result in those final 21 appearances was a 40 ERA-, 66 FIP-, and 93 xFIP-. Sometimes (most of the time), six bad outings is just six bad outings, whether they happen in a row or not.
Greene even got back on the ninth-inning horse at one point, closing out a one-run game against the Nationals in 1-2-3 fashion on September 6.
Just like the Braves drew it up, only about a month later.
Greene would appear in a couple of Braves’ postseason contests, though they ended up losing both. In Game 1, he allowed a hit and a walk but kept the Cardinals off the board to preserve a 2-2 tie. It was actually a fairly dicey appearance, as he allowed a leadoff double to Marcell Ozuna and eventually had him on third with one out, but got pop-ups from Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader to end the inning. Then, in Game 4, he was victimized by two sad bloops, one of which went for a one-out double, and the other of which scored the tying run.
Greene did his job, as neither of the two balls that “manufactured” that run crested 70 mph off the bat. And yet, the game was tied, and the Braves would lose not long after.
What to expect in 2020?
The Braves will have to pay Greene somewhere around $6 million to retain his services in 2019, as he is eligible for arbitration a fourth and final time. While that’s a bit pricy for a reliever generally expected to be average-y, the Braves may finding themselves feeling that they don’t have much of a choice for two reasons. First, they probably don’t want to be in a situation where they have no reliable relievers and have to trade stuff for 2020’s Shane Greene equivalent, again. Second, the sunk cost of sending Joey Wentz to the Tigers may loom large; the Braves may want to maximize the production they get from Greene, even if that production isn’t a particularly effective use of resources. All of this adds up to perhaps a (very) slight chance of Greene being non-tendered, but more likely, he’ll create a one-two punch with Mark Melancon at the end of games for Atlanta in 2020, at least to start. Given that we’re talking about relievers here, pretty much anything and everything is fair game as far as prognostications go.