Last year, Eno Sarris wrote that Shane Greene “features a cutter and a slider, but where one begins and the other ends is tough to decide.” Sarris concluded his article by opining that the Detroit Tigers right-hander “has four breaking balls.”
PITCHf/x shows something different. They don’t have the 28-year-old reliever throwing a cutter at all. What they have is a combination of sliders and curveballs, with a notable flip-flopping of usage. Per PITCHf/x, Greene threw 46.6% sliders and 7.9% curveballs last year. This season, the pitch-tracking algorithm has him at 13.3% sliders and 30.1% curveballs.
And then there’s his heater. Greene has been two-seam heavy since moving to the bullpen last year, but while PITCHf/x has him throwing just 1.8% four-seamers this season, the system indicates he threw 19.6% four-seams (versus 25.2% two-seams) in 2016.
Intrigued by these conundrums, I went directly to the source. Greene, who has a 1.71 ERA and a 10.2 strikeout rate per nine innings over 33 appearances, broke down his repertoire when the Tigers visited Fenway Park last weekend.
Greene on his repertoire: “The pitch that’s 88 to 91 [mph] and is moving like a slider, I call it a cutter. I call it that because when I earned the pitch, I already had something I called a slider. It’s harder, so I try to use it more as a cutter — not so much as a swing-and-miss pitch, but to miss barrels with. And sometimes it gets big, and sometimes it stays smaller.
“The pitch that is 82 to 84-ish, sometimes 85, is what I call my slider. A lot of people think it’s a curveball, but that’s been my slider since I was in high school. Same pitch.
“I do throw a curveball, but not very often. It’s around 78-81, and I’ve maybe thrown 10 of them all year. I stay mainly fastball-cutter-slider, and if I’m trying to get a swing and miss, it’s usually the slider.”
On why his slider gets mis-categorized as a curveball: “Sometimes, if I get on top of my slider, it breaks more like a curveball. It’s the same exact grip, I’m just getting on top of it more, so it has more depth and is less sweepy. I’m not trying to do that. It’s just happening.
“Over time, my mechanics have changed a little bit, so I can command my pitches a little better, but again, if I’m more on top of it, it’s less sweepy. I get swings and misses on both, so I’m happy with what’s happening right now — the results I’m getting. I can’t complain about what my stuff is doing.”
On ratios and cutter usage: “Last year was probably a little different than this year. This year, I’ve stayed more fastball-slider and used cutters in fastball counts, whereas last year I was using a lot of cutters and a lot of sliders. I wasn’t using my fastball as much.
“In a perfect world, I would say I’m using 60% heaters, 30% sliders, and 10% cutters. But it really depends on the hitter and the situation. I have a lot of confidence in throwing my cutter for a strike, so I’ll throw it on 2-2 counts, and 3-2 counts, to get them off my fastball. Against lefties, I can work that in on the inner half of the plate — I can kind of X that side of the plate with the cutter and the fastball.
“Right this second, I don’t think my cutter is as good as it’s been in my career. But sometimes you have to pitch to change scouting reports, so towards the end of the season, maybe I’ll be using my cutter a little bit more than I am now.”
On the history behind his cutter: “It’s a pitch that confuses a lot of people. They want to call it a slider, and maybe it is a slider, but from my mental standpoint, and how I want to use it, I call it a cutter.
“In 2013, I was repeating High-A, and at the beginning of that season, I didn’t have my slider. I didn’t have my swing-and-miss pitch, so I was searching — heavily searching. I was playing with a kid named Caleb Cotham, and I asked him to show me his slider grip. That’s the grip I call my cutter. When he threw it, it was a little bit bigger, and a little bit slower, and mine always just stayed harder and tighter. Over the course of that season, I found my slider again. That gave me both a slider and a cutter.”
On no longer throwing a changeup: “I’ve tried all kinds of different guys grips over the years. I play with K-Rod now, and he’s got one of the best changeups in the game. I’ve tried his grip, and it didn’t work out. I did throw a changeup when I was a starter, but I don’t throw one now. The only time I grip a changeup is when I’m getting the sign. That’s out of habit. When I was a starter, I would grip the changeup first, because it was the hardest pitch for me to get to.”
On his fastball: “They’re almost all two-seamers. The only time I ever throw a four-seam is if I’m trying to go up in the zone. If I’m throwing 100 fastballs, 97 of them are going to be two-seams. That was the case last year, as well.
“When I was starting, I threw four-seams a little more often, because when guys are seeing you two or three times… the first two at-bats they’re seeing all sinkers, and then you throw one that stays straight, it’s like you’ve added another pitch. Now that I just need to get five or six guys out — and that’s on a long day — I don’t need another pitch.
“When I first signed a professional contract, with the Yankees [in 2009], I threw both a four and a two. A guy I played with in Rookie ball showed me his two-seam grip. I can’t remember his name of the top of my head — that kind of makes me feel like a bad person — but I tried it, and it started taking off. I was throwing fours and twos in games, and my velocities were never different. My four-seam topped out at 94, and my two-seam topped at 94. In my head, I figured that if I wasn’t losing velocity, and a pitch was moving more, why not just throw the one?
“If I really get on top of it, it sinks more. It’s always the same pitch, though. I don’t ever think, ‘Sink this one’ or ‘Make this one run.’ I just grip it and throw it as hard as I can. That’s basically my approach out there — just go out and attack hitters.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.