The Cincinnati Reds are only a month into the season, but some of the discussion revolving around Hunter Greene has already reached ridiculous proportions. While social media is a dumpster fire the size of Rhode Island and people just say the first thing that pops into their mind without thinking about it for more than a nanosecond, the “debate” there can be mind numbing. On one hand you have people who wanted him sent to the minor leagues prior to his start over the weekend. On the other hand you’ve got people who are essentially suggesting he’s been better than he’s performed and neither side is really willing to budge.

That’s the state of things in many aspects of the world today – there’s no wiggle room for nuance. Plant your feet and don’t budge. But I’m here to tell you on the digital pages of Redleg Nation that when it comes to Hunter Greene that we need that nuance and that both sides are kind of sort of correct, they just need to meet in the middle.

Hunter Greene isn’t improving

While this would have held up a little bit better before his last start, there were many people saying that Greene simply wasn’t showing improvement now that he was in his third season. Through his first five starts of the season he had a 4.55 ERA, which translated to a 96 ERA+ (ERA when adjusted for the ballparks that a guy has pitched in, where 100 is league average). In 2022, his rookie season, his ERA+ was 98. In 2023 his ERA+ was 95. So a mark of 96 showed no improvements when it came to actual run prevention when he was on the mound.

At the time, that was a reasonable statement to make. Greene’s last start saw him throw seven shutout innings of 1-hit baseball, which lowered his ERA nearly a full run down to 3.63 and his ERA+ jumped up to 122. Those are big improvements over the previous two seasons. But it’s also a sample size of six games when the previous two seasons have seen him make 24 and 22 starts. Overall, in his career, Greene’s ERA+ sits at 99. Essentially, he’s been a league average starter when it comes to run prevention.

Hunter Greene IS improving

The counter argument that was often talked about with Greene early on this year before his last start was that he was better and his non-ERA stats showed it. His FIP, xFIP, expected against numbers all showed he was not only pitching better than his ERA suggested he was, but that they were also a bit better than those same numbers were in the previous two seasons. Most of those things are true. And after his last start in Texas where he dominated the World Champs, they look even better. His xERA is down to 2.51 (4.00 and 3.82 the previous two years), his FIP is down to 2.98 (4.37 and 4.25 the previous two years). But his xFIP is at 3.82 and that’s higher than it was in 2022 (3.64) and not much better than last season (4.00). Still, overall, most of the things “under the hood” suggest he is improving even if when it comes to his ERA it hadn’t quite shown up in that column.

The Middle Ground

Let’s start with the ERA “estimators” FIP, xFIP, xERA – they are based on the average outcomes in baseball based on stuff that happens when players make contact against a pitcher. We’ve known since the very beginning that they didn’t work for all pitchers. Voros McCracken, who pioneered the theory 25+ years ago, noted at the time that these things didn’t work for knuckleball pitchers. But as we’ve gotten more and more detailed information, we know that other types of pitchers with certain pitches also don’t quite fall in line with these things. Not the extremes that knuckleball guys did, but guys who throw a lot of cutters as an example, tend to routinely outperform from an ERA standpoint their “expected” ERA estimators.

Hunter Greene’s career is still young. But he’s never beaten his “estimators” when it comes to ERA. His ERA has been worse in both seasons by quite a bit than all of his estimators have said it “should” be. Is that an issue of him having just 240-ish innings entering the year? Maybe. Is it a function of the fact that he is essentially a 2-pitch starter? Perhaps. Is it that he pitches in Great American Ball Park and is a fly ball pitcher? Could be.

The fact of the matter is, though, it’s the ERA that counts. Those are the runs that are scored in ballgames that the Reds have to then score more than in order to win. So the crowd that’s been claiming he’s not really improving despite the estimators saying he’s been better than his ERA says are making an argument that holds some water – that ERA is making the Cincinnati offense have to perform better to win games.

That isn’t to say that Greene hasn’t been better at things in 2024 than in the past. He’s getting more grounders this season – though it’s still below-average. And he’s walking fewer batters. His home run rate is also a third of what it has been in his career to this point. Those are all good things, and if he continues those things, it is likely – but not guaranteed – that his runs allowed rate will improve from where it’s been in the past.

Where can he keep improving?

I’m sure that there are a lot of ideas out there about where Hunter Greene can improve. Home runs have been an issue for him in the past. I think we can all agree that some of that issue is simply a by product of Great American Ball Park. He’s allowed 26 home runs in 123.1 innings at home and just 19 home runs in 149.0 innings on the road. As such, his ERA is 0.72 lower when he’s on the road. Greene is going to continue pitching at Great American Ball Park for quite a while, so he’s likely going to continue giving up some home runs. Still, finding a way to cut down on those a little bit would help, and early on that’s happening. Will it continue as the weather warms up and the sample size gets larger? We’re going to have to wait and see.

The other thing that really jumps out is that he’s got to find another pitch to use that isn’t his slider or his fastball. A lot was made of him coming to spring training with a curveball and a splitter to add to his arsenal. He has thrown them this season, but he’s barely thrown them. In 2022 and 2023 he threw a change up 5.28% of the time. This season he’s dropped the change up and replaced it with the splitter, and added the curveball. Combined he’s throwing those two pitches 6.3% of the time. That’s essentially one more time per start than he threw his change up in his career.

Greene is still a 2-pitch starting pitcher. About once an inning he will throw something that isn’t a slider or a fastball. But hitters aren’t really looking for something else – they don’t need to. The odds are incredibly small that they are going to see something else. The first time through the order he’s throwing something other than a fastball or slider less than 4% of the time. It improves to 5% of the time the second time through the order and then to 7% the third (or fourth) time through the order.

When Greene has the fastball and slider working how he wants, he can dominate. That’s what happened over the weekend against Texas when he didn’t throw a single curveball (the second game this season when he didn’t throw one) and when he threw one splitter. Everything else was a fastball or a slider. And he gave up one hit.

But on days when those pitches aren’t at their best, hitters are more likely to be able to take advantage of what he’s bringing up there because he’s only showing them two options. Development isn’t linear. Pitchers are changing their repertoire throughout their careers. They are always looking for that next thing to help them improve. It not only takes time to get a pitch to where you want it, but you have to also trust that you can throw that pitch and it’s not going to get hammered into the seats. For some guys that takes longer than others and for various reasons.

This season, Hunter Greene hasn’t thrown the curve and splitter more than nine times in any given start. Getting to a spot where he has confidence in throwing at least one of those pitches more than once an inning (or once a game) could be something that helps him truly take that next step.

For now, we’re kind of stuck in the middle. Greene can be dominant when he’s on. But he can also struggle to get through four and five innings at times. He’s not a #1 pitcher. He’s not a #5 pitcher, or as some dingbats on the internet suggest – a guy who should be in the minor leagues to “figure it out”. Greene’s an inconsistent pitcher who is a middle of the rotation caliber guy who can dominate at times.

With his draft status, the Sports Illustrated cover, his contract that seems big only in Cincinnati because they rarely spend real money in the sport, there’s a weird push back that the current version of Greene is a disappointment. Expectations can be wild. Right now, the Reds have a 24-year-old middle of the rotation pitcher with a lot of upside, who is still trying to figure stuff out on the fly against the best hitters the game has ever seen.

37 Responses

  1. LT

    My view at this point is he can’t until he proves he can. It’s about expectation and my expectation of Greene has changed so that I won’t be disappointed. Very reminiscent of how I followed Homer Bailey back in the day. Had high expectations for Bailey and then accepted that he was just a mediocre pitcher.

    • Doug Gray

      For like 2.5 years Homer Bailey was one of the best 25 starting pitchers in baseball. Then his arm fell apart.

      • Stock

        I think you are giving Homer Bailey a lot more credit than he earned.

        In 2012 he ranked 36 out of 88 qualified pitchers in ERA (59th percentile)

        In 2013 he ranked 40 out of 81 qualified pitchers in ERA (51st percentile)

        In 2014 he ranked 68 out of 112 pitchers with at least 140 IP in ERA (39th percentile)

        Put them all together and he is middle of the pack.

        If you look at ERA+ his ERA+ those years was 112, 108 and 99. Weighted by IP and you get 107.

        If Hunter Greene is middle of the pack this year with an ERA+ of 120 then Homer Bailey was middle of the pack with an ERA+ of 107. I felt Homer lacked the drive to be a #1 and therefore, was never more than a low #2 or a high #3. And 2012 and 2013 are the only years he would have been considered a low #2.

        It is far too early to determine what level Greene will reach this year but thus far he is a solid #2. For his career he is a solid #3. May will be a great month to help determine where Greene stands because the competition will be very good from now through June 2.

      • Doug Gray

        I think you are underrating the value of both innings and the ballpark factor.

        From the start of 2012 through August 7th of 2014 – the last start Bailey made before his arm blew up – he threw the 14th most inning in baseball. His ERA was 32nd best in baseball among starters (107 ERA+). His fWAR was 28th best in baseball.

        Some guys had better ERA numbers. Very few guys had the amount of innings he was covering. He was above-average, but not great, at preventing runs. He was not elite, but he was at the level below that, in providing innings. Put the two things together and he was very good.

      • LT

        This is what makes baseball great, so many angles to view records, stats, and status. Just for the fun of it, Luis Castillo record at this point is 61-68 but his ERA is 3.58, a full 1 lower than Bailey. All things considered, from my pov, if a pitcher does not have ERA sub 4, he should not be considered anything but mediocre.

      • Doug Gray

        The context, though, is important.

        Kyle Freeland had a 5.03 ERA in 2023. His ERA+ was 99 because he had to pitch in Coors as his home field. Bryan Woo had an ERA of 4.21, but his ERA+ was only 97 because he got to pitch in T-Mobile Park a lot.

        In both of those cases, the guys were “mediocre”. But both had a worse ERA than you are suggesting, and in one care, one was a lot worse.

        When we get into different eras, things can change a lot, too. You pitched in 1999? That’s a lot different than pitching in 1927. Or 1961. Or 1989. All sports kind of have that variance in stuff, but it seems like baseball is so much bigger in that aspect because the field of play is not only different in every place, but the weather can change things in a big way, too. It’s not even just the rules-related stuff like we’ve seen in football where you can no longer murder a wide receiver or look at a quarterback wrong and it’s made passing much more efficient (in baseball you lower the mound, change the strikezone, ect). Stuff like going from grass to astroturf, or astroturf to grass played a big role in things. New stadiums today have hardly any foul territory – balls that used to be caught and turned into outs are now landing 10 rows deep in the stands and batters get another chance.

      • Stock

        I think ERA+ accounts for the park. His ERA+ was just average from 2012 – 2014.

        WAR does take into account innings.

        You can’t stress the importance of innings and give Homer a pass for missing 2 months in 2014. His 1.7 WAR would have placed him 60 out of 88 qualified pitchers in 2014. Throw out 2014.

        In 2012 his WAR ranked 43rd out of 88 qualified pitchers. He was just average.

        He was good in 2013. He finished 18th out of 81 qualified pitchers in WAR (Latos was 8th). He finished 40th out of 81 in ERA (Latos finished 22nd). That is just one season though.

        If you say he had one good season I totally agree.

        LT is spot on. Homer’s 67-77 won loss record for the Reds says it all.

      • Stock

        That proves that Bailey had the talent to dominate. He just didn’t come to play every week.

      • AllTheHype

        2 games doesn’t prove otherwise, either.

    • LT

      His career record is 81-86 with ERA of 4.56. I struggled to come up with an adjective to describe him other than mediocre.

      • Stock

        For his career his ERA+ was 90 so you are being generous to call his career mediocre.

      • Stock

        But for the 2.5 years Doug mentioned above he was slightly above average.

      • LT

        I like Bailey or any home grown players. That’s why I am a bit generous. Same with Greene, i like to see him succeed, I pray/hope/wish that he turns the corner and becomes a great pitcher, but my head tells me it’s a long shot. Nothing wrong with being a mediocre pitcher in MLB

      • AllTheHype

        W-L is irrrelevant for pitchers.

  2. David

    Hunter Greene’s problem, in my limited ability to understand the game, is that he does not consistently command the strike zone.

    Whether he throws just fast balls and sliders, or mixes in his splitter and curve, he does not seem, again from my observation of games, to be able to consistently throw strikes. Get ahead of the batter, make him hit your pitch or strikeout.
    As was said (of course) he was great last Saturday night, because he seemed to be able to consistently throw strikes. Get ahead of the hitter, make they swing at his pitch, or make weak contact.
    Having a good breaking ball would help, but he has to be able to find the zone and throw strikes, regardless of what he throws. Not every pitch has to be a strike, because you want hitters to chase a pitch they cannot hit (sometimes), but you have to establish that you are throwing strikes, for that to happen.

    I think he gave up on his change-up because it looked like a mediocre fastball to hitters, and when it was in the zone, it got hit hard.

    Hunter, by all accounts, is a genuinely nice young man, and seems to be pretty smart. I don’t have any insight as to how he is being coached, or how well he responds to that coaching. I think there is something subtle in his grip, his release point, in his mechanics, that results in his sometimes poor control of the zone. He also seems to be a maximum effort guy, in that he makes a maximum effort on each pitch.

  3. LDS

    Excellent article Doug. And while agree with your angle, if Greene remains merely a middle of the rotation guy, then I’ll be disappointed with that outcome. He has a higher ceiling than that. Much of where the team is right now, I still blame on the coaching. Hopefully, things improve across the board and the Reds live up to all the hype generated. May will tell us a lot about that prospect. It’s a tougher schedule than April.

    • Doug Gray

      Nearly every player in the history of the game has/had a higher ceiling than they reached. Very few players actually reach their ceilings for a multitude of reasons. It just seems that the guys with the highest of ceilings get held to a standard of “disappointment” far more often if they don’t reach it than the guy who has a ceiling of a solid/mediocre starting player who just turns out to be a solid bench guy/middle reliever.

  4. Rednat

    the change up is out. his delivery is too mechanical.
    i think the best option is the 12-6 Nolan Ryan Curveball.
    I still think he needs to mix up hid delivery a little bit to add to his deception. possibly a Johny Cueto Twist. some different arm angles. different speeds and variations to the fast ball.
    I do think Hunter was actually having some fun last outing and even the last couple of innings against the Phillies. i think he just has to be creative out there and not so mechanical.

  5. greenmtred

    Very good article, Doug. Nuance was needed and you provided it.

  6. MBS

    I like Greene, I love his makeup, his upside, but he needs to be “encouraged” into using his other pitches. I will take 3 or 4 starts that are blowups if he’d only force himself into using his 3rd or 4th pitch a combined 20% of the time.

  7. AC

    Voros McCracken is a fake name. You won’t be able to convince me otherwise.

    • greenmtred

      Uncle Voros would be amused at your skepticism.

  8. David

    Robert “Voros” McCracken (born August 17, 1971, Chicago) is an American baseball sabermetrician. “Voros” (vörös in hungarian = red in english) is a nickname from his partial Hungarian heritage. He is widely recognized for his pioneering work on Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS). – From Wikipedia

    And…there’s more. You can find this too!!!

  9. Indy Red Man

    I think HG would clean up in Texas or SF or some other park with a huge outfield. Feels like he gives up so many Gabp specials that creep into the first few rows.
    Bottom line is he’ll never be a 2 pitch ace in Gabp. I’d be surprised if he ever maintains an era under 3.50 on 2 pitches. Of course I thought banning the shift would really pump our offense up with all our lefties. Didn’t happen

  10. Mark Moore

    Well reasoned article, Doug. Thanks for laying things out the way an old fart like me who doesn’t delve deeply into stats can understand. It helps validate what I’m seeing and my perspective as a “wait and see maybe” guy with Hunter. His Saturday start was the stuff fans love to see. But he does have to repeat that a little more often to quiet the critics. And his home park, as you note, isn’t changing anytime soon.

  11. Jonathan

    I think there is a bias against 2 pitch pitchers. Who is to say they can’t be aces? Per this article from Fan graphs from 2021 (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/evaluating-two-pitch-pitchers/), the difference between pitchers who throw their best two pitches 80-90% compared to 70-80% of the time is only and increase of .004 in OBS+ during the third time through the line up. That isn’t a make or break it amount of increase. Hunter can succeed with 2 pitches if he can locate, but that is the case with all SPs IMO.

    if Hunter become a very good #2-3 starter who becomes an ACE during certain periods of a season, that is a success and not a disappointment.

    • Doug Gray

      I did not read the article but my initial thoughts based solely on your reply here and the data provided is that there’s probably a lot of bias in the data as most 2-pitch starters don’t stay starters very long, but the ones who can are the absolute best of the best 2-pitch guys. Maybe that’s wrong, but it certainly feels *right*. I will try to remember to go read the article later to see if they addressed that kind of thing or not.

  12. CI3J

    This article sums up what I feel about Hunter Greene. Right now, he’s a perfectly average, middle of the rotation pitcher.

    But he’s simply too talented to be that.

    He cruised through his career to get to this point relying on overpowering hitters with his fastball. But in MLB, they can catch up to a triple digit fastball, especially if they know it’s coming.

    This is the lesson Greene needs to learn: It’s not just about having pure “stuff”. It’s about mixing up pitches so your “stuff” plays up. If Greene could have mastered a mid-80’s changeup, then when he followed that up with a fastball, it would look like it was coming at a million miles per hour. Or vice versa, if he feeds in steady fastballs then throws the changeup, hitters would be so conditioned to the fastball that they would swing and miss the changeup when it was still halfway to the plate.

    That’s the key. You need pitches that complement each other, and you need to be able to put them where you want them. I think it’s unfortunate Greene gave up on the changeup, because that’s usually a pitch that complements power pitchers very well. But if he wants to go the Nolan Ryan route and add a 12-to-6 curve, that would be good too. I just think learning that pitch is exponentially more difficult than learning a changeup.

    But the bottom line is, as long as he’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher, he’s not going to reach his full potential as a starter. He NEEDS that 3rd pitch to really keep batters off-balance, which is the name of the game in MLB. Pitchers with a lot fewer physical tools than he has can be more successful than him, because while they may not be able to hit triple digits, they have a mix of pitches that just make it really hard for batters to square them up or make consistent contact.

    Remember Bronson Arroyo? He topped out in the low to mid 90’s on his fastball, but he had about 17 different pitches he could throw for strikes, and that’s why, for a time, he was one of the best pitchers in MLB.

    • greenmtred

      Clearly Hunter could benefit from a good third pitch. But maybe he could get the same effect by varying the location of his current pitches–evidently what he did Saturday… Who knows why some pitchers, otherwise talented, can’t master some pitches? Certainly there are variations in the physical structure of arms, hands, wrists, etc. Or maybe it’s lack of access to a mentor who can throw the pitch. Pitching in MLB is hard.

  13. Daniel Kals

    Great article and pretty much what my thinking on Greene has become.

    I just wanted to add that I think part of the problem is whoever coined the term “The Big Three” in regards to Greene, Lodolo, and Ashcraft. (Was it Voros McCracken, perhaps?) In Greene you have a guy who is probably starting to reach his destiny as a #3 type starter. Lodolo has #2 potential, IMO, if he stays healthy – we just don’t have enough data yet. And Ashcraft’s numbers are more in line with a #4 or #5, especially when he pitches at GABP.

    I’m not saying it’s an “unfair burden” placed on these guys, that doesn’t matter. It’s just a term that causes fans to maybe get more frustrated at these guys through no fault of their own. If Greene ends up being Homer Bailey, then he’s still one of the top 100 pitchers in the world. I just cringe when I hear “The Big Three” because it seems like a marketing term that just doesn’t fit these guys. It’s entirely possible that by the end of this year, our top three pitching options heading into the playoff are Frankie Montas, Rhett Lowder, and Andrew Abbott (or Nick Lodolo).

    The best hope is that if Greene does end up being Homer Bailey, then Nick Krall and company recognize this and surround him with a Cueto, Latos, Harang, Arroyo, and/or Leake. Instead of continuing to hope he turns into Cueto.

  14. JB WV

    I really like Hunter as a person, especially for a guy that’s only 24 years old and hasn’t had the advantage of going to college, not only for the education but to have some fun. Kid was thrust into a high pressure situation at 18 being the second pick in the draft and considered a “generational talent”. Good god, think about that. How many of us that were lucky enough to spend 4 years partying, chasing skirts, and trying to figure out what to do with our lives could have handled that kind of pressure at that age? Of course, the $ is nice for Hunter, but I’m old now and realize the limited joy it can bring. All that aside, if he could develop a change up that would melt hitter’s knees I would rejoice.

  15. citizen54

    ERA is not a good tool because total runs allowed is determined by things beyond the pitcher’s control eg defense, ball park. We now have access to statcast data that takes into account quality of contact and amount of contact which are better ways to judge a pitcher’s performance than ERA.

    Likewise pitchers are pitching less innings in the current era. So far in 2024 there have only been 20 games where a pitchers has pitched 7 or more innings. 5 to 6 innings is the norm these days yet people still bemoan Green not pitching into the 7th inning of games.

    So yes, Green is a mediocre pitcher if you’re still relying on outdated stats such as wins, ERA and innings pitched but if you dig a little deeper you would discover that Greene is actually one of the Top 20 pitchers in baseball right now, at least so far in 2024. And that’s without a refined third pitch.

    As to the Homer Bailey comps. Bailey had total of 3 WAR in 304 innings years as a 24 year old. Greene has accumulated 4.6 WAR in 272 innings at the same age. Bailey’s best year was 4.1 WAR in 209 innings. Greene is on pace to exceed that with a lot less innings. Green still has a lot of room for improvement but so far in 2024 he’s been pretty, pretty good.

  16. RedsGettingBetter

    I understand Greene is not throwing a 3rd and 4th pitch because lack of confidence on them. I read the stuff+ on his splitter is above 100 that is very good quality pitch. The location+ is near average so he should work on it to improve and maybe use the splitter more frequent. Even his curveball has an average stuff+ too. The splitter is a concern as a pitch that it can hurt the elbow depending on how much is used so I don’t know if it is recommend to a pitcher who has a TJ surgery in his bag to pitch a big amount of this kind of pitch…Develop a good curveball seems to be a better choice to Greene for staying healthy although technically the splitter would be better to dominate the batters…

  17. Indy Red Man

    I had Rangers season tickets for a few years in the 90s and saw alot of Kevin Brown.
    He was basically a 2 pitch starter with slider and sinker, but he had crazy downward movement on the ball. Unfortunately for HG, his ball is as straight as an arrow. I just don’t know why a splitter or change or knuckle-curve or learn Cruz’s forkball?
    Something? You don’t even have to throw it for strikes necessarily, but you go from 98 to 87 to 81 then back to 98 and its going to feel like 102. Does he have unusually small hands or something?