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Greene Becomes a Red Bird

Posted By David Golebiewski On December 5, 2008 @ 2:41 pm In Shortstops | No Comments

Feeling none too comfortable with the prospect of an in-house option taking over at shortstop, the St. Louis Cardinals went out and acquired Khalil Greene from the San Diego Padres. The 13th overall selection in the 2002 amateur draft, Greene was picked up in exchange for relief prospect Mark Worrell and a player to be named later. While Greene’s production went south in 2008, he still constitutes a decent value for the Cardinals, considering his $6.5 million price tag.

In sort of the inverse of the Matt Holliday trade, the first thought that will go through many heads about this swap is that Greene is now liberated. His offensive production is going to trend up now that he’s out of the treacherous environs of Petco Park. And certainly, that’s true to some extent. However, it would very likely be incorrect to assume that Greene’s career road numbers (.270/.318/.484) constitute his true talent level. By making such an assumption, one would be ignoring half of Greene’s career data, giving us a smaller and less reliable sample size. Rather than just tossing aside his home stats (.225/.289/.369), we can use context-neutral measures to get a better gauge on just what sort of hitter Greene has been over the past several years.

Luckily, Fangraphs has just such a context-neutral stat in WPA/LI. WPA/LI expresses offensive wins (without the leverage aspect of Win Probability Added), and is park adjusted. Using WPA/LI, we can evaluate Greene’s bat free of the run-suppressing tendencies of his home ballpark. Here are Greene’s WPA/LI numbers from 2004-2008, with his mark among qualified shortstops in parentheses:

2004: 0.16 (9/23)
2005: 0.55 (9/25)
2006: -0.48 (15/27)
2007: 1.69 (5/27)
2008: -1.56 (21/24)

Prior to 2008’s statistical face plant (more on that later), Greene had essentially been in the middle of the pack offensively among shortstops. Playing half of his games in a brutal offensive environment, the 29 year-old is a career .248/.304/.427 hitter. If we want to get a more accurate barometer of what his triple-slash lines would look like had he played in a neutral offensive environment, we can do that by using the amazing Baseball-Reference website.

B-R has a Play Index tool that adjusts a player’s production to fit particular run-scoring environments and home ballparks. Using this tool, we can place each year of Greene’s career in a neutral National League ballpark, adjusting for the Runs/Game average of that season to root out the effects of Petco. Here are Greene’s actual slash statistics, followed by his lines adjusted to a neutral NL ballpark:

2004 (4.64 NL Runs/G):

Actual: .273/.349/.446 Adjusted: .292/.371/.473

2005 (4.45 NL Runs/G):

Actual: .250/.296/.431 Adjusted: .262/.309/.451

2006 (4.76 NL Runs/G):

Actual: .245/.320/.427 Adjusted: .254/.330/.444

2007 (4.71 NL Runs/G):

Actual: .254/.291/.468 Adjusted: .263/.302/.483

2008 (4.54 NL Runs/G):

Actual: .213/.260/.339 Adjusted: .225/.274/.359

As mentioned earlier, Greene is a career .248/.304/.427 hitter. By taking his adjusted lines and weighing each year based on his number of plate appearances, I found that Greene’s career adjusted batting line is .261/.318/.447.

So, adjusting for Petco Park, Green has basically been a .260/.320/.450-type hitter. That’s pretty useful from a shortstop, both in real and fantasy baseball. However, what are we to make of Greene’s wretched performance this past season? Already a free swinger, Greene swung at just about everything in 2008, including birds, small aircrafts and, evidently, storage chests. His Outside Swing Percentage (O-Swing%) has been steadily rising over the past few years. Not coincidentally, so has his First Pitch Strike Percentage (F-Strike%):

2005: 22.7 O-Swing%, 58.2 F-Strike%
2006: 25.6 O-Swing%, 59 F-Strike%
2007: 29.2 O-Swing%, 60.4 F-Strike%
2008: 34.8 O-Swing%, 65 F-Strike%

To be sure, Greene is going to have to get his hacking tendencies in check if he’s going to bounce back to his 2004-2007 offensive levels. However, he did seem to suffer some poor fortune on balls put in play in 2008. Despite a 20.6 Line Drive Percentage (LD%), Greene posted just a .262 BABIP.

A below-average BABIP is nothing new for Greene, however, as his career mark sits at .285 despite a career 19.5 LD%. Greene is a pretty extreme flyball hitter (his 47.6 FB% in ’08 ranked 8th among all batters). Considering the spacious dimensions of Petco, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that Green’s below-average BABIP is at least somewhat the product of his skills being ill-suited to his home ballpark. However, a recent study that Peter Bendix co-authored about expected BABIP for The Hardball Times suggests that Greene was not as unlucky as LD% alone would make him out to be (under Peter’s model, Greene’s XBABIP is only slightly better at .271).

New Busch Stadium has played like a pitcher’s park during its first three seasons, suppressing runs by six percent and home runs by 16 percent. That’s not ideal for a flyball-oriented hitter like Greene, but it’s still an improvement over his previous home environment (over that same time frame, Petco has decreased run production by 20 percent and HR production by 19 percent). If Greene eases up on his ever-expanding strike zone, he should be worth a draft pick in deeper leagues. However, anyone taking Greene’s career road numbers and expecting him to reproduce them over a full season is more than likely going to be disappointed.


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