Why would Hunter Greene be the ace to watch in 2023?
There should be the same anticipation for Greene’s 2023 debut as there was before he made his big league debut in 2022, when he came throwing 100 mph fastballs against the then-World Series champion Braves and He then set a pitch-tracking-era record with 39 fastballs of 100 mph or more in his second appearance against the Dodgers.
That was an incredible display of raw talent. But this could be the year the 23-year-old emerges as one of the best young rising aces.
Projection systems are raving about Greene going into 2023. Steamer, for example, ranks him as a top-25 pitcher in terms of WAR, on par with Dylan Cease, Max Fried, Blake Snell and Zac Gallen, and they project who will finish with 212 strikeouts, the 11th most by any pitcher.
Is that a surprise? Greene’s rookie season was electrifying, if complicated. Beyond all those triple-digit fastballs he shot, he moved away from the spotlight a bit as the year progressed, going through a three-month stretch between May and July when he posted an EFE of 5.49, before missing a month and a half. half because of a pulled shoulder. When he returned in mid-September, he wasn’t exactly dominating the headlines.
But he finished the campaign dominating. In four starts, one against each of the Reds’ four division rivals, Greene posted a 0.78 ERA and a 14.5 K/9 ratio, and threw the first two 10-plus strikeout games of his career.
What changed? Greene found a way to get the most out of that 100 mph fastball. This is what he did to close out the season, compared to what he was doing at his worst.
In his first month in the big leagues, Greene threw pure fire. He threw his four-seamer 60% of the time in April, with 30% coming from sliders. But in May and June — perhaps trying to be less predictable, perhaps because of her flawless slider results (opponents went 0-for-25 against her) — Greene completely changed her repertoire. He used more sliders than fastballs over the next two months (48% sliders, 47% four-seamer fastballs). His ERA was 5.63.
Down the stretch, he fell in love with his straight again. In September and October, Greene returned to throwing his fastball 60% of the time with 34% sliders, the same pattern he started the year with. But those straights were still better than before. They were stronger and more explosive.
Greene’s fastball averaged 99.8 mph in September/October. It was not just his best for any month, but the best for any starter in any month of the 2022 season, above the 99.3 mph average left by Jacob deGrom in August. Nearly half of the four seams he released were going 100 mph or harder.
And by increasing the speed of his already impressive fastball, he also raised the turnover rate and began to keep the pitch from falling vertically as much. His fastball averaged 2,401 revolutions per minute in September, his highest for any month, and dropped just 11 vertical inches on his way to the plate, the fewest this season for Greene.
So Greene began to lift the ball in a more aggressive manner. When his power fastball reached its peak of any time this season, he began to throw it higher than ever. In the past month, nearly two-thirds of Greene’s fastballs have been high fastballs — he shot 37% of his four-seamer fastballs in the top third of the zone or higher. And he located 37% of his four-seamer fastballs on the top edge of the zone or just above the zone, where hitters tend to go for bad balls.
In May and June, by contrast, only half of Greene’s fastballs were fly balls (52%), and just over a quarter were on the top edge or the zone where hitters go for bad balls (28%). ).
More fastballs, harder fastballs, spinball fastballs, and higher fastballs translated into more missed swings. Greene posted a 40% blank swing rate in September and October, second-best among starters behind only Eric Lauer. The 50 swinging strikes he got with his fastball were the third-most by any pitcher in the past month, behind Carlos Rodón and Lance Lynn. When Greene raised his four-seamer, hitters swung to scoreless more than half the time. His 51% hit-swing rate with high fastballs was the best by any starter in September/October.
With hits swinging blank so often, Greene’s fastball became the primary pitch to end the at-bats. That was not the case earlier in the season.
After the success he had with his slider in April, Greene began using it a lot to try to strike out hitters over the next few months. In May and June, he threw his slider 62% of the time with two strikes and his fastball only 38% of the time in those situations.
But in the final phase, he went back to his straight. In September, with two strikes, he threw four-seamer fastballs 58% of the time and sliders 41%. And when he threw the two-strike fastball, he struck out nearly a third of the time, the most with a four-seamer among starters in the final month of the season.
Greene struck out 26 fastballs in September and October, the second-most by any pitcher behind Brandon Woodruff – and Greene didn’t return until September 17, giving him time to make just four starts while Woodruff made seven. .
Eighteen of those strikeouts came on triple-digit fastballs, which is twice as many as any other pitcher in a month this season (Ryan Helsley had nine in July) and triple as many as Greene had between May and June (six).
In fact, during the last month of 2022, Greene authored each of the four hardest strikeout pitches thrown by a starter all year.
Fastest strikeout pitches by a starter in 2022
The threat that de Greene unleashes that fastball against the league in 2023 is why everyone should stop to watch him when he climbs the mound.