Hunter Greene Is Poised To Breakout In 2023

Think back to a year ago. After a full-on fire sale that saw the Cincinnati Reds move on from Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez, Nicholas Castellanos, and Sonny Gray, the team was fully committed to a future built on the back of high-end prospects. Prospects like Hunter Greene.

While the pitching staff was headlined by Luis Castillo, who was later traded, it was the youngsters that gave Reds fans reason for hope. Both Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft appear to have bright futures, but it’s Greene who captured the attention of the baseball world. 

When looking at his skill set, it is easy to see why. Capable of throwing his fastball at 100 mph with ease, it is never surprising to see him reach 101 or 102.

After a strong spring, Greene used his sizzling fastball to earn a spot on the team’s opening-day starting rotation. In his first start, he would face off with the defending world champions, the Atlanta Braves. While he would surrender three runs, he earned the win on the back of seven strikeouts across five innings. 

In just his second major league start, Greene broke the record for most 100+ mph pitches in a single game with a whopping 39. While he was still learning the ropes, he cemented himself as one of the game’s most exciting young pitchers.

The rest of 2022 would be much of the same. Greene would finish with an ERA of 4.44 to go along with 164 strikeouts. With an 11.7 K/9, it is clear that Greene has the stuff to succeed in the big leagues. However, the home run ball has continued to bite him this spring.

Alas, change may be on the horizon. 

Numbers Don’t Lie

By far the biggest weakness in Greene’s game is the home run ball. Despite the fact that he throws as hard as anyone in the game, MLB hitters are the best in the world at what they do. As such, if they know what is coming, they will hit it, regardless of velocity. This led to a staggering 28 home runs allowed for Hunter Greene in 2022.

So, when he wasn’t striking pitchers out with his supersonic heater, it was getting hit hard. In fact, his fastball was responsible for -7.0 runs above average despite being his trademark pitch.

Last season, Greene was essentially a two-pitch pitcher. Alongside the aforementioned fastball, he also throws a quality slider. In 2022, he threw the fastball 54% of the time, and the slider 41%. The other five percent, he threw a change-up. It is this pitch that will define his 2023 season.

Changing It Up

This spring, through two starts, things have not been kind to the right-hander. With 4.1 innings under his belt, Greene has had five runs charged to him, including a home run.

However, for those paying attention, the story is not about the runs Greene has allowed, but instead about his increased change-up usage. In his last start against the A’s, 12 of his 50 pitches were change-ups. After barely throwing it last season, he threw it on nearly half of his pitches.

Of course, it is only spring training, and it’s likely he was throwing it an increased amount in order to get a feel for it. However, Greene appears determined to make it an increased part of his repertoire going forward.

Greene said, “I obviously spent a lot of time working on that. It was my main focus, to have that pitch in my repertoire going into this year is going to be really exciting.” If he can work the change-up going forward, it will be crucial to his ability to keep hitters off balance.

Big Things Ahead for Hunter Greene

While people have certainly not forgotten about Greene, the hype train appears to have slowed down. When looking at the numbers, it is understandable. After all, no one cares how hard you can throw if it gets hit back even harder.

Still, despite playing in the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ballpark, Greene is an absurdly talented pitcher who is still improving. With 24 starts under his belt, he is no longer concerned with making the team. Instead, he is working to amplify his pitch mix that already features one of the league’s most electric fastballs.

The Cincinnati Reds will be a bad team in 2023, that much is almost assured. However, Hunter Greene will be appointment television as he cements himself as one of the best young players in the sport.

White Sox ace Dylan Cease Is A Lot Better Than You Think

White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease
Photo Credit: Getty Images

In July 2017, the Southsiders made a trade that would change the team’s trajectory for good when they sent Jose Quintana to the Cubs for prospects. Among those prospects the White Sox received was highly touted young pitcher Dylan Cease.

After moving through the White Sox minor league system, Cease would make his debut in 2019. He started fourteen games that season en route to an ERA of 5.79. Over the next two seasons, Cease would continue to develop his arsenal and his ERA would drop.

Even still, he was still considered a player with high potential that had to “figure it out” going into 2022. With elite stuff, as evidenced by his 226 strikeouts in 2021, the sky was the limit — if he could just get over the hump.

Dominance Begins

Early in the 2022 season, Dylan Cease looked like his usual self for the White Sox. With high strikeout and walk numbers, he looked great against lesser teams while struggling against the good ones. The lowest point of the season was his start against the Red Sox on May 24th when he allowed seven earned runs in just three innings.

Since then, Cease has completely turned his season around. In the thirteen starts since that day, he has allowed just five earned runs. Perhaps his best display during this stretch came against Minnesota. In that contest, Cease pitched seven shutout innings with just one hit allowed and eight strikeouts.

Following the start against Boston, his ERA sat at 4.24. Now, he has lowered it all the way to 1.98, good for third in the MLB. His 166 strikeouts also sit at third in the league. His K/9 however, sits atop the league at 12.2.

Flying Under The Radar

Despite being one of the best pitchers in the league in nearly every category, Cease has not always been given the recognition he deserves. In fact, he was not even named to the A.L. All-Star team. This was despite the fact that he led both Nestor Cortes and Paul Blackburn in every statistical pitching category.

Furthermore, in the MLB’s flagship video game MLB the Show 22, he has not once been named to the game’s Player of the Month program, despite inferior pitchers like Jon Gray and Brady Singer receiving acknowledgment.

Currently, Cease is second in betting odds for the A.L. Cy Young award. However, his +300 odds don’t even sniff the -155 odds owned by the Astros Justin Verlander.

Just How Dominant Is Cease?

Last season, the Mets’ Jacob deGrom had one of the most dominating stretches of pitching excellence we have ever seen before losing his season to injury. Through fifteen starts, he owned an ERA of 1.08 with 146 strikeouts and 40 hits allowed.

Over Dylan Cease’s thirteen starts in this unbelievable stretch with the White Sox, he has an ERA of 0.60, 95 strikeouts, and only 47 hits allowed. Now, is Cease as good as deGrom? Of course not, no one is. Alas, over this stretch, he has been nearly as untouchable. However, in deGrom’s case, it was much more publicized.

Going forward, there is not much reason to expect a drop off. Simply put, his stuff is too good to fail. A visit to Cease’s Baseball Savant page shows what you would expect, a lot of red. With a fastball spin rate in the 97th percentile and a whiff rate in the 96th percentile, his fastball is not getting touched.

How about the off-speed you might be wondering? Well, his 95 strikeouts on the slider are the most on any pitch in the league. That pitch offers opposing hitters a startling -30 in run value.

So, despite the lack of recognition around the league (outside of Chicago), Cease is unquestionably one of the leagues very best. With the White Sox just a few games out of the division lead, this magical thirteen game stretch from Dylan Cease is keeping them afloat. Absolutely deserving of a playoff start, he just might get one if he keeps this up.

Is It Time The White Sox Move On From Eloy Jimenez?

Back in the summer of 2017, the White Sox made a trade with their cross-town rivals, the Chicago Cubs. The Sox would send starting pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs and they would receive a package of prospects that included Dylan Cease and Eloy Jimenez.

Within two years, Jimenez had made his way through the Sox minor league system and was rewarded with a six-year, $43 million contract before he had ever seen a pitch in the major leagues.

In his first season, he would play 122 games and record a .828 OPS with 31 home runs. While his defense was terrible, this was good enough for fourth in the rookie of the year voting. The Covid shortened 2020 season saw more of the same as he had an .891 OPS and fourteen homers.

Injuries Arise

With the explosive nature of his first two seasons, the excitement around Jimenez was at a fever pitch entering 2021. Unfortunately, he would tear his pectoral trying to rob a home run in a spring training game causing him to miss the first three months of the season.

Upon returning, the power was evident once again as had ten home runs in 55 games. However, somewhere along the way, the power dissipated. Never was this more evident than in 2021. Before being injured once again, he had a career high 66.7 ground ball percentage.

The Dilemma

Of course, the injuries are the biggest issue in Jimenez’s career right now. Alas, his overall skill set is perhaps more worrisome. When Eloy Jimenez is hitting home runs, he is one of the most impactful players in the entire Chicago lineup. Alas, his ground ball percentage makes his bat expendable. In fact, he has just one extra-base hit throughout his lengthy stay in Triple-A.

Another issue that Jimenez creates is redundancy. Both he and Andrew Vaughn profile as good, right-handed hitters who are terrible in the outfield. Alas, there is only one designated hitter spot which forces one of the two into the outfield and weakens the team’s defense.

When Jimenez finally returns to the White Sox, it is widely expected he will strictly be the DH as they do not want to risk further injury in the field. This creates all sorts of problems as now Vaughn, a natural first basemen, will take his spot in right field. It also prevents him and Abreu from taking days off from the field as Jimenez can only DH.

In totality, Jimenez is a fan favorite player who may not have a spot on the White Sox roster any longer. With four more years of team control, he may still have enough trade value based on his past to net the Sox a big fish at the deadline. It may be unlikely, but Chicago has proven in the past they can win without his bat.

The White Sox Have A Tony La Russa Problem

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Think back to the end of the 2020 season. Yes, the Dodgers would end up winning the World Series but as the off-season came there was one team firmly in the spotlight: the Chicago White Sox. One of the hottest young teams in the league, it seemed as if they could have any manager they wanted. Eventually, Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox settled upon Tony La Russa. To say that La Russa is accomplished would be putting it lightly. In fact, he was already a Hall of Famer when he was hired by the White Sox for the second time.

Under La Russa, the White Sox were promised a competitive advantage by having one of the game’s greatest managers in the dugout. So, despite the obvious concerns about how a 77-year-old would manage a team loaded with young talent, ownership promised results.

Ruining The Lineup

In 2021, the White Sox fielded one of their best teams in recent history. So while they dealt with the occasional La Russa blunder none of them were enough to slow Chicago. While the mistakes were plentiful, fans were convinced they could win in spite of their manager.

In 2022, La Russa has seemingly made it his mission to prove otherwise. Now his mistakes pop up in seemingly every avenue possible. Even the basic act of setting the lineup has become a spectacle for Southside fans.

In fact, over the last seven games, the White Sox have had the same lead-off hitter for back-to-back games just one time. In the absence of Tim Anderson, La Russa has often employed Leury Garcia as the lead-off man. While he is a fine utility man for any team, he does nothing at the plate. His .184 batting average and 29 OPS+ should make that clear, but not for La Russa who appears to only see that he is a switch hitter.

The constant reshuffling of the lineup this season has been curious, to say the least. Some days Andrew Vaughn will hit second, sometimes he will hit seventh. Perhaps Garcia will hit first tonight or maybe he will hit ninth. The only consistency in the lineup is no consistency.

Bullpen Management

It could be argued that, for the White Sox front office, nothing is more important than the bullpen. Between Joe Kelly, Liam Hendriks, and Kendall Graveman, Chicago will spend over 28 million dollars in 2022. This will be well worth it however as they are all highly valuable members of the team.

Despite having loads of bullpen talent, which also includes Reynaldo Lopez and Aaron Bummer, La Russa has preferred to use lesser players in huge spots. The most blatant instance came against the Yankees.

With a lefty up in Anthony Rizzo, La Russa appeared to be bringing in fellow lefty Tanner Banks to deal with him. After Kelly was clearly rattled, it only made sense. However, La Russa evidently planned to use Banks for the next hitter. Who was that hitter you may ask? None other than the red-hot Giancarlo Stanton with the bases loaded.

Stanton quickly smoked a single that scored and then fellow righty Josh Donaldson stepped up and hit a three-run homer. A manager’s job is to put his players in the best position to succeed. Alas, La Russa appears content giving the other team the advantage. 

The Final Straw?

After a litany of questionable decisions, the Tony La Russa madness reached a new level during Thursday’s White Sox versus Dodgers game. After allowing Freddie Freeman to get on, left-hander Bennett Sousa was slated to face Trea Turner. One of the league’s best players, this was always going to be difficult. However, Sousa got up in the count 1-2 before Freeman advanced to second on a passed ball.

It was then that La Russa decided that he was going to intentionally walk Turner in a 1-2 count with two outs already in the inning. This indefensible decision was immediately followed by a three-run home run by Max Muncy that turned a two-run lead into a five-run lead and effectively ended the game.

If there was ever an example of a manager costing his team games, La Russa is it. Of course, he is one of the game’s greatest managers there is little debate about that. However, the game has clearly passed him by. While the correct time fro the White Sox to fire La Russa has come and gone, Reinsdorf can not continue to hold their fans hostage.

Is It Time To DFA Josh Harrison?

Mid-season, Josh Harrison is starting to raise some questions for the White Sox. In the 2022 off-season, the White Sox had a few major holes to address. With starting pitcher Carlos Rodon departing, they elevated Michael Kopech to the rotation. Once again they would have a hole in right field as well which they filled through the trade a trade with the Dodgers that netted them, A.J. Pollock.

The last major hole was at second base. After creating this hole by trading away Nick Madrigal, the White Sox hoped to have filled it when they traded for Cesar Hernandez at last year’s deadline. The move was a flop however so Chicago was forced to test the free-agent market.

The big fish on the market was former Blue Jay Marcus Semien but he elected to sign with the Texas Rangers. As such, the White Sox settled for Josh Harrison. After spending 2021 with both the Nationals and the A’s, Harrison finished with a .279 batting average and a .741 OPS.

Not Living Up To Expectations

Expected to hold down the starting second baseman job for the White Sox, Harrison has started 21 of his 36 games at the position. The statistical numbers are paltry with a .181/.265/.276 slash line. His OPS+ currently sits at 58 which is obviously way under the MLB average of 100.

A black hole in the White Sox lineup, he has a skill set that is easily replaceable on the White Sox roster. In fact, Chicago may have already replaced him with the hot bat of Danny Mendick. While he is being forced to play shortstop in the absence of Tim Anderson, his line of .318/.362/.455 is much more impressive than Harrisons. Of course, they also have utility man Leury Garcia.

Perhaps most enticing is the potential replacements in the minors. The most obvious of these is Yolbert Sanchez. Splitting time between both AA and AAA, Sanchez has a batting average of .341 to go along with a .783 OPS. Another option could be the 22-year-old Lenyn Sosa. Although he has only played in AA thus far, he is hitting .342 with eleven homers.

The time has certainly come to DFA Harrison. Simply, he does not have a spot on the team anymore. He doesn’t hit for average or power and this is reflected in his Baseball Savant page which has more blue than a basket of blueberries. Firmly in the middle of a championship window, the White Sox need to have higher standards.