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Tommy Greene: Was he actually good?

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He was big and he threw a no-hitter. But was he actually good?

Phillies/Greene
Tommy Greene helped pitch the Phillies to the playoffs in 1993

Every so often, I like to take a name from Phillies past and - aided by the perspective of time - try to re-evaluate whether or not the player was actually good. In some cases, I’ve determined that the player wasn’t as good as initially remembered. In other cases, I’ve decided that he was actually underrated in his day.

This time, I’ll look at one of the starting pitchers from the National League champion 1993 team: Tommy Greene.

Selected in the 1985 amateur draft by the Atlanta Braves, Greene - a right-handed starting pitcher - was a member of a 1990 Atlanta Braves team loaded with young pitching talent (There were two young future Hall of Famers on the team). Greene was viewed as expendable and the Braves included him as a player to be named later when they traded Dale Murphy in exchange for Jeff Parrett.

It isn’t clear why a last place team like the 1990 Braves - even one with a surplus of pitching prospects - would trade a promising young pitcher in exchange for a middle reliever, but the Phillies weren’t complaining. Their general manager at the time was Lee Thomas, and he never met a large-bodied pitcher he didn’t like. At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Greene certainly fit the bill.

Greene showed some promise in 1990, but finally broke through the following season in a start against the Expos.

Greene proved he was more than a one-hit wonder, and finished the 1991 season with a 13-7 record and 3.38 ERA. Unfortunately, Greene spent most of the 1992 season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, which was a big reason the Phillies finished in last place.

Heading into 1993, the Phillies were cautiously optimistic that Greene would be healthy and effective, and in the early months, he exceeded all expectations.. After a complete game against the Rockies on June 5, he was 8-0 with a 1.87 ERA, and he seemed as if he was headed for a possible Cy Young Award.

Greene hit a rough patch over the next month, but finished strong. His season ended with a 16-4 record, 3.48 ERA, and a sixth place finish in National League Cy Young Award voting. Unfortunately, his strong season didn’t carry over into the playoffs. In his three postseason starts, he gave up a whopping 17 runs over 12 innings. While he did pitch well, earning the win in the decisive game six of the NLCS, that only shows just how awful he was in the other two starts.

Along with Curt Schilling, the Phillies thought they had a solid front of their rotation for years to come. Unfortunately, his shoulder problems resurfaced the following year, and Greene was never able to fully overcome them. He only made seven starts in 1994, and his 1995 season was particularly disastrous. Despite only making six starts and five relief appearances, he went 0-5 with an 8.29 ERA. He spent 1996 unsuccessfully trying to rehab, and after a brief comeback attempt with the Astros in 1997, his major league career was over.

So was Tommy Greene good?

When he was healthy, all of the underlying numbers indicate Greene was a legitimate front-of-the-rotation pitcher (at least in the regular season). He was also an excellent hitter, with four career home runs. Unfortunately, he only had two healthy seasons, and as soon as his shoulder began to bother him, his control deteriorated greatly. His strikeout numbers stayed relatively constant from year to year, but his walks per nine innings doubled from 1993 to 1994. It seems like he could still throw hard, but he couldn’t get the ball to go where he wanted it to.

Had Greene stayed healthy, the Phillies’ franchise might not have taken such a drastic downward turn after 1993. While it would have still been tough matching against the powerhouse Atlanta Braves teams of the mid-to-late 90’s, the Phillies certainly would have been better off with a healthy Greene instead of the likes of Mike Mimbs and Jeff Juden. Unfortunately, “had he stayed healthy” is the epitaph for many a would-be ace pitcher.