Greene nabs coveted Tiger of the Year award 

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — For the first time since Mark Fidrych, the Tiger of the Year winner is a rookie. Riley Greene, who made his Major League debut on June 18 and immediately became a key cog in Detroit’s lineup and outfield, won this year’s honor in a wide-open vote by members of the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Though Greene received just seven of 24 first-place votes, that was enough to a lead a group of seven players who received votes. Tarik Skubal, who led the team in Wins Above Replacement according to Fangraphs, received five first-place votes, followed by Eric Haase with four and Harold Castro with three. Miguel Cabrera and Gregory Soto received two votes each.

Javier Báez, who led the team in Wins Above Replacement by the Baseball Reference formula, received one first-place vote in his first year as a Tiger.

Greene becomes the first rookie hitter to win the award, and the second rookie overall since the award’s inception in 1965. Fidrych won the honor in 1976, when his league-leading 19 wins and 2.34 ERA earned him the American League Rookie of the Year award and runner-up honors for AL Cy Young.

Greene might well have led the Tigers in WAR and other categories if not for a partial season shortened by a fractured foot sustained in Spring Training. Once he finally arrived, he became Detroit’s everyday center fielder and soon their regular leadoff hitter.

From June 18 to season’s end, Greene led the Tigers with 95 hits, 18 doubles and four triples, and trailed only Báez with 46 runs scored and 42 RBIs. Though he struck out 120 times in 418 plate appearances, his 36 walks in that span were nearly twice as many as anyone else on the team.

Along the way, Greene provided a plethora of memorable plays. His first Major League home run was a walkoff to straightaway center at Comerica Park to beat the Royals on July 1. His fourth home run was a first-pitch leadoff shot off Shohei Ohtani on Aug. 21 at Angel Stadium. He hit a game-tying RBI single on an 0-2 pitch with two outs in the ninth against then-Padres closer Taylor Rogers on July 26.

Ironically, he became a more effective hitter once he stopped pressing to get big hits. Despite his early heroics, he hit just .231 with a .639 OPS in July, including 39 strikeouts in 125 plate appearances. His batting average sank as low as .224 on Aug. 19, his OPS down to .607, when he embarked on a late-season turnaround. From Aug. 20 to season’s end, Greene hit .297 (44-for-148) with a .795 OPS. Just 12 of those hits went for extra bases, but he reached base and produced offense. Meanwhile, the Tigers went 20-18 over his final 38 games.

“I came up here, hit pretty well and then I kind of wasn’t taking what I was getting,” Greene said at season’s end. “I was like, ‘I want to hit more homers. I want to hit more doubles. I want to do more. I don’t want to just hit singles all day long.’ And that was kind of selfish on my part. I kind of dug myself into a hole pretty early, and it’s hard to get out of those holes, especially up here in the big leagues. [You have to] just kind of take what the game gives you, not try to press or do too much.

“It was like, ‘Is my swing messed up?’ No, it’s not my swing. It’s my mind. It’s all mental. It was an easy fix and I got out of it. Thank God I did.”

Just as impressive were the highlight catches in center field, a position that was expected to challenge him in spacious Comerica Park. He made an array of diving grabs and leaping plays at the wall, capped by a leap in Chicago to take a potential home run away from White Sox slugger and fellow 2019 Draft product Andrew Vaughn. Greene won MLB’s Play of the Week award three times, including consecutive weeks in September.

For the season, Greene batted .291 (25-for-86) with runners in scoring position, driving in 31 runs despite just eight hits for extra bases, all doubles. He batted .307 in high-leverage situations as defined by Baseball Reference.

“The way he’s handled it has been equally as impressive as anything positive that he’s done,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “The silver lining is that these guys are being tested at an early age. It’s going to put them on the right path of development at this level where they have to do some things. Adjustments are going to have to be made throughout your career and I think getting tested early is probably a good thing.

“The way he’s handled it is a great example for any young player who wants to be really good at this game.”

Now, Greene heads into the offseason trying to build on his success, while new president of baseball operations Scott Harris tries to build a lineup behind him.

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