Why is Riley Greene a defensive player to watch in 2023?

I’ve talked enough to the Tigers broadcast crew (for whom we do statistical research) to know that the team has extremely high expectations for Riley Greene, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, who debuted last season. Those expectations extend to both his bat and his glove.

Greene had an OPS+ of 99 last season to go with 2 Defensive Runs Saved.

Greene’s Runs Saved had an unusual look to it. He finished tied for last in our plus-minus rating, which is similar to MLB’s Outs Above Average, on shallow fly balls (9 fewer plays made than expected) but first in plus-minus on deep fly balls (10 more plays made than expected).

Greene played an average depth of 331 feet in center field when he played at Comerica Park. This was about 4 feet deeper than center fielders played there on and thus may have given him a better shot at the deepest fly balls, while making the shallow ones harder to get.

The positioning was understandable given a)how big Comerica Park was and b)that four of the top five Tigers in innings pitched last season allowed more than 1 HR per 9 innings.

But one of those two things has changed heading into 2023. The Tigers have changed Comerica’s dimensions to cut 10 feet off the distance in center field. What we’ll be watching for is how this impacts where and how Greene plays. By the way, the fences are lowered a little bit too, (to 7 feet in center and right center) so there’s more chance to see something like this.

One other thing to watch for: Greene led all center fielders with 9 diving catches. That sounds great, but the stat can be a double-edged sword as Mike Cameron (coincidentally the father of former Tiger Daz Cameron) pointed out with regards to Julio Rodriguez.

Cameron is wary of diving because it “tears down your shoulders and low back.” So keep an eye on whether Greene is as aggressive as he was in 2022.