Chad Green is one of my favorite relievers to watch. Despite throwing his fastball as much as 86% of the time (2018), he manages to generate a whiff-per-swing rate north of 33% in his career, topping out at 45.5% in 2019. That sort of production is crazy for a one-pitch pony. It really is. Green gets by because of his truly elite velocity (96 mph average) and spin rates (~2450 RPM) on the pitch.
That elite fastball is the key ingredient in Green’s success in pinstripes. He is 18-7 with a 2.75 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 219.1 innings pitched since his 2017 debut, when he first made a splash. He strikes out 35% of the batters he faces while walking just 6% of them. These figures are even inclusive of his horrendous start to the 2019 campaign. Green is excellent because of his fastball. We all know this.
Still, Green has always worked in Spring Training to introduce a new pitch to his arsenal. It makes sense. He wants to be as dynamic and durable on the mound as possible. Plus, a legitimate breaking pitch will play off his fastball and probably elongate his time as a dominant reliever. In year’s past, that pitch was a splitter, but it never took. This year, it was a curveball. The big difference is that the curveball appears to be sticking.
First, Statcast shows us that he’s using the pitch more so far in 2020. About 25% of the time, actually. That 10% more than he’s ever used a non-fastball since joining the Yankee pen. In fact, he’s thrown it 19 times, 13 of which (68%) went for strikes. He’s thrown a third of them with 2 strikes, and batters have a 27.27% whiff-per-swing rate on the pitch. Batters have just one hit off the pitch (a weak infield single). It appears to be working, in other words.
I’ve been watching this closely all year, and I think last night was a showcase for why the offering can make Green an even better pitcher. Let’s start with this 1-2 curve to McCutchen. I’m using the whole video, and I suggest listening to Paul O’Neill’s commentary:
O’Neill was saying that McCutchen will know Green’s approach well from his time in the Bronx. In the clip above, you hear him say that Green loves to attack the top part of the zone with two strikes. True enough. Here’s Green’s 2019 four-seam pitch plot with two strikes:
I’d be looking for a high fastball, too. Instead, Green did this:
It wasn’t the best curveball you’ve ever seen. Far from it. But, given Green’s history, even offering it as a get-me-over pitch for show can be effective, as we see here. Not to mention, Green is obviously confident in it – he used it with two strikes to a good hitter with runners on second and third.
But it was in the next at-bat where it really shined and suggested to me that it can be much more than just a show-me pitch. Let’s go through this at-bat, again to a good hitter in Rhys Hoskins, pitch-by-pitch.
After these 3 high fastballs, Green turned to his new curve and he snapped off an excellent one. Probably the best of the season. Check it out:
Here’s how that looks as a plot:
Nasty. That’s truly nasty. It’s very easy to see how and why a curveball in particular makes sense for Green. Pitchers have been using a curveball to play off fastballs for years. It’s a time-tested approach. Given how good Green’s is, it’s always made sense for him to try it.
I’m not sure if this new approach is a result of something Matt Blake suggested or something Green came up with himself. All I do know is that, in a limited sample, Chad Green sure looks like a much more dynamic pitcher thanks to his new pitch. Let’s hope he can keep it up.