Chad Green emerged out of nowhere in 2017 to become one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, helping the Yankees come within one game of the World Series. He was untouchable. It was awesome. He was great again last year, but it was a far cry from his 2017 brilliance.
In 2019, though, something changed. Green seemed broken, especially at the beginning of the year. I wrote about this at River Ave Blues here, and so did Derek. Green’s fastball simply wasn’t the same, and that is a big, big problem for him. He relies almost exclusively on his fastball, even though he’s tried to reintroduce off-speed stuff, and clearly needs that pitch to be effective.
Green was so broken that he was sent to AAA following an ugly appearance against the Angels. As Derek noted here a few weeks ago, Green made a few mechanical adjustments that boosted his productivity and made him seem closer to the old Green again.
He’s kept up the production since, so now seemed like a good time to peel a few layers back and take a look at Green’s fastball performance.
First, let’s take a look at how Green’s money pitch has done since he became a stud reliever back in 2017. Here is a year-by-year overview of some key signifiers for the pitch:
|Usage||Avg. Velocity||Spin Rate||Whiffs-Per-Swing||BAA||K%|
Yeesh, Green was nasty in 2017. I know we know this, but my word was that fastball unhittable. For some context, Green ranked 2nd out of 294 relievers who threw at least 100 fastballs that year in whiffs-per-swing (behind just Craig Kimbrel) and 4th in batting average against. Almost 40% of all swings on his fastball came up empty. Absurd. It really is.
That’s why, when you look at 2018, you see a drop-off. Very, very few relievers can maintain that sort of dominance year-to-year, and the reality is that Green was still very productive last year. He ranked 47th out of 323 pitchers in terms of whiffs-per-swing, which isn’t nearly the same as 2017 but is also well-above average.
In 2019, though, the fall seems even more precipitous. Green’s velocity and spin-rate remained consistent, but the results did not. They very much did not. I’ll break that down in more detail in a moment, but it’s clear that he was getting fewer swings-and-misses, fewer strikeouts, and was getting hit harder. That’s a bad sign for Green.
Why It Matters So Much
It’s also worth noting here, again, just how reliant he is on the fastball. His usage rate has dropped 10 whole percentage points from 2018 to 2019… and it’s still a pitch he uses basically 80% of the time. If this pitch is broken, Green is broken. It’s really that simple.
But as important as the usage rate is, it’s not the only reason why. Check out Green’s hard-hit percentage (balls hit over 95 mph) over the last three years, with his rank in parentheses:
- 2017: 35.9% (47th highest out of 274 pitchers w/ at least 60 IP)
- 2018: 46.8% (4th highest out of 212 pitchers w/ at least 70 IP)
- 2019: 44.1% (41st highest out of 364 pitchers w/ at least 20 IP)
- 2017-2019: 42.6% (2nd highest out of 212 pitchers w/ at least 160 IP)
And here’s his average exit velocity:
- 2017: 89.3 mph (bottom 2% of the league)
- 2018: 91.0 mph (bottom 0% of the league)
- 2019: 91.0 mph (bottom 6% of the league)
This tells us a few things. First, and most importantly, it tells us that Green really needs to induce swings and misses. Why? Because when batters do make contact with Green, they really square him up. That’s been true even when he’s dominant.
Second, if you check out the graph above, you’ll see that Green really doesn’t induce any soft contact at all. He just doesn’t. With Green, it’s literally (hard) hit or miss.
(Third, and really as an aside, it’s really pretty amazing that Green doesn’t give up many homers. With a profile like this, you’d really expect to see more of those. Thankfully, we really haven’t seen that over his career.)
So, in other words, Green gets crushed when he does give up contact. That adds a new layer of concern to his declining whiffs-per-swing and K% rates highlighted above.
Is it Coming Back?
Finally, let’s take a look at Green’s fastball performance on a month-by-month basis in 2019 to peel back an additional layer to the bad numbers above. Here’s the month-by-month breakdown:
|Usage||Avg. Velocity||Spin Rate||Whiffs-Per-Swing||BAA||K%|
First of all, holy crap was Green bad in April. Out of 61 peers who threw 100 fastballs in April, he ranked dead last in batting average against (and slugging) and 47th in whiffs-per-swing. That manifested itself in several ways, but most notably with his K%. The dude just couldn’t miss bats. And as I illustrated above, that’s not good for Green.
Furthermore, his velocity, which has stayed steady at 96 mph for several years, dropped to 95. A small change, but worth noting it due to performance. There is also this: check out how batters facing Green perform when he throws at different velocities in 2019.
- 4-Seam Fastball 96 mph or faster: .250/.262/.333
- 4-Seam Fastball 95 mph or slower: .357/.557/.857
Now, the sample there is very small. So let’s look at 2018.
- 4-Seam Fastball 96 mph or faster: .185/.243/.329
- 4-Seam Fastball 95 mph or slower: .333/.396/.619
I’m not yet prepared to draw any conclusions from this, but it is interesting. Green gets hit much harder at slower velocity. It could even explain why Green struggled so much. Keep an eye on it.
Second, his velocity and spin rates have stayed fairly constant not just this year but across the last few. That is good news. Green, even when he was getting pummeled, hasn’t lost any stuff. It just wasn’t as effective. I’m not sure if that’s better or not, but it certainly feels like the least bad option, right? You don’t want him to get smacked and also seem to have lost his stuff.
Third, we’ve seen serious improvements from Green now. Both his K% and his whiffs-per-swing percentage has increased month-by-month. Unsurprisingly, that’s in concert with increased production from Green. He’s been much better.
Finally, Green looks much better so far in June. I think that’s obvious. That’s encouraging, and the numbers back it up. Here are Green’s numbers since May 22: .250 BAA, 41.3 K%, 0 HR, 11 H, and 2 ER in 11.1 IP. That’s more like the Green we know, and, unsurprisingly, we see him missing bats 40% of the time.
Not the biggest sample, but it’s illustrative: Green still has a 44% hard-hit rate and he’s been successful. In other words, when he is missing bats, Green is successful. Hopefully, his minor league mechanical tweaks have something to do with this, because the last few weeks have been encouraging.
So, What Does This Mean?
So, what does this all mean? Who can say, really? As always with relievers, the samples are small and the variance is high. If Green goes out there next time out and gives up a few runs, all of these numbers will change.
But here’s the thing: I do think that there’s enough here to give us some reason for optimism. Green has certainly *looked* much better lately, he’s made some real mechanical tweaks as Derek has outlined, and the underlying pitch tracking data seems to confirm that hitters are having a tougher time making contact against his signature pitch. It’s not like this is all a mystery. There are real trends here.
I do wonder if this has anything to do with the way he’s been used recently. In the past, Green has been open about preferring to pitch more than one inning. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to quantify this. So instead, let’s look at a quick proxy: days of rest. It stands to reason that he’d have more rest after pitching more, right? Right. So look at the triple slashes against Green based on days of rest in his career as a reliever:
- Zero days of rest: .204/.273/.388 (.660 OPS)
- One day of rest: .255/.288/.431 (.719 OPS)
- Two days of rest: .200/.259/.304 (.562 OPS)
- Three days of rest: .224/.274/.347 (.621 OPS)
- Four days of rest: 142/.198/.217 (.415 OPS)
He’s clearly more effective with more than one day of rest. That much seems clear. That’s relevant to this year because, as an opener, Green has had more time off in between games and also pitched two innings per outing. (Aside from his openers, he’s had usually between 1-3 days of rest for every other appearance since 5/22, never once pitching back-to-back.)
Maybe this is a good situation for him, maybe his fastball itself just looks better, or maybe his mechanical tweaks are working. Whatever it is, Chad Green is looking more like the Chad Green we’ve all come to expect–and that’s good news for the Yankees.