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It was a strange season for ALCS Game 6 starter Chad Green. Coming into the 2019 season, Green was one of the most reliable and sturdiest members of the Yankees’ dominant bullpen since he stormed onto the scene in 2017. This year, though, Green really had two seasons. The first, which lasted until a Triple-A demotion at the end of April, was abysmal. The second, which began after his mid-May return to the Bronx, lasted through the end of the season.
Still, while the second stretch couldn’t quite recover his ERA, Green’s final season line was very impressive. He logged a 4.17 ERA with much better peripherals (3.34 FIP 91 ERA-) and strikeout (33.2%) and walk rates (6.4%). It was an impressive recovery for a pitcher who looked lost at the beginning of the year, and it serves as a reminder not to overreact to the start of a season. (Or the end of one, when Green looked to be at the end of his rope at the end of the ALCS.)
There were several interesting developments underpinning his bizarre-but-encouraging year, though. Let’s get right into those.
Fastball, Fastball, Fastball
Green’s success is essentially derived from one pitch: his overpowering fastball. The pitch, which averages about 96 mph, looks faster than it is thanks to a 2,400+ rpm spin rate. The pitch, which he utilizes about 75% of the time throughout his career, generates a lot of swings and misses. Check out its whiff-per-swing rate in each of the last three seasons:
- 2017: 37.86%
- 2018: 27.33%
- 2019: 28.79%
The ability to miss bats is a necessary skill for Green, who gives up a ton of hard contact when batters do square up. Look at his hard-hit percentages compared to league average:
And here are his exit velocity numbers:
- 2017: 89.3 mph (bottom 2% of the league)
- 2018: 91.0 mph (bottom 0% of the league)
- 2019: 91.5 mph (bottom 1% of the league)
So, with that in mind, it’s not surprising to note that Green’s signature pitch really betrayed him at the beginning of the year, during an April in which he posted a 16.43 ERA. As I noted back in June, though, the pitch made a real recovery when he returned. That resurgence would continue throughout the year. I made a table that highlights some of the key metrics broken down into three categories: his struggling April, recovering May, and dominant June through the end of the year. The results are stark:
|Usage||Avg. Velocity||Spin Rate||Whiffs-Per-Swing||BAA|
|April||80%||95.32 mph||2433 rpm||18.97%||.435|
|May||78%||96.87 mph||2469 rpm||29.03%||.333|
|June-||78%||96.75 mph||2468 rpm||30.23%||.211|
His usage and spin rates stayed constant, but he added over a full mile-per-hour on the fastball — and that seems to have led to a huge increase in swings and misses. As expected, that resulted in a climbing strikeout rate and a declining ERA. It was very good news for the Yankees, and also for Green, who desperately needs the pitch to be effective in order for him to have success at the big league level.
There seems to have been a real mechanical adjustment behind the resurgence, too. Derek covered this in detail back in May, but it’s worth highlighting here again because he was a completely different pitcher after making the switch in Triple-A. Check out where he was setting up for his delivery:
Derek noted that the change was also consistent through the delivery, so it seems to have been a real mechanical change. It also lasted the entire season. Check out this screengrab from his final pitch of the 2019 regular season:
Yup, the set is still high. The change stayed with Green from his first Triple-A start to his final pitch of the season. I’m not an expert enough to know how or why this would impact his effectiveness, but it is an interesting development nonetheless. It’s something to keep an eye on moving forward, I’d wager. Anyway, it really worked for Green in 2019, who was quite effective after making the change.
Finally, Green had a new role as an opener for the Yankees in 2019. He started 15 games for New York and was effective in those games, pitching to a 3.72 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 19.1 IP with a 38.1% strikeout rate against a 9.5% walk rate. It’s interesting to note that both his strikeout and walk rates increased as a starter, but I’m not sure the sample is big enough to really mean anything other than to say “hey, this exists.”
His best start of the year came on June 15 in Chicago, when he struck out six of the seven batters he faced in two innings of work. Here are a few of the fun highlights:
Yup, that is Green at his best: overpowering batters with his blazing fastball all across the zone. You love to see it.
Anyway, the Yankees won 11 of the 15 games Green started — he, obviously, did not win any of those himself — which means that this experiment worked. Hopefully, though, the Yankees can keep him in the bullpen next year now that their rotation is sturdier following the Gerrit Cole signing.
I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Green will again be a bullpen force for the Yankees in 2020. Aside from one bad month, Green has been dominant for the better part of three consecutive seasons. He’s shown an ability to be flexible — he’s been used in multi-inning appearances, one-inning “let it fly” roles, and as an opener — and he’s made mechanical tweaks to recover past dominance. This is all encouraging.
This is not to say that there aren’t concerns, though. He’s still a one-pitch pitcher. Even though his fastball has been dominant for years, he doesn’t have a lot of room for error — but he’s also shown that he doesn’t need much. If anything, 2019 should be viewed as the most encouraging of Green’s seasons. He recovered from a brutal start to prove that, a tough few weeks aside, he is exactly the pitcher we all thought he was. That is very good news for the Yankees.