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Chad Green’s (Almost) Great Season [2020 Season Review]

If the 2020 season was too short to fairly evaluate hitter performance, then it was definitely too short to evaluate relievers. So it is with Chad Green, who logged an inconsistent 2020 campaign for the Yankees. Green saw year-over-year declines in his strikeout, walk, and home run rates; left-on-base percentage; his earned run average; and his FIP. He even seemed to lose some zip on his fastball.

This all sounds alarming enough, but it was just 25 innings. He still struck out nearly a third of batters he faced, and threw over 95 miles-per-hour on average. More often than not, he looked every bit as dominant as we expect him to look. Most of his struggles came across just 6 innings, potentially enough to doom a reliever in a normal season. In 2020? Forget it.

Let’s get right into the good, the bad, and the ugly of Chad Green’s 2020 campaign.

A New Look

Chad Green’s success is not built on deception: he throws a high-spin, high-efficiency, and high-velocity fastball up in the zone an overwhelming majority of the time. (In 2017, when he was most dominant, he threw it 68% of the time, followed by 86% in 2018 and 77% in 2019.) It’s not difficult to see why. Check out this 2,500+ RPM, 95 miles-per-hour fastball against Jackie Bradley Jr. in July:

When you’ve got a fastball like that, you’d better use it. That said, the fastball reliance does leave Green with a weakness: when batters make contact, which is not often, he is prone to getting drilled. Try as he might, Green was never able to offer a competent secondary offering, despite toying with a slider and splitter during Spring Trainings past.

In 2020, though, Green brought a new look to Spring Training with a new curveball – and, for the most part, he stuck with it throughout the year. In fact, he threw it 25% of the time, which is the highest non-fastball usage Green has delivered since really arriving in 2017. The results were encouraging. Here was a daring example that demonstrates the new trust Green has in the pitch, thrown in an 0-2 count with runners on second and third to Rhys Hoskins:

Overall, the pitch was high-spin (~2500 RPM on average) and netted a 34% whiff rate, which easily makes it the best secondary offering Green has ever deployed. At the same time, batters still hit .240 against it with a .400 slugging percentage. Beneath the hood, the expected stats (.155 xBA and .182 xWOBA) suggest that the results would have improved in a full season.

As regular readers know, I am a big believer in Green generally and in his curveball usage specifically. The pitch makes sense as a secondary look for him, given that it plays well off a high-velocity fastball thrown up in the zone, and I thought the early returns on the pitch were promising. I’m excited to see how the pitch develops with a normal, uninterrupted offseason and over the course of a (hopefully) full 2021 season. There is every reason to be excited about the pitch, in my opinion.

6 Bad Innings Will Doom Ya

The season was far from all roses for Green, though. He logged 6.1 truly atrocious innings from August 26 to September 7. This is responsible for some of his uglier statistics on the year. In those innings, he surrendered 4 home runs on 8 hits and allowed 8 earned runs. You remember the September 7 game, if not by date. It was not just the low-point of Green’s year, but of the Yankees’, too. Green was a pivotal part of the never-ending bottom of the 7th in which the Yankees surrendered 10 runs in Buffalo. It was ugly.

This bad stretch, which is perfectly mapped over the worst stretch the team faced in 2020, plays a role in our memory. You are excused for forgetting that Green logged a 1.35 ERA in his final 6.2 innings after that game. I’ll forgive you for forgetting that he had a 0.71 ERA in the 12.2 innings before the bad stretch. In both of those periods, the peripherals were back to normal, too.

Alas, so it goes for a reliever. Bad weeks ruin stat lines. That is true in a normal season. And this was anything but a normal season.

What’s Next?

A full offseason and normal Spring Training that hopefully allow Green to further refine his curve. That would be nice. But even if he mostly repeats his 2020 performance, there’s plenty of reason to believe in Green. He was the same dominant reliever we all remember in 2020, aside from a bad week. It would have normalized over a full season’s worth of work.

I think the curveball is a promising development for his future. In short, I am looking forward to seeing Green pitch in 2021. He is one of baseball’s best relievers and for the majority of 2020, that’s exactly how he performed.

An all too familiar ending for Aroldis Chapman [2020 Season Review]

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Even though Aroldis Chapman is no longer unique in terms of elite fastball velocity, he’s still among the best relievers in all of baseball. But for as great as he’s been in the regular season all these years, 2020 is the second straight year in which he’s given up a homer to send the Yankees packing for the winter.

This wasn’t how the Yankees envisioned Chapman finishing the team’s season when he was first acquired in 2016. It was supposed to be him clinching the last out of a World Series victory. It was supposed to make the acquisition of him (twice, by the way) “worth it” after his domestic violence allegation and suspension. Ick, to put it lightly. Instead, Chapman’s been a mercenary who hasn’t gotten the job done when it’s mattered most. Maybe 2021 will be different, but for now, Chapman’s memories as a Yankee haven’t been very good in spite of the impressive statistics.

A late start to his season

Chapman tested positive for COVID-19 in July and missed the beginning of the regular season. Although he was cleared to return to the team before the end of the month, the closer didn’t get back on the mound for the Yanks until mid-August. As such, the hardthrowing lefty wasn’t the team’s saves leader for the first time since he was initially acquired him for the 2016 season. Zack Britton took the mantle in 2020 with 8 saves to Chapman’s 3.

We only have 13 regular season games to look at, but all indications are that Chapman was his usual self this season. He struck out a ton of batters (48.9 percent) and maintained the same fastball velocity as 2019 (~98 MPH). There were a couple of memorable outings, not in a good way, but there was nothing pointing toward decline for the 32 year-old closer under contract through 2022.

So, about those not so good performances. Chapman blew two saves in the span of a week against the Mets, including getting walked off at Yankee Stadium.

Deivi García makes the show [2020 Season Review]

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2020 has been a slog for a number of reasons, baseball or otherwise. But one of the better things about this year was Deivi García’s debut. The 21 year-old pitched awfully well down the stretch for the Yankees. His performance almost certainly earned him a spot in the 2021 rotation and beyond.

A much needed shot in the arm

The Yankees didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline to acquire a starting pitcher. Instead, the team summoned García from the Alternate Site for a start against the Mets on August 30th, a doubleheader. He stuck in the rotation for good from there on out.

While the 21 year-old’s 4.98 ERA in six starts looks poor, there’s no question that Deivi was mostly quite good. His 4.15 FIP very respectable, and he really only had one poor performance: his penultimate regular season start at Boston (six runs in three innings).

García was efficient and gave the Yankees’ length. He threw six innings or more in four of his six outings while also completing seven frames twice. His ability to work deep into games was a pleasant surprise as he averaged 4.7 innings per start in the minors last year. Better control seemed to be a difference maker in this instance. Last year, he walked 11.1 percent of hitters faced in time combined at Double-A and Triple-A. This year with the Yankees, Deivi walked only 4.1 percent of batters faced.

It’s also worth noting that the 21 year-old’s performance instant success came after a rough stint in Triple-A last summer. Following his promotion to the level, the righty really struggled with the long ball. He allowed 8 homers in just 40 innings (1.8 per nine) in Scranton and recorded a 5.40 ERA. It seemed like he needed a bit more seasoning. Now, Deivi did give up his fair share of dingers in the majors this year (6 in 34 1/3 innings), but his aforementioned control improvement made a huge difference.

So, the Yankees didn’t acquire a starter via trade like we hoped, but Deivi proved to be a good addition. The Yankees won four of the six games he started (and probably should have won five had Clarke Schmidt not had a rough debut in relief against Baltimore). You know, maybe they should have just treated him like a starter in the playoffs since he turned out to be the starter “acquisition” anyway. Not an opener in Game 2 of the ALDS. No, I’m not mad about that still.

Aaron Judge is Great, When He’s on the Field [2020 Season Review]

Yankees at Orioles 7/10/18

The 2020 season was the perfect encapsulation of Aaron Judge’s career. It is clear that the Yankee right fielder is one of baseball’s best players. It is also clear, unfortunately, that the big slugger has issues staying on the field. He got hurt after hitting a home run against the Atlanta Braves on August 11, returned briefly on August 26 for a few innings in Atlanta before re-injuring himself, and then came back for good on September 16. All in all, he played in just 28 of the Yankees’ 60 regular season games. It was not what you want.

Let’s dive into Judge’s season, which was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, shall we?

A Torrid Start

The start of the Yankees’ season this year was a blast, and Aaron Judge was a big reason why. In his first 68 plate appearances, carrying him through the August 11 calf strain, Judge hit .290/.343/.758 (190 wRC+) with a ridiculous 9 home runs. As expected, he was a key reason why the Yankees jumped out to an 11-6 start, logging a +0.93 WPA in just 17 games. He singlehandedly won a turbulent game in Baltimore, which put the Yankees back on track after a little mini-skid out of the gate. I’m sure you remember this, but here’s the video:

Just three days later, Judge was at it again in a Sunday night matchup against Boston. It was my favorite game of the season, personally, and this absolutely gargantuan blast is why. It was so predictable, which made it so much more fun:

That, my friends, is what I like to call “extreme 2017 Aaron Judge energy” right there. He kept it up for another week. Nearly half (44%) of balls he hit over the period registered as “hard-hit” per Statcast, meaning they left the bat at over 95 miles-per-hour. Of those, 17% were barrels, meaning he coupled that high velocity with the ideal launch angle. This was a function of laying off bad stuff (just a 26.9% rate of swinging at balls) coupled with absolutely pummeling balls in the zone (67.4% contact rate in the zone). It was a joy to watch.

It is important to remember all of this, given the next section: Judge is, without a doubt, one of baseball’s most talented players. There are no two ways about it. When he is clicking, he is actually as good as it gets. It was short-lived in 2020, sure, but we saw it in full force at the start of the season.

Brett Gardner pulled us back in [2020 Season Review]

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Brett Gardner is still going, folks. As I’ll get to shortly, he keeps staving off the end of his playing days even when things look bleak. His performance was uneven during 2020, but ultimately, he ended with an above average batting line with his typically strong glovework.

Just when you thought he was done…

How many consecutive years has Gardner looked done? I mean, check out some of the craters in his rolling wOBA:

Well, he did it again in 2020. Through August 31st, Gardy had a .169/.302/.338 (80 wRC+) in 86 plate appearances. His power from a year ago (28 home runs!) was no more. Sure, he still drew his fair share of walks (15.1 percent), but he was also striking out more than ever before (26.7 percent). For reference, he hasn’t had a strikeout rate north of 20 percent since 2015. Even in the bizarre playing environment that 2020 brought, it (again) seemed like Gardner was toast.

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