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.
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.