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Game 47: A walk-off walk

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The Yankees have now won six straight games with this afternoon’s 5-4 victory over the White Sox. It came in pretty unconventional fashion, but a win’s a win. Aaron Judge’s ninth inning walk-off walk against Liam Hendriks was the difference in this one. It picked up a rough day for the bullpen, including Aroldis Chapman’s first blown save of the season. With that, let’s get to today’s takeaways:

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Game 12: Bats go quiet after hot start in walk off loss to Toronto

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The Yankees dropped this afternoon’s affair to the Blue Jays, 5-4. Bo Bichette, who homered twice in this one, delivered a walk off home run against Chad Green in the ninth. The Yankees are now 5-7 and have lost three of the four series they’ve played thus far.

Corey Kluber delivered another less-than-ideal outing and the offense sputtered again. The bullpen kept the Yankees in the game, but the relievers can only keep doing so much. I’ll expand on Kluber, the bats, and the ‘pen in the takeaways from this one after the jump.

The bullpen: A great stable of arms [2021 Season Preview]

Newbie Darren O’Day sure knew how to endear himself to a fanbase, huh? There clearly was some intent in that comment early this month. As you may recall, Rays’ manager Kevin Cash touted his stable of guys who throw 98 last year in response to the beef the Yankees and Rays had. It sounded a bit threatening after Aroldis Chapman threw some chin music to Mike Brosseau. Granted, the Rays got the last laugh. It’s a new year though, and this bullpen is clearly pretty good, as O’Day said.

The locks

Although Aroldis Chapman‘s high octane fastball is no longer unique among his peers, he’s still one of the league’s best closers. He’ll continue to blow his upper-90s heat by hitters in 2021, but that might not be his only big threat anymore. Sure, his slider has been effective at times in the past, but this year, Chapman plans to incorporate the splitter he teased last season. It’s looked pretty nasty in camp.

As tantalizing as that split looks, there’s one ultimate goal for Chapman this season: to record the clinching out of the World Series rather than end his year like the previous two postseasons. One last note: Chapman will serve a two-game suspension to start the season as a result of this aforementioned incident against the Rays last season.

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.

ALDS Game 4: Yankees Live to See Another [Gleyber] Day

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The Yankees aren’t done yet. They beat the Rays 5-1 to force a deciding Game 5 tomorrow night in San Diego. The Bombers finally got a well pitched game from someone other than Gerrit Cole and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Let’s get to the takeaways:

Gleyber Day arrives just when the Yankees needed it. The shortstop’s 2-run homer in the sixth inning gave the Yankees some breathing room, putting the Bombers up 4-1. Up until that point, I had a lingering concern that an earlier wasted opportunity — scoring just one run after loading the bases with no one out in the second inning — would later haunt the Yankees. Thankfully it didn’t, and Gleyber’s bomb eased those concerns:

What a shot. How many dingers would the Yankees send over the Western Metal Supply Co. building if this was actually the team’s home ballpark?

Keep in mind that Gleyber fouled a ball off his shin in his previous at bat against Yarbrough. It took a while for him to get back in the box after it, too. I guess it’s safe to say he’s OK now!

By the way, Torres reached base two other times this one. Once via single, once via walk. He stole a base in the ninth and scored a run too. He had a really nice series against Cleveland last week, but had been relatively quiet until tonight against the Rays. Nice to see a big game from him tonight. Would be even better to see him carry it into tomorrow.

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