It’s Spring Training, which means it’s prime time for players looking to improve their game. We’ve already seen Clint Frazier tweak his stance and Gary Sánchez change up his defensive positioning. With a new pitching coach in Matt Blake, though, it was only a matter of time before we saw some pitchers get in on the action, too.
Chad Green is one of those pitchers to add a new pitch. That’s not a surprise, considering how much he relies on his fastball (more on that in a second). To that end, Green is now utilizing a curveball. Green has never featured one before, at least not in his Major League career.
Adding a real secondary pitch is something of an annual exercise for Green, but it’s still worth a real look. Of course, this is still Grapefruit League action, which means I need to include an obvious caveat: none of this really means anything yet. He has used the pitch in a game, though. That means the curve graduated from post-bullpen session chatter into something tangible. I think that merits a look. Let’s get right into it.
Long-Time Fastball Reliance
Chad Green is one of my favorite Yankee pitchers to analyze for many reasons. One of the prime ones is the fact that he’s found so much success as a one-trick pony. Consider that Green has a 3.13 ERA (3.16 FIP, 72 ERA-) in 259.1 IP, during which time he’s struck out a third of all batters he’s faced. He’s one of baseball’s elite relievers. This is even more impressive in its proper context: Green is a one-pitch pitcher. Check it out:
Overall, that adds up to about a 75% usage rate on the ol’ fastball. The other offerings – a slider and splitter – are “show me” pitches he flashes to keep hitters off-balance. Each and every spring, though, hope springs eternal that a real secondary pitch will come; last year, for example, he was going to use his splitter more. The idea was that it would complement the fastball. As you can see from the above graph, though, it didn’t quite work out that way. In fact, he threw only 26 of them, including this 87 mph cement mixer:
Yup, that’ll be a grand slam. No wonder he left that pitch behind after his demotion. As for the slider, very few of them are even close to the zone, which is a tell-tale sign it’s not a real pitch:
Anyway, that Green is able to get by with just his fastball is a testament to how good that fastball is: at 2,465 RPM, his spin rate is in the 91st percentile in the league. Couple that with good velocity, and it is easy to see why he is successful. (The spin, plus Green’s length, makes the pitch seem even faster out of his hand.) The downside is that when batters hit Green, they hit him hard: average exit velocity off him ranks in the lowest 99% of the league. This has always been a problem for him. He just manages to miss enough bats to make it work.
In other words, Green really, really needs that fastball to have its zip and spin in order to have success. And while it’s great that Green has been good for a few years with just one pitch, his long-term prospects would really improve if he could augment his fastball with a real secondary pitch, splitter or otherwise. That’s why he’s experimenting this spring, much like he did last year. It’s a weakness he’s trying to correct. No surprises there.
Enter A New Curve
Enter his new curveball, which makes more sense to me than the splitter or slider. He featured the pitch a few times in Wednesday’s appearance against the Nationals. Check it out in all its glory:
Not bad! Obviously, the batter laid off the pitch, but it’s cool to see him using it in an 0-2 count. Here’s another offering a few pitches before that resulted in a 1-1 whiff:
That last GIF is pretty good, I think. The ball seems to break pretty late in the plane and also has a lot of downward action. It’s hard to judge off just a few pitches, but it’s encouraging anyway. There’s not much else to say about this other than the fact that it’s something worth monitoring for now. We’ll need to see it in more games to get a sense of how good the pitch is or even how likely it is to carry over into the regular season. But it’s an interesting start – and it could make a huge difference moving forward.
Why It Matters
It’s especially interesting because a curveball really makes sense for Green, given his arsenal. I’m surprised he didn’t try this earlier. It really makes sense for him. Check out Green’s fastball heat map:
Because he throws so many, his fastballs are everywhere, but it’s clear that Green lives at the top of the zone. That’s where the biggest cluster is. (This chart is from 2019, but you’ll see the same pattern in 2017 and 2018, too.) It’s also where he generates the highest percentage of whiffs:
Nothing revolutionary there: the high-spin, high-velocity fastball at the top of the zone is all the rage these days. It generates tons of whiffs. Just ask Gerrit Cole, who transformed himself in Houston by simply throwing more fastballs there. It’s no different for Green. It’s his calling-card. I mean, this is a familiar sight, right?
To me, the swinging strike three on a high fastball is just so, so pretty – and that’s where the curve comes in. The pitch makes so much sense because it’s such an obvious complement to a high fastball highlighted there. Let’s add the GIF from above again:
It is not difficult to see how those two pitches play off one another, right? That’s why this is a time-tested approach. With batters so focused on a high fastball, it makes sense for Green to try to fool them with a power curve that drops off the table. That’s the idea, anyway. (If pitching was easy, everyone would do it!) With Green, it may be even more effective given the fact that hitters are really looking for the heater, especially up in the zone. Even more against him than his colleagues: it’s been his bread and butter for three seasons now, after all.
In my opinion, at least, that’s why the addition of a curveball makes a lot of sense for Green. While there’s a long way to go between now and then, adding a real secondary pitch can make a world of difference for him. While he has experimented with new pitches before, adding a curve is new. I personally think it’s exciting: a good one – or even an average one – would play off his existing strengths and may make Chad Green a potent bullpen force for years to come.