Within the Yankees’ bullpen, there’s a clear hierarchy. Aroldis Chapman is the closer, Dellin Betances is the fireman or eighth inning reliever depending on the day, while the combo of Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino are hilariously miscast in late-to-middle inning relief. That’s a comedy of weapons.
Oh yeah, and then there’s Chad Green.
After a lesser but still great 2018 to follow up his dominant 2017, Green can get forgotten as the middle relief ace without the big contract or All-Star accolades. The right-hander took a bit of a downturn last year, as could be expected after his wildly successful previous season, and there are a few questions.
So after the customary projections, let’s look into three questions about Green for the 2019 season.
- 2018 production: 2.50 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 75 2/3 IP, 63 games, 11.18 K/9, 1.78 BB/9, 1.07 HR/9, 1.8 fWAR, 2.3 bWAR
- 2019 ZiPS: 2.70 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 73 1/3 IP, 61 games, 11.17 K/9, 2.33 BB/9, 0.86 HR/9, 1.6 WAR
- Steamer: 3.33 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 70 IP, 70 games, 11.29 K/9, 2.57 BB/9, 1.19 HR/9, 1.1 WAR
- PECOTA: 3.21 ERA, 3.55 DRA, 64 IP, 60 games, 11.1 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 1.14 HR/9, 1.2 WARP
While Steamer and PECOTA predict a further downturn in his results, they still have him as a one WAR reliever, which is tremendous for your fifth-most important asset in the bullpen. They’re all bullish on his ability to keep up his strikeout numbers despite them heading in the wrong direction last year. His walk rate, which improved to an elite level in 2018, has a wide range in these projections.
Furthermore, none of them see him as much more than a one-inning reliever, which is a question for later in the post. But first, let’s try to nail down Green’s repertoire.
Is the fastball enough?
Green has one of the best fastballs in baseball. His 96.1 mph average is in the 92nd percentile and his spin 2444 rpm is 91st percentile, both according to Statcast. His 40.7 percent strikeout rate in 2017 was third in baseball behind Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Janson. It dropped significantly in 2018 but was still 92nd percentile at 31.5 percent. Meanwhile, he consistently threw it for strikes with a 5.0 percent overall walk rate.
Green significantly increased his usage of his fastball in 2018 and it didn’t exactly pay off. In a variation of Domenic’s graph in the 2018 Season Review, here’s a look at how his fastball varied from year to year (stats from Statcast).
|Average Velocity||95.8 mph||96.1 mph|
|Average Spin Rate||2,484 rpm||2,444 rpm|
|Exit Velocity||89.8 mph||92.0 mph|
As you can see, outside of a slight increase in velocity and decrease in walk rate, his numbers declined across the board. It’s worth noting that A. Those were still tremendous numbers outside of the exit velocity and B. His 2017 was absurd, so expecting him to repeat it was foolish.
Still, as baseball adjusts to high velocity, will he be able to maintain his reliance on the fastball? To a certain extent, yes. The 27-year-old righty is in his physical prime and as long as the velocity and spin rate are comfortably above average, he’s still a valuable pitcher.
However, if he wants to remain elite or even duplicate his 2017 success, he needs to find a secondary offering that will keep hitters honest. The fastball-heavy approach doesn’t work in certain matchups, notably against Boston, though few teams had an approach that worked against the Sox’s offense. After a few rough regular-season outings, the Sox scored one run over 3 2/3 against him in October with seven baserunners and zero strikeouts.
Green’s exit velocity allowed was 89.3 mph in 2017 and jumped to 91.0 percent, both in the bottom two percentile of the league. His barrel % against rose to 10.6 percent. Batters are squaring up his pitches more and whether a change in location, pitch selection or both, he’ll need to find a new approach to reverse that trend.
What’s the deal with his secondary pitches?
OK, Green is great with mostly just one pitch, but what else does he have?
The right-hander saw his slider decrease in effectiveness as he cut back on its usage. The sample size was small (64 plate appearances and 237 pitches in 2017 with 30 PAs and 129 pitches in 2018), but he saw declines in whiff rate, batting average against and ISO against. It’s intriguing to see the Yankees let, or perhaps encourage, Green to go away from the slider when they tend to favor offspeed pitches.
|Average Velocity||85.6 mph||87.1 mph|
|Average Spin Rate||2,165 rpm||2,269 rpm|
|Exit Velocity||87.2 mph||86.9 mph|
Again, it’s hard to read too much into this and it’s partially due to Green giving up two homers on sliders in 2018 compared to none in 2017. He was more homer-happy overall, allowing nine in 2018, five more than the previous season.
Green turned to his four-seamer to the point that he eschewed his seldom-used cutter, sinker and changeup as he became fully adapted to his bullpen role. Instead, he broke out a split-finger pitch with limited frequency as his third pitch, throwing it 40 times, according to Statcast. He only threw it once against righties, instead using it to get left-handed batters to swing and miss.
Brooks Baseball shows that he didn’t use the splitter at all last season until August 2018. That could mean that he implemented it in response to a poor July, though it probably came from more work than that.
Green got whiffs on the splitter nearly half the time, an impressive rate in a small sample. He’s continued to use it this spring, getting the following strikeout against the Orioles’ Steve Wilkerson (Gif via MLB.TV).
Gotta love that action diving down and away from the lefty.
Is the splitter going to be as good as his fastball? No, yet anything Green can come up with to balance out his trusty four-seamer would give him a chance to avoid the normal fungibility of relievers and stay on top of his game. Whether it’s the splitter, slider or something else, he’ll need a secondary pitch in the long term.
What is Green’s role now?
From this amateur perspective, Green is behind the Yankees’ top four in the bullpen due to contract, performance or whatever other reasons you can throw out. Based on his numbers the last two years, Green is equal to the high-leverage tasks that those pitchers will be thrown into, and he’s clearly a notch above Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle and whomever the eighth man is.
So how will Aaron Boone utilize Green? One option that separates Green is his ability to work as a multi-inning reliever. We’ve seen Betances, in particular, used in that spot at times, though mostly in the postseason. Green threw just 6 2/3 more innings in 2018 while appearing in 23 more games, seeing his multi-inning appearances go down but not fully dissipate.
Considering the Yankees’ depth, that could mean Green takes higher leverage, fireman spots earlier in the game. With two of Luis Cessa, Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga getting April starts, they’re going to need quality long relief from the get-go. Using Green for longer outings both shortens the game by getting the ball to the other ace relievers while preserving some of his fellow pen mates for other games.
In that way, the Yankees can operate with two entirely separate bullpens every other day, using Green and, let’s say, Britton to get to Chapman one day while Ottavino and Betances lock down the high leverage spots on others.
Last season, many of those high leverage outings in the fifth and sixth inning seemingly went to Jonathan Holder, who was up for the task. Will he be as reliable this year in what was essentially the Adam Warren role? If not, Green may need to take the less glamorous but still needed spots there rather than getting seventh and eighth inning spots.
Green could also be the Yankees’ most effective opener. He has recent starting experience and doesn’t have platoon splits (or may even have reverse ones based on his strikeout rates). If the team needs someone to take the top of the lineup before giving the ball to Cessa or whoever is the spot starter, Green is a good bet.