Not much has gone right for Chad Green early this season. After emerging as one of the team’s essential bullpen arms over the last two years, a few bad outings have pushed Green down in the pecking order. Unfortunately, it only got worse on Sunday. Up 5-0 against Kansas City, Green was handed a low leverage opportunity to help himself right the ship. After three hitters and no outs recorded, enough was enough. Adam Ottavino eventually allowed those inherited runners to score, but the performance ballooned Green’s ERA to 12.27 in just over seven innings of work.
Green’s problems generally boil down to hard contact and a lack of whiffs, as Bobby wrote about recently. Interestingly, as Bobby noted, hitters have historically been able to clobber Green’s trademark fastball, but only when they actually are able to make contact. As last season wore on, hitters gradually became more successful at putting bat on ball against the pitch, and this season that phenomenon has hit Green like a freight train.
Logically, it makes sense that major league hitters will eventually figure a pitcher out with enough looks, but this still seems weird to me. It’s not like the league suddenly figured out Green threw a ton of fastballs late last season. He’s been doing it for a couple of years now. Perhaps the pitch is simply more hittable now.
A few things that make any given pitch hittable are velocity, spin rate, movement, and location. Let’s see what’s going on with Green’s fastball. It’s his bread and butter, after all, and what made him successful in the first place.
Yikes. His fastball velocity has fallen significantly since last May. Maybe he’s still building up velocity, like many hurlers do early in the year, but that’s still an alarming trend.
Green’s fastball spin rate has dropped, albeit slightly, since 2017. It’s at 2434 RPM this season, down 10 RPM from 2018 and 50 from 2017. Probably within the margin of error, so I don’t think there’s much to make of this. He’s still comfortably above league average in that department. Movement-wise, Green’s fastball has always been pretty straight. Yet, because of his spin, it’s deceptive and has a rising quality (even though that’s physically impossible). Simply put, it just doesn’t drop as much thanks to backspin. And unsurprisingly, his movement on the pitch hasn’t altered. All good news here, at least.
What about location? Green’s never been a command guy, and hasn’t needed to be.
As you can see, Green pours fastballs over the heart of the plate, and that hasn’t changed early this season.
So really, the only thing that has changed is Green’s fastball velocity. Is that really enough to result in this?
I don’t know. I mean, surely a slightly slower fastball makes for a little more contact. But, it’s not like Green has gone from a mid-90s heater to high-80s. It’s still humming in there at 95 miles per hour with great spin to boot.
Maybe it really is just a matter of hitters growing accustomed to Green’s patented offering. It took some time, but perhaps opponents have finally adjusted to Green’s approach. It’s never been a secret that Green was going to attack hitters with the fastball, but even knowing that didn’t hinder his success. That’s a testament to how effective the pitch has been for him historically, as it took a long time for hitters to finally start improving against it.
If Green can make something of his slider or re-introduced splitter, perhaps his fastball can return to its former glory. He’s certainly trying to incorporate those pitches, as his fastball usage has decreased this year (albeit still at a very high 72 percent clip). Still, they aren’t even average options at this time, which ostensibly makes it easier to key in on the fastball.
Last but not least, it’s still really early in the year. Green’s not going to run a 30 percent home run to fly ball rate, .375 BABIP, and 50.9 percent strand rate all season. He’d have to be truly broken to do that. Some regression to the mean must be coming, even if he remains a one-pitch pitcher.
For the time being, it makes sense for Aaron Boone to deploy Green in low leverage situations like Sunday. It’s incredibly frustrating that he couldn’t get the job done then, but those are also the only spots he really deserves at this point. Let him earn his way back into important situations. His fastball is still good enough to get hitters out, but perhaps he needs to work out the kinks in low stress situations. Whether that’s refining command by aiming for the corners a bit more or getting a better feel for his secondary stuff, Green will have to counter the rest of the league’s adjustment to his fastball. Hopefully that’s sooner rather than later, because this bullpen needs help.