In 2017, the Yankees enjoyed the benefit of a really deep relief corps. Coming into the season, the tent poles of that bullpen were expected to be Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. While both experienced periods of substandard play, their final numbers on the season both ended up being decent.
That bullpen got even deeper when a July trade with the White Sox brought David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle into the fold. Robertson was nearly flawless in the regular season, while Kahnle struck out 36 batters in just 26.2 innings.
Just right there you have four pitchers who came into the season with reputations as good relievers and put up results that somewhat validated their statuses. That’s not even mentioning Adam Warren, who posted a sub-3.00 ERA in nearly 60 innings. Yet the reliever who ended up having the best year for the Yankees ended up being the one who came into the season as one of the biggest question marks.
After acquiring Chad Green from the Tigers in a December 2015 trade, the Yankees used him mostly as a swingman in 2016. He made 12 appearances on the season, eight of them as a starter. Green had the occasional solid outing, but he mostly put up numbers you’d expect from a fringe fifth starter/swingman type: not awful, but still not great.
Green started 2017 doing more of the same in the minor leagues. He made five starts in Triple-A, and they weren’t great. In 26.2 innings, Green allowed 14 earned runs. On May 8th, he was called up to the majors after the bullpen had been forced to 11 innings in the 18-inning win against the Cubs the day before. Green made his season debut on the 9th, striking out two in a scoreless inning against the Reds.
His next appearance came five days later, and that would really be a sign of things to come. Luis Severino had been chased early against the Astros after allowing three runs. Green came in and induced a double play on the second pitch he threw, stranding the bases loaded. He went on to allow just two baseunners, striking out three in 3.2 scoreless innings as the Yankees came back to win 11-6.
Green had a some up and down outings over the next moth before making his lone start on June 11th. The remainder of Green’s innings on the season came out of the bullpen. In that time, he pitched 50.1 innings, allowed just nine runs, and struck out 80 batters. He was often tasked with going more than one inning, as 29 of his 39 relief outings lasted at least 1.1 innings. More often than not, he reward the Yankees with multiple scoreless innings.
His most notable appearance of the season came on August 30th against Cleveland. With the Yankees down 2-1, Jaime Garcia was removed after allowing a walk to start the sixth. Green came in, got a strikeout, and then got another as part of a double play as the runner attempted to steal.
Green would face eight batters in that game. He struck out seven of them. The Yankees lost the game, but the seven strikeouts is the most of any pitcher in major league history who faced eight or less batters.
In the playoffs, Green had one big blip, allowing the grand slam in the Game Two loss in the ALDS. He bounced back and went on to not allow an earned run in 6.1 innings in the ALCS. Green finished the season with a 1.83 ERA and 1.75 FIP. He ended up facing 253 batters over the course of the season. He struck out 103 of them.
Relievers notably can have wild swings from season to season, so it remains to be seen if Green can carry this over. His 2017 season did kind of come out of nowhere. That said, it happened. In a season where the Yankees had a bullpen with a bunch of good relievers, Green unexpectedly came away with the best results of any of them.