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Breaking down Chad Green’s wild card appearance

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Just when an elimination grew dire, the Yankees’ best reliever stepped in.

MLB: AL Wildcard-Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I can’t say what the future holds, but I can say what just happened: Chad Green was the best reliever on the Yankees this year. In a year from now, that might not be the case, but for now it is. Even though it took quite a while for Joe Girardi to allow him into the circle of trust, it was in a way foisted upon him when he dealt with the troubles of Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. His ERA- (37) is fifth among relievers and his FIP- (38) is third; by Baseball Prospectus’ DRA- he is 16th.

On Tuesday’s do-or-die wild card game, Green played an incredibly important role. After Luis Severino allowed three runs including two home runs, he also put runners on second and third with just one out. I’m going to focus on this appearance and this inning in particular, because I think it best demonstrates his value, magnified.

With this dire situation, where another bad turn could put the Yankees in a likely insurmountable position, Green had to navigate Byron Buxton and Jason Castro.

Byron Buxton

First, Green starts Buxton off with an 86.5 mph slider low and away, which is his second weakest area next to up and in. Then, on pitch two, he actually gives him something to hit:

Even though that’s in somewhat of a sweeter spot, you can see that late tail doesn’t allow him to make contact.

Then, another slider low and away. He goes back to the slider again, but this time it doesn’t miss:

He realizes it’s not going to run in on him, but it’s so hard and has such late break that his swing reaction time is too late, and he misses.

On the last pitch, he goes right back to the fastball, right to the area where Buxton hits worst:

What makes Green’s fastball elite isn’t even the velocity, that’s almost the norm for pitchers of his caliber. It’s the backspin and arm-side run, what one would call “life,” and it’s not easy to catch.

Jason Castro

In this case, there’s no fooling with the slider. He has enough confidence in his fastball to go right after Castro, and justifiably so: he only has a .400 slugging percentage against all fastballs in his career, and Green’s is much better than average.

The blue also matches exactly where Green hit his pitches, meaning he is absolutely spotting his pitches effectively. He throws five straight fastballs, with only one missing outside, and finishing him off with the fastest pitch of his inning: 97.8 mph.

On this last pitch he once again generates the late arm-side tail, and he makes it look like it’s going to hit the outside edge, and then just zips by him.

The value of this can’t be overstated. Before Green entered the game the Yankees had an 18.2% chance of winning according to FanGraphs, so imagine if he comes in and allows those two runners to score. 18.2% becomes something like 10%, and possibly things go differently.

Of course he gets the credit for the performance, but Girardi gets credit for calling him in so early. It took him time to come around, but now that he knows that Green is one of the best relievers in the bullpen, he should look to use him as a fireman during the divisional series. They’re going to find themselves against the wall again, and he’ll be even more important then.