The Yankees boasted a historic bullpen last season, and their relief core figures to be a team strength once again in 2019. However, some questions regarding who will make up the bullpen still linger. Does Brian Cashman bring back David Robertson and/or Zach Britton? Will Aroldis Chapman shake off his injury troubles and maintain his velocity? Can Jonathan Holder repeat his 2018 performance?
Among these uncertainties lies Chad Green, who turned in another solid season after a dominant 2017 landed him among the best relievers in baseball. It would have been unfair to expect Green to once again pitch to a 1.75 FIP in 2018, and for the most part, Green was all Aaron Boone could have asked for. Admittedly pitching in situations he wasn’t used to, Green finished the season with a 2.50 ERA and a 2.86 FIP in 75 innings. His ERA would have been even better had it not been for a sluggish July, where he allowed six earned runs in 11 innings.
Part of that July swoon was the possibility of a scouting report being put together on Green, who after a season and a half in the majors, started to become slightly more predictable. Green’s fastball/slider combo became apparent to opposing hitters, who began to sit on his slider and avoid Green’s high-nineties fastballs up in the zone. As a response, Green cut back on the sliders, as you can see by his monthly pitch usage last season.
Not surprisingly, Green’s reluctance to throw his slider made him even more predictable, and his problems came to a head in July, as his fastball continued to get rocked. After all, hitters didn’t have to prepare for much else in terms of offspeed pitches.
Now, note the return back to normalcy in hitters’ slugging percentage against Green’s fastball come September. Also, in the first chart, note the sudden rise of a third pitch for Green, something he had been trying to master on the fly last season to give him another weapon in his arsenal. When he had it humming, it looked something like this:
Chad Green's season: got his slider blasted a several times, throws fastball mostly, hitters sat on his fastball, now has added this nasty splitter. pic.twitter.com/77qbL3AhSB— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) August 9, 2018
Of course, it took Green some time to work on it, but as he got a feel for his new pitch (sometimes classified as a splitter, other times as a changeup), his numbers returned to his 2017 form. Green pitched to a 1.40 FIP in September and October, while recording the highest monthly strikeout rate of his season (14.29 K/9).
This is what Green will hopefully focus on in the offseason and in spring training. We saw Luis Severino take a full offseason to develop his changeup, and he responded with a Cy Young-type season in 2017. Green can follow a similar path by perfecting this splitter. His slider usage once again increased in the playoffs, perhaps reverting back to what was familiar in the most important games of the year. It will be a different story come April if Green has had six months to work on his new weapon. Armed with another nasty pitch to attack hitters with, Green could wind up being the best arm in a deep Yankee bullpen come 2019.