When the Yankees arrived a year “early” in 2017, they required a number of players to put in surprising performances. Stunning seasons from Aaron Judge and Luis Severino garnered the loudest headlines, but the Yankees’ playoff run last year was also helped along by lower-profile breakouts. Among them was Chad Green, who transformed from a fringy starting prospect to flame-throwing shutdown reliever.
Whether Green could sustain his breakout, rather than regress, was a big question entering 2018. Fortunately, Green spent the season consolidating his gains and cementing himself as one of the league’s top relief arms. He wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in 2017, but Green was still consistently one of the Yankees’ best options out of the bullpen.
2018 Statistics: 75.2 IP, 2.50 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 11.2 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 1.04 WHIP
2019 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, arbitration eligible in 2020, free agent after 2022
2017 truly was a difficult act for Green to follow. Green was shockingly good during his second year, posting a 1.85 ERA in 69 innings as a multi-inning fireman. He struck out more than 13 batters per nine, and walked just over two per nine.
Compared just to 2017, Green’s 2018 would be a disappointment. That’s not a fair expectation, though, and in totality, Green was about as excellent as could have been reasonably expected. Green didn’t prevent runs or strike out batters at quite the same rate, but his underlying skills appeared to be similar.
After averaging just over 96 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2017, per Brooks Baseball, Green actually bumped up his velocity, averaging 96.5 mph in 2018. His fastball remained one of the highest spinning pitches in the league, averaging a spin rate over 2400 according to Statcast.
Where Green regressed a bit was in terms of his slider. Green’s breaking pitch was a perfect complement to his high-spin heater last year, as opposing batters hit just .194 and slugged .274 against the slider. Green threw his slider less this year, however, and in a small sample opposing batters hit .414 with a .655 slugging percentage against the pitch.
Green probably curtailed his slider usage because of its ineffectiveness. He used the pitch 23% of the time in 2017, but just 10% of the time in 2018. That usage tailed off as the season progressed:
Perhaps in response to his less effective slider, Green toyed with an offspeed pitch late in the year. Statcast classified 40 of his pitches in August and September as changeups, and those pitches did find success, as 45% of them generated whiffs. For what it’s worth, Green certainly played well after introducing the change, posting a 1.82 ERA and .587 OPS allowed in 21 appearances after unveiling his new pitch.
Outside of his struggles with the slider, Green’s 2018 was hugely successful. His only poor month was July, when he gave up six runs with seven strikeouts in 11 innings. Otherwise, Green was money, posting double-digit strikeout rates and sub-4 ERA’s in every other month.
Given how volatile relief pitchers tend to be, it’s impossible to definitively declare any individual reliever a safe bet. Still, after two consecutive strong seasons, Green has established himself as top-end relief arm. He seems to have as good a chance as any to remain a high-caliber reliever for years to come.
With the Yankees’ future bullpen situation beginning to look murky, this is a crucial development. Both Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances can become free agents after next season, and David Robertson and Zach Britton are free agents right now. At this moment, Green is probably the Yankees’ most valuable reliever in terms of long-term future performance. They need Green to continue to solidify himself as one of the game’s best.