In 2017, Chad Green had an average leverage index of just 0.81. That was with a a 1.83 ERA and 103 strikeouts over 69 innings. I can’t imagine that lack of high leverage pitching repeating itself, especially after his Wild Card Game performance. This year, he has an ERA that is remarkably similar—1.73—but his average leverage index is now 1.33. He’s not only still their best reliever, but also the best reliever in the best situations.
Since the beginning of last season, only three relievers have accrued more fWAR than Green—Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, and Roberto Osuna. He is the only one in the top 15 to not record a single save. He is also ninth in strikeout rate, 19th in BABIP against, and he is first in RE24. The only ingredient missing from making him number one in most value was the leverage, and now he is there.
Yet there’s actually something interesting going on with Green, which is bucking the trend of both the league and the team’s usual strategy. While the league has embraced the trend of decreasing fastball percentage, Green has leaned further into it to an extreme degree:
Not only has he cut out his peripheral pitches entirely, he has also tanked the usage of his slider, which was a rather effective pitch in his successful 2017 run. Green commented on why he did this last month:
“The toughest adjustment was finding what to do in between outings. Obviously as a starter you have exactly what you’re doing everyday... Another adjustment was trying to attack guys right from the first pitch knowing that as a starter you might have two innings to settle in and find that one pitch that’s going to get you through the outing. Just trying to come in and attack guy right from the first pitch, knowing it can snowball pretty quick if you’re not locked in mentally.”
It’s clearly effective, as just five fastballs on contact were even classified as “barrels” since the beginning of last year. It’s no one attribute in particular—nothing even about the velocity or spin rate distinguishes him in a particular way. That’s what makes his emergence so remarkable. His command of his pitches is so remarkable, though, which isn’t something you can easily quantify. It’s just that he attacks the zone with a 97 mph fastball that has excellent arm-side run—no other explanation needed.
I would imagine that over time, he’ll need to diversify from fastball/slider by adding a two-seamer or cutter, but as of now, he’s still one of the best relievers in the game. Per ZiPS, he’s on track to finish the season with 1.9 WAR and a 2.67 ERA. Considering he is even more fastball-heavy than usual, we could see him gain on projections down the stretch. He very well could be the best non-closing reliever not named Adam Ottavino or Andrew Miller.