It’s not even May, but Yankee fans have already been treated to a season’s worth of not-so-fun surprises. There’s obviously the myriad of injuries, but there’s also a handful of healthy players who have gotten off to bad starts too. Chad Green might be the poster child for the latter category.
After using his fastball to dominate the league in 2017, hitters geared up for the pitch last year, and while Green was still a great bullpen arm, he took a noticeable step back. This season, the 27-year-old righty has been uncharacteristically bad and with an already depleted pitching staff, the Yankees need to get him back on track. Improving fastball command and off-speed pitch usage are vital for Green if he’s to return to a familiar form.
In case you forgot, Chad Green’s pitching line this season is 6.1 innings, 8 hits, 7 runs, 3 home runs, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks, and 1 hit batsman. Just over half of his pitches have gone for strikes and when he is in the zone, he’s getting crushed. However, pinpointing the cause of these horrid results isn’t exactly easy.
The data available to us shows Green’s fastball command is all over the place. Take a look his 2019 heatmap:
That much red and orange outside the strike zone is a bad, bad sign. By comparison, check out his 2017 heatmap:
Much easier on the eyes, no? The map from 2017 shows us that Green used to command his fastball just about anywhere in the zone. Yes, the deepest reds in the heatmap are in the middle, but that doesn’t mean he just grooved fastballs to hitters. He worked the ball up and side-to-side quite a bit too. These two images make it clear that Green’s command right now isn’t what it once was.
Pitch command is inextricably tied to mechanics. By Green’s own admission, he’s working to address those issues right now, but it’s not clear to the public what those might be. I’m no coach or scout, so I won’t pretend to have the expertise required to diagnose some mechanical issue. There hasn’t been significant change in his fastball release point from last year to 2019, so it seems unlikely that would be the culprit. Re-discovering his fastball likely won’t fix all of his problems, but it will at least get him back into familiar territory.
For Green to continue being All-Star-level reliever, he needs to continue his commitment to developing his offspeed pitches. Green’s offspeed offerings, or lack thereof, are something I’ve written about before, and while he’s throwing more non-fastballs this year, he’s still overwhelmingly a fastball pitcher. To some extent, that will always be the case. Green is not going to give up his best weapon, nor should he. Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement in the pitch usage department.
As of this writing, Green is still throwing more fastballs than he did back in 2017 even after re-introducing a splitter. The plate discipline statistics show hitters are swinging at pitches in the zone at a much higher than league average rate. Additionally, hitters are making contact on pitches in the zone at a slightly above average rate. Essentially, Green isn’t keeping batters honest. They know a fastball in the zone is coming, and they’ve taken advantage.
Of course, simply throwing more offspeed pitches doesn’t guarantee more outs. Green’s going to need to spot his offspeed pitches, particularly his splitter, better than he has so far. At the moment, he’s hung more splitters than he’s buried. Regardless, Green can’t just give up the pitch. Hitters adjusted to his very-fastball-heavy approach last year. It’s Green’s turn to adjust back now. He has to continue down the path of more secondary offerings to get back to form.
Perhaps the scariest possibility out of this whole situation is that Green might be hurt. Last season, Tommy Kahnle came into the year with diminished command and velocity and looked a lot like Chad Green does now. We now know not only was Kahnle hurt, but he also tried to pitch through the pain, which is always a terrible idea. As long as Green is healthy, it’s within reason to believe he can rebound after such a poor start. He just needs to rediscover his fastball and keep throwing more offspeed pitches.