Going into the 2019 season, Chad Green looked to be one of the pillars of the Yankees’ dominant bullpen. Fresh off a two-year breakout during which he posted a 2.18 ERA and accumulated a total of 6 WAR as a reliever, there was no reason to expect anything less.
Of course, the bottom fell out in April when he posted a 16.43 ERA in ten appearances. However, following a stint in Triple-A Scranton, Green returned to form, posting a 2.64 ERA the rest of the way. In the process, he served as both a middle-innings reliever and as an opener (making 15 starts) with the ability to pitch multiple innings when necessary. It’s a role that he’ll likely continue to fill in 2020.
2019 Statistics: 69.0 IP, 4.17 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 12.8 K/9, 26.8 K%/BB%, 13.7 HR/FB%, 1.232 WHIP, 1.6 fWAR, 0.4 bWAR
2020 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 60 IP, 3.24 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 12.17 K/9, 1.04 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR
FanGraphs seems to expect Green to continue being a solid pitcher, albeit not necessarily the elite one he was in 2017 and 2018. Although his absolutely atrocious April does account for some of this regression in the projections, his success does remain dependent on one key factor: his ability to generate swings and misses.
Despite his elite performance out of the bullpen, Green has traditionally given up a lot of hard contact. Statcast, in fact, ranked him among the bottom 2% and 3% in the league in terms of hard hit percentage the last two years (42.6% in 2018 and 45.3% in 2019), the bottom 2% and 4% in barrel percentage (10.6%, 11.6%), and the bottom 1% in exit velocity (91.0, 91.5).
His breakout 2017 season, in which he posted a 1.83 ERA, is not immune from these trends either, as he gave up hard hits 43.87% of the time, with an average exit velocity of 89.3 MPH. What has allowed him to be so successful, however, is his ability to generate strikeouts while not giving up many free passes. He ranked among the top 9% in strikeout rate in the last three seasons (including being in the top 1% in 2017), and has walked batters at only a 6.3% rate throughout his career (the 2019 league average was 8.5%). He may have given up hard contact, but he rarely allowed the hitter to make contact and, when they did, rarely had runners on.
Finding a way to continue this will be the key to success for Green in 2020. Whether that means rediscovering his elite slider — which has seen its vertical movement drop by 5 whole inches, from 38.5 to 33.5, over the last two seasons — or continuing to work on more secondary offerings remains to be seen.
Fortunately for Green and the Yankees, even with the departure of Dellin Betances in free agency, the Yankees have a small army of quality relievers filling out the bullpen. Green does not necessarily need to be a top arm in baseball for the Yankees to find success. The Yankees would be perfectly content with him being a solid and dependable middle reliever who has no qualms serving as an opener when necessary.