As each day of summer camp passes, a clearer picture of which Yankees will be game-ready come Opening Day begins to emerge. For the most part, the batters have been overmatched by the pitching, to be expected given the roughly two weeks it usually takes for hitters to find their timing. Still, there are some pitchers who are further along in their fitness and execution than others at this point.
Chad Green is one such pitcher. Green has looked sharp in all of his outings this summer, blowing away some of the best Yankees hitters on his trademark fastball. The ease with which he throws the gas makes it all the more surprising how explosive it comes out of his hand and how outclassed some batters have been.
We all know how electric Green’s fastball is. In fact, from 2017 to 2019, it was the best fastball of any reliever by FanGraphs’ pitch value metric at 43.0. The question has always been whether he can maintain a consistent secondary pitch to keep hitters from sitting dead red. During that same time frame, Green’s slider, which he threw around 17% of the time, was below average according to FanGraphs.
This is where rookie pitching coach Matt Blake has already started to work his magic. During Spring Training 1.0 on a YES broadcast of the Yankees-Nationals exhibition, David Cone linked the improvement in what he was seeing from Green’s slider to input from Blake. Then on Tuesday, Ryan Ruocco briefly reiterated on the YES broadcast of the intrasquad simulation game that Green was indeed working on a new breaking pitch with Matt Blake. Green confirmed these reports in his press conference following the game speaking with Meredith Marakovits on YES:
Yeah that goes back to the offseason, the first offseason, just talking with [Blake]. Just wanted to get something with more depth on it, something to change a hitter’s eye level... So right now it feels good, it’s just gonna be continuing to get the shape I want, speed I want, just to get as many reps with it as possible.
Green also recognized that at times he relied too heavily on his fastball and became predictable. He acknowledged the value of adding a secondary offering to his arsenal:
I think it’s no secret that I tend to be one-dimensional at times, just not having a secondary pitch that I trust too much. So it’s just being more comfortable, being more versatile, getting some easier outs, not having to grind through every inning [and] every at-bat.
In his analysis during that spring training game, Cone detailed exactly what Blake brought to the table on the mechanical side of pitching. Cone credited Blake as an expert at pitch design, or manipulating a pitch’s spin axis and spin efficiency (more on this next week).
He praised both Blake’s intricate knowledge of the science behind pitching, as well as his ability as a communicator to tailor the pitch shape to a given pitcher’s strengths as well as present the mechanical tweak in easily actionable language. According to Cone, a major factor in Trevor Bauer’s ascendence in 2018 was Blake’s input on how to redesign his curveball to achieve a desired effect.
Blake appears to have brought this expertise to the Bronx.
Here, in a game against the Indians from 2017, you can see his slider has nice tight break with about equal amounts vertical and horizontal movement, but lacks depth. It’s the kind of slider you worry could end up as a cement mixer over the heart of the plate if not executed perfectly.
In this clip, the improvement on Green’s slider is clear. He gets way more depth on the pitch, starting at Sanchez’s thighs and ending up in the dirt. You do not have to be a Yankees fan to recognize that pitch is filthy.
The steep drop he has added to the pitch (under the tutelage of Blake) is what turns it into a legitimate weapon. Opposing batters have to cheat on his fastball, and with a pitch with this much vertical break, Green can start it in the same tunnel as his four-seamer and still have it end up below the zone. He can make this pitch look like a fastball out of the hand, and for longer during its flight, therefore generating a tremendous increase in the amount of swings and misses. Additionally, because players will now have to respect this pitch, his fastball becomes all the more lethal.
Chad Green could prove to be the most valuable reliever for the Yankees in this shortened season. His versatility to open games for multiple innings is an invaluable asset for the Yankees. His poise in high-leverage situations in the fireman role is also a tremendous weapon at the front end of the bullpen. With the help of pitching coach Matt Blake, it appears the lanky righty has added a second devastating pitch to his repertoire, which can propel him to the elite tier of relief pitchers in MLB, and the Yankees to a successful season.