Media, fans, and the baseball community in general love to talk about the New York Yankees’ potent bullpen, and with good reason. Aroldis Chapman, the closer, hasn’t even pitched this season, but the unit has been kept afloat thanks to guys like Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle (now out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery) David Hale, Nick Nelson, and others.
However, one of them stands above the rest. Chad Green is, as of Wednesday afternoon, the Yankees’ fWAR leader with 0.3. Yes, even higher than Gerrit Cole (0.2.) The sample is extremely small, and yet, as we’re already more than a sixth of the way through the season, it may as well be noted.
Green has been nothing short of excellent this year. In eight frames, he has allowed no runs and only one hit. He has one walk (intentional!) and 11 punchouts.
He’s even rocking a new curveball, one that he worked hard during the offseason to develop and practice. He looks confident on the mound, and his stuff looks nasty.
What’s behind his success?
The key for Chad Green has not been his slider. It hasn’t been his new curveball, either, although both pitches look great and, to be successful in the long haul, he is going to need them both. For me, the most crucial development that has fueled his immaculate performance so far has been the command of his fastball.
It’s hard enough for hitters to square up, or even hit, a 95 mph fastball, which is what Green is averaging this year (95.2, per Statcast, to be exact.) But if batters get that kind of velocity in the corners of the strike zone, the task is made even more difficult.
Here, for example, you can see how he painted the corners on his July 31 appearance against the Boston Red Sox:
Here is Green, live, dotting the outside corner with his heater:
Green has finished 20 at-bats with his fastball: he has struck out 10 batters, while the others were out on contact. None of them has a hit, not even a single.
Historically, when Green has struggled, it has been mainly because the command of his fastball has been off. Thankfully, he has shown the ability to adjust. Ever since he got demoted to the minor leagues on April 24, 2019 after starting last season with a ghastly 16.43 ERA, he demonstrated that he fixed what ailed him after pitching to a 2.64 ERA since he got recalled on May 12.
Now, with a full offseason plus the extended break, he used the time to develop new tricks. His curveball looks like a legit weapon, even if we still don’t have enough data to say whether it is effective or not:
The curveball is somewhat similar to the slider but it is a little faster (83.9 mph, compared to the slider’s 83.1) and it has a little less spin (2472 to 2577 rpm.) The hook also has less horizontal break. Baseball Savant has Green throwing the slider 15.2% of the time and the curve 8.9%.
Yet, if his success is going to be sustainable, the velocity and command of his heater have to be on point, as he throws the pitch 74.7% of the time. It has so far. In a season of small samples and hot streaks, maybe we’ll look back on 2020 as the year Chad Green carried the Yankee bullpen.