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Chad Green is having a weird 2018 season

The Yankees stalwart is having a great no-contact year, but boy, is he ever hit hard

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Does it feel like Chad Green is more vulnerable than he was last year? 2017 was the season of Green, as the righthander came out of virtually nowhere to be the Yankees’ best relief pitcher. His 1.80 ERA and 1.75 FIP, 2.4 fWAR and staggering 13.43 K/9 gave former manager Joe Girardi an unbelievable level of bullpen depth, and his ability to work multiple innings quickly led him to become a security blanket of sorts. If a starter had to leave a game early, Green could be counted on to come in, work through an order at least once, and keep the score what it was. The 2017 AL Wild Card game is a perfect example of this Green Doctrine.

Aaron Boone was fully expected to continue with the Doctrine in 2018, but he really hasn’t. This season just 39% of Green’s outings have involved him working more than one inning, compared to 75% in 2017. At first glance, this might seem like the problem itself, but more likely Boone’s hesitation to let Green work longer is a symptom of a completely different problem; Chad’s dropoff in effectiveness.

It’s hard to evaluate Green’s raw numbers since they’re still pretty excellent. He’s striking out 11.8 men per nine, good for third on the team. He’s even stingier with his walks than he was last year, and ranks behind only Jonathan Holder in BB/9 at 1.8. By the most basic gauges of pitching performance, he’s been as good as ever.

The trouble with Chad Green is the same trouble that a number of Yankees have fallen into this season: the contact they give up is scary contact. The best way to examine Green’s scary contact is our old friend Statcast:

Everything’s gotten worse!

But since we’re talking about the Green Doctrine, we should really compare Green to the other “high leverage” options in Boone’s bullpen, since those are the choices he has in any given game. By my count, there are five of these guys, and this is how their Statcast marks have changed between 2017 and 2018:

Just like last year, Green gives up the hardest contact of the Big 5 relievers, but the rate of increase is only 1.7 mph, much less than Betances and Chapman have seen this year. The problem with Green isn’t how hard the ball’s being hit, but rather how often balls are being hit hard:

Green gets barreled up more often than the rest of the key Yankee relievers, and has seen a staggering 94% increase in his barrel% over last season, by far the biggest percentage increase of the Big 5. He’s got to find a way to avoid contact, or you can expect Green to be even less reliable as the season goes on.

So what can be done?

The biggest process change for Green this season has been his reliance on his fastball. He leaned on it a lot in 2017, throwing it 67.7% of the time, the second-highest fastball usage on the team. In 2018, he’s gone to the fastball 86% of his pitches, a number that outpaces even Aroldis Chapman’s usage of the four seamer.

It’s entirely possible this jump in fastball usage has been detrimental for Green, and the facts tend to point to that direction. Opponents managed just a .369 OPS against Green’s fastball in 2017, and are posting a .550 OPS against it this season. A .550 OPS against is still really strong, but the growth shows a real concern that Green’s fastball is being timed better by major league hitters.

For the Green Doctrine to stay effective, Chad’s got to figure out how to avoid contact more than he has so far in 2018. To do that, he may want to edge away from his fastball, and like most of the Yankee pitchers, work on delivering breaking balls to the plate and keep hitters off balance. He’s too valuable to this team to stay as vulnerable to scary contact.