For the past couple seasons, Chad Green has been one of the keys to the Yankees bullpen. Whether he was used as a fireman like in the 2017 Wild Card game or as a multi-inning force of doom, Green and his high-spin rate fastball have been one of the most effective relievers in all of baseball. What separates the Yankees’ bullpen from other bullpens in the game is guys like Chad Green. He isn’t the closer or the primary set-up man, yet during the 2017 season, he was arguably their best reliever.
In 2018, there were some signs of regression but nothing major. He went from an otherworldly 40% K rate to a stellar 32% K rate. For a guy who relies pretty much on one pitch, some regression was to be expected. Batters started to see him better, and I think crucially, started to see more guys like him in the game. The high-spin fastball rise has been well documented, and it makes sense that the more batters see pitches like that, the better they will become at hitting them.
This season, young as it is, has not been good for Chad Green. And with all the Yankee pitching injuries, getting him right is so important.
You can see here how compared to last year, he is relying slightly more on his off-speed pitches, likely because he became too predictable with the fastball. Green is also using his splitter more than in the past, and hopefully this pitch can help keep batters more honest. Interestingly, his pitch mix right now looks more like his excellent 2017 numbers than his merely awesome 2018 numbers. This trend will be worth monitoring throughout the season. Let’s take a look now at some of the advanced and predictive metrics to see what isn’t working.
A couple weeks ago, I used these Statcast rankings for all the Yankee pitchers to show how they fare according to Statcast. These numbers can help tell us how good or bad a pitcher is when it comes to various predictive metrics, and they can hint at future production or regression. Two numbers here stand out to me. The first is K%. I wrote above how Chad Green had excellent K% the last two years which you can see in the first two charts. However, this season his K% is abysmal, and is around 16%. That tells us that batters are not striking out against Green, and crucially that they are not swinging and missing against his pitches.
The second number to look at that concerns me is xwOBA. To quickly explain this alphabet soup, it tells us based on all the data, what should production look like against the pitcher. In 2017, you see how it was great. In 2018, you see how there was some regression, but Green still fared great. Thus far in 2019, damn that is bad. Hitters are faring well against him and that data tell us that production is justified.
FanGraphs classifies contact as soft, medium, or hard. Obviously pitchers want to maximize soft contact and minimize hard contact. In 2018, Green’s soft contact rate was about 15%, medium around 35%, and hard around 45%.
This year, the soft contact rate is down to only 5% and the medium and hard rates have risen to 45% and 50% respectively. That means 2/3 of the soft contact Green used to induce has switched to medium and hard contact. That means more hard hit balls and more damage.
Another important metric for a pitcher like Green is Z-contact % and O-Contact %. Conrad has written about these stats excellently in his past few articles about other Yankee pitchers, and basically they mean “when batters swing at pitches in the zone, how often do they make contact” and “when batters swing at pitches out of the zone, how often do they make contact.”
For a pitcher like Green, Z-contact % is super important because he relies on swings and misses on his fastball. In 2017, his Z-contact % was 72.2%. Last season, it rose to 79.1%. This season, it is all the way up to 88.4%. That means when batters swing at a pitch in the strike zone, they make contact over 88% of the time. That is an incredibly high number which explains the lack of whiffs and strikeouts, and can also imply that batters are seeing the ball really well against Chad Green. Combined with the increase in hard contact, we can tell that hitters are making more contact against him, and that when they do make contact, they make really solid contact.
The pitch selection data actually give me hope that Green can improve. Hitters can clearly see and hit his fastball now better than ever before, and those off-speed pitches will become even more important. If he can figure out how to make either his slider or splitter somewhat effective, I think Chad Green can be effective again.
Interestingly, any changes in the effectiveness of these other pitches should show up in the numbers against his fastball. I know that may sound counter-intuitive, but if hitters have to honor some semblance of an off-speed pitch, they become less prepared for the fastball. Other than a slight dip in velocity which could be early season variance, I see no real change in how good his fastball has been. Rather, hitters are more used to those types of fastballs and they know that they can essentially ignore his other pitches. Using those off-speed pitches more can help make the fastball, and Chad Green, effective again.