Green has been Yankees 'pen's secret weapon
Right-hander's multi-inning performances reminiscent of Rivera
The Yankees stroll one celebrated arm after another out of their bullpen in the late innings these days, from the hardest-throwing reliever in history to a four-time All-Star to a veteran that once earned the nickname "Houdini" for his work in the biggest of spots.
Then there's Chad Green.
:: AL Wild Card Game schedule and coverage ::
Green might not have a 104-mph fastball like Albertin Chapman, a four-year run of dominance like Dellin Betances or three 30-save campaigns (and a World Series ring) like Player Page for David Robertson, and we haven't even mentioned Tommy Kahnle, who is striking out more than 13 batters per nine innings this season.
But when the Yankees need somebody to record big outs in the middle of a game, Green has been as close to a sure thing as any other reliever in the game, and is probably the best pitcher you don't know about who could be a difference-maker in the postseason.
"It's scary when you get into our bullpen," Yankees catcher Austin Romine said. "Shoot, we have a guy that closed games this year throwing in the sixth or seventh inning. For Chad to have the success he's had this year, he's just being himself. He just attacks guys that way he knows how. He's just another weapon we have down there."
Green, a 26-year-old right-hander acquired by the Yankees from the Tigers as part of the December 2015 trade for Justin Wilson, had spent the previous three seasons as a starter before being moved to the bullpen earlier this year."
There was no reason to believe Green would morph into a modern-day version of the 1996 Mariano Rivera, but that's how good he's been. No, nobody is saying he's going to replicate Rivera's entire career, but the comparisons to Rivera's breakout season are striking.
"It's just mentality and confidence," Green said. "Those are the two biggest things. I haven't really changed anything from when I was starting; I'm just trying to attack guys. That's helped me a lot. I'm going out there and throwing quality strikes."
For those who don't remember how good Rivera was in his multi-inning setup role more than two decades ago, Green has also drawn comparisons to another reliever with whom you might be familiar: Andrew Miller.
Just as Miller played a prominent role in the Indians' run to the World Series a year ago, Green could have a similar impact on the Yankees if they're able to make a lengthy postseason run. Since June 18, Green has a 1.47 ERA in 31 appearances, striking out 79 batters against just 12 walks.
He's recorded at least four outs in 22 of those 31 outings, going two or more innings an impressive 12 times.
"Watching Miller and what he did last year, that changed a lot of teams' perspectives on the postseason," Green said. "For me, I'm just going to try to get as many outs as possible whether that's three, none or somewhere in between."
How did a guy who went 5-14 with a 3.93 ERA at Double-A just two years ago become one of the best-kept secrets in the Majors?
It all begins with his fastball.
"I'm just attacking guys with it," Green said. "Last year, I wasn't throwing my fastball even 50 percent of the time. I'm throwing it more, I'm able to command it better. The velocity is a little higher at times. That's all helped me a lot."
Green, whose four-seamer has averaged nearly 96 mph this season, looks to his left after mentioning his velocity. Sitting one locker away is Chapman, who threw the 23 fastest pitches in the league this season, averaging 100-plus mph with his four-seamer for the fourth straight season.
"There's no bragging about velocity around here," Green said with a smile. "There's really no point in bringing that up."
Yet while Chapman has struggled at times this season, Green has been a consistent weapon for manager Joe Girardi to utilize at any time. Girardi has brought him in as early as the fourth and as late as the eighth in regulation games, confident his young pitcher will not be overwhelmed by any situation.
"A lot of times you see young kids, and it speeds up for them; not him," Girardi said. "He's really calm."
How good has Green's fastball been? Hitters have swung at it and missed 39.2 percent of the time, the most of any pitcher with at least 250 swings against their four-seamer. He's held opponents to a paltry .109 average against the pitch, the lowest of any pitcher that has ended at least 75 at-bats with a four-seam fastball.
"When he throws, it's like the ball just suddenly appears out of his hand," Robertson said. "His mechanics are so smooth, he reaches back and next thing you know, the ball is halfway at you. It jumps on you. He's got such good spin rate and he gets behind the ball so well, I think that's what surprises hitters the most."
Robertson knows of what he speaks: According to Statcast™, Green's spin rate on his four-seamer averages 2,484 rpm, which ranks 11th of the 187 pitchers who have thrown at least 500 four-seamers this year. That high spin gives it the "rising fastball" effect, and leads to more swinging strikes.
Should the Yankees get past the American League Wild Card Game, Green could be a key to their success in October, boosting his profile among those not already in the know.
"His role could become even more important, especially with the built-in days off in October," Girardi said. "You don't necessarily have to pick your spots. I think people could have a really good idea of what he's meant to us. We understand what he means to us, but I think everybody else may get to see it."