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Chad Green needs to improve his fastball command

For the righty to stick in the Yankees rotation, he must harness his incredible heat.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees
Eight home runs off the heater will do that to a pitcher.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past 12 months, the Yankees rotation has evolved immensely. Ivan Nova headed to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, where he’d later re-sign. After laboring through the early part of the 2016 campaign, Nathan Eovaldi went under the knife in August; the team would cut him in the offseason. Right now, as my colleague Thomas Jenkins explained, the Yankees don’t have much certainty beyond Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia.

One starter in particular had a somewhat interesting year. Shifting between the rotation and the bullpen, Chad Green put up a 4.73 ERA in 4523 major-league innings. Beneath that mediocre production lay some encouraging signs (a 19.8 percent strikeout-minus-walk rate, better than the likes of Jon Lester or Jacob deGrom), as well as some discouraging ones (2.97 home runs allowed per nine innings, better than only Chris Young and Erik Johnson).

Green’s fastball, in many ways, epitomized his rookie year. The pitch was worth -6.6 runs, per FanGraphs’ Pitch Type Linear Weights; on a rate basis, Nova was the sole Yankees starter who did worse. But those struggles weren’t because the fastball didn’t fool hitters. In fact, no starting pitcher in the majors had a more deceptive fastball than Green:

Highest fastball whiff rate

Rank Player FB FB Whiff%
Rank Player FB FB Whiff%
1 Chad Green 242 16.9%
2 Tim Adleman 354 16.1%
3 Rick Porcello 722 15.2%
4 Rich Hill 852 14.1%
5 Justin Verlander 2097 13.8%
6 David Price 607 13.2%
7 Vincent Velasquez 1221 12.9%
8 Max Scherzer 1968 12.7%
9 Yu Darvish 660 12.6%
10 J.A. Happ 1378 12.4%
Ranking out of 195 SP with 200+ fastballs in 2016. Data via Baseball Prospectus

Still, that meant five out of six times, a hitter didn’t swing-and-miss against Green’s heater — and on those five chances, they inflicted some damage. Eight of those 244 fastballs left the yard; the fastball’s .438 ISO against and .393 BABIP against were among the lowest marks in all of baseball. So although Green’s heater showed some potential, it couldn’t quite get the best of its opponents.

The fastball doesn’t appear to have any inherent problems. Not only does it travel much faster than the average heater, it has a bit more rise as well:

Green fastball profile

Pitcher FB Velo FB HMov FB VMov
Pitcher FB Velo FB HMov FB VMov
Green 95.2 -3.3 10.5
MLB Average 93.2 -4.5 9.4
Averages out of RH SP with 200+ fastballs in 2016. Data via Baseball Prospectus

While the absence of horizontal movement is a tad concerning, the extra clout it packs should make up for that. A straight fastball can work well if the pitcher just blows it past the hitter.

The trouble with Green — like so many other hard-throwing young pitchers — appears to stem from poor command. Green left the fastball out over the heart of the plate pretty frequently in 2016:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Those pitches gave him a good amount of whiffs, but when hitters made contact, the ball went pretty far. That extra velocity probably didn’t help here, either; if a 95-mph heater turns in the other direction, it’ll zoom off the diamond. Green played with fire, and more often than not, he got burned.

Note, here, the distinction between “control” and “command.” Green wasn’t wild in 2016 — he could throw the ball over the plate consistently, as evidenced by his 7.6 percent walk rate. Rather, he ran into some issues with locating the ball in the right place, where hitters couldn’t square it up, as evidenced by his 38.5 percent hard contact rate.

Baseball Prospectus recently debuted a couple of stats to gauge these phenomena, and they confirm this thesis: While Green placed in the middle of the pack in CS Prob (a measure of control), he finished toward the bottom of the majors in CSAA (a measure of command). Strikes don’t count for much if they’re meatballs, a dish Green cooked to perfection in 2016.

During his upcoming sophomore season, Green could start or relieve, depending on the Yankees’ needs. His fastball should retain its velocity and movement, meaning the swinging strikes won’t go away. But if he can’t start to paint the corners with it, he’ll keep giving up long balls and remain ineffective. The ingredients are there — Green just has to refine the command behind it, and he can take off.

After considering bringing in a starter this offseason, GM Brian Cashman ultimately decided to stand pat, instead reeling in Aroldis Chapman and Matt Holliday. The Yankees will head into 2017 with the rotation they have, not the rotation they might want. That rotation could include Green, whose live fastball could make him great one day. We just need to see more of this...

GIF via MLB.com

...and less of this:

GIF via MLB.com

Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, and about politics for The Diamondback. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.