Five Interesting Things About New Mariner Chris Young
On one hand, the Mariners revealed themselves to have some pretty lousy starting-pitching depth. On the other hand, we only got here because of unforeseen injuries to Taijuan Walker, Brandon Maurer, and Hisashi Iwakuma, because Scott Baker under-performed, and because Randy Wolf decided he was a principled man. Just yesterday, people were lamenting that the Mariners would open the season starting both Roenis Elias and Blake Beavan. People thought such a situation was embarrassing, regardless of the reasons. The Mariners agreed! So the Mariners are no longer in that situation, as they’ve picked up the tall white pitching Chris Young after he was dropped by the Nationals.
Young’s been signed to a major-league contract, and it would appear that he’ll take Beavan’s place out of the gate. Or he could get hurt, like he does, but reports from Florida have been encouraging, and this is why one shouldn’t complain too much about Blake Beavan until Blake Beavan is actually throwing relevant innings. The 40-man casualty is Bobby LaFromboise, and there are things to be said about that, but they aren’t things you’ll find here. Understand that I always feel guilty being so dismissive of professional athletes. Understand, by the same token, one can’t cover everything in everything. What’s most important here is Chris Young, and, following, please find five interesting things about him. In a list, on the Internet!
I remember, many many years ago, before I even considered Dave and myself friends, he sent me an email as part of an exchange, and he said, paraphrased, that Chris Young threw crap. It wasn’t just Dave’s opinion — it was everyone’s opinion. Young used to work in the high 80s, and more recently he’s come down to the mid 80s, and that’s not the kind of velocity you like to see from a right-handed pitcher. Yet Young was successful in the majors nevertheless, and it’s because there’s actual velocity, and there’s perceived velocity, and it’s the second one that’s the big one.
Of course, usually, they’re awfully similar. But Young’s extreme. Because of his height, and because of his forward stride, Young releases the baseball unusually close to home plate, which means it has to cover less distance than an average pitcher’s pitch. So it gets on the hitter faster, and, here’s one supporting quote:
“When you’re standing there on deck and you see the ball coming out of his hand, there’s nothing special to it,” said Florida Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison, who faced Young in his last spring-training start. “But when you get in the box, it gets on you quick. Even though he’s throwing 85, you have to treat it like 90, 92.”
In effect, Chris Young’s stuff plays up, which is one reason he’s had a long career despite the burden of Barry Zito’s arm strength. His fastball these days is around 84-85, but it doesn’t seem that way, and I should also note, relatedly, that Young’s delivery is a bit deceptive because of his height and his arm path. Chris Young can’t succeed at any velocity. He probably can succeed at his current velocity, because his current velocity isn’t the velocity hitters think that he has.
(edit: Young topping out at 88 in the spring? What do you know? Players love to say how healthy they feel, but, Young feels really healthy, and stronger than he has in years past.)
We don’t have public HITf/x data, but we have been given glimpses in the past. In November 2011, Mike Fast performed a full analysis of numbers from 2008. He found that Chris Young allowed weaker contact than average, and he ranked tenth-best in baseball in average horizontal batted-ball speed off bat (regressed). Granted, 2008 was a long time ago! Young threw a little bit harder back then. But consider this additional evidence that Young is unusually difficult to square up, and that’s probably less about his velocity, and just more about him.
Chris Young has a career groundball rate of 27%. Since 2002, 403 starters have thrown at least 200 major-league innings. Young’s groundball rate is the lowest in the group, with Chuck James nearest at 30%. The median is about 44%. Young is a super-extreme fly-baller, and he’s also a pretty extreme infield-fly-baller. You can thank his over-the-top delivery and his preference to work up in the zone. Or, if not thank, then blame, if you really don’t like fly balls. Young’s fly balls usually aren’t that bad. Again, weaker contact. Again, deceptiveness.
Over Young’s career, baserunners have attempted 179 stolen bases. On 162 occasions — 91% — they’ve been successful. That’s the highest success rate against any starting pitcher since at least 1969. In 2006, runners were 41 out of 45. The next season, they were 44-for-44. Obviously, when it comes to steals, the catcher plays some kind of role, but the pitcher plays the more important role, and Young has been easy to steal on because he’s basically a 6’10 MechWarrior with an awful lot of moving parts that doesn’t deal well with having to move suddenly in a different direction. Because of the baserunners, Young has suffered a little bit in the stranded-runner department. Runners have a slightly easier time scoring against him. It doesn’t cancel out the batted-ball effects, but it does negate a chunk.
Young didn’t pitch in the majors in 2013. When he pitched in the majors in 2012, he was mediocre. He’s become one of the more fragile starting pitchers in the game, sort of a more polite Erik Bedard, and he has the right shoulder of a mummy in a museum display. There’s absolutely no counting on Young to remain healthy all the way through this season. Thankfully, the Mariners don’t need him to do that. Really, they just need him to last until Iwakuma and/or Walker can come back, and then anything beyond that is gravy. So the Mariners just need Chris Young for a handful of starts, and if he’s throwing as well as recent reports have suggested, this could have actual upside. We all, naturally, know better than to believe too fiercely in a guy like Chris Young, since we’re accustomed to pain and he’s also accustomed to pain, but this is depth at no cost. Young’s probably better than Randy Wolf. He would’ve made the Nationals if they had a thinner rotation. The Mariners have a thin rotation, for the time being, and now Young’s coming into a big park with an improved outfield defense. I can understand, maybe, not liking this. I can’t understand disliking this.