Chris Young: Not great before the facial injury

Heading into the 2008 season, San Diego’s Chris Young was perhaps one of the most hyped starting pitchers in fantasy baseball, and with good reason. He was coming off two consecutive stellar seasons that showed him posting some ridiculously low ERA, WHIP and BAA numbers, as well as some tantalizing strikeout ratios. To top it off, he plays in a pitcher-friendly home stadium.

Unexpectedly, Young’s production slid greatly downward. To make matters worse, he sustained a horrible facial injury that eventually required surgery. I had chronicled this injury at my Disabled List Informer site.

In this article, I aim to compare Young’s 2008 PITCHf/x data with last season’s to see if there are any glaring differences—changes that might help us understand what is going on with San Diego’s No. 2 starter. As I did with the Snell/Marcum article, I am using Josh Kalk’s data and player cards for my references and graphs. Once again, a huge thank you goes out to Josh.

Velocity is diminishing

Looking at the data, both his fastball and slider are showing decreased velocity compared to ’07, while both pitches are also displaying less horizontal and vertical movement. This could be a major reason he is giving up more solidly hit balls, as evident by his increased line drive percentage.

         Slider(mph)  Fastball(mph)
  2007     80.70        90.12
  2008     78.21        87.3
Altered release point

Additionally, his release point seems to be more straight-on in relation to home plate; in ’07, his release point was more toward the left side of home plate. This could mean that his fastball is staying out over the middle of the plate more, as opposed to busting right-handed batters inside and forcing lefties to reach. Possibly, this is a reason for his decreased GB rate (24 percent this season versus 29.1 percent last season).

Here is the release point graph for 2007:
image

And here is the release point graph for 2008:
image

Flatter fastball and slider

Perhaps due to his altered release point, his fastball and slider have proven “flat” this season. By this, I mean that his pitches are not breaking or moving nearly as much, which obviously would lead to giving up more solidly hit balls. Less horizontal and vertical movement, with overall less velocity: In ’07, he was touching 94-95 mph with his fastball, but now he is maxing around 90-92 mph. Meanwhile, his slider is sitting mostly in the upper 70s to low 80s, but in ’07 it was nearing 83-84 mph.

Here is a graph displaying the overall movement of his pitches in 2007 (seen without velocity):
image

And the same graph showing overall movement of his pitches in 2008:
image

As you can see, his slider is staying up in the zone and is not diving down and away from right-handed batters or down and in on left-handed batters.

In the next graph (2007), he displayed greater velocity and more aggressive vertical movement on his pitches:
image

You can see clearly that his velocity has dropped in 2008 (see below):
image

Losing control

I recently posted an article at Fantasy Phenoms breaking down his performance from a Sabermetric and injury standpoint. One of the biggest negative aspects of his early 2008 performance has been his lack of control, as demonstrated by his increased walk rates. Typically, when an elbow injury is brewing (or present), a pitcher with normally good control will begin to issue more free passes.

            BB/9        K/BB
 Career     3.35        2.42
  2007      3.75        2.32
  2008      5.00        1.70
  
What does this mean?

My initial thoughts are that he is probably changing the way he throws to prevent more injuries to his oblique muscles. This probably would mean using less forceful trunk rotation and a more linear delivery, which could take some “bite” and velocity away from his pitches. We would have to look at frame by frame comparative video from both seasons to confirm this, obviously.

The other possibility is that he is dealing with some form of elbow or forearm injury. His drastic increase in walk rate is a source of concern; this can indicate a developing elbow pathology (it could also be coincidental).

In any event, I am not overly optimistic about Young’s second half, especially given his statistical differences, his worsened control/increased walk rates, and the changes as seen through PITCHf/x. As an owner of Young in two leagues, I remain cautiously optimistic that he can return to form. Once he returns to action, I would not blame fantasy owners who want to sell while the selling is good.

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