Chris Young and the art of sustainabilityby Vince Caramela
April 14, 2011
So far in the early stages of the 2011 season, Chris Young is among baseball's leaders in total bases and is exhibiting a batting line (as of April 12) of .302/.326/.628. Since last season, Young has been applauded by the Diamondbacks organization for positive strides made to both his offensive and defensive game. However, with his improvement from last season, that triple slash does seem a bit out of line.
A a media scouting report after the 2007 season described him this way:
He is a young outfielder who has a ton of upside and talent. He is undeveloped and needs to make adjustments with his plate discipline before he will have consistent success at the major league level. He hit 32 home runs, but managed only 68 RBI and a .237 batting average. He struck out 141 times compared to 43 walks.
Young was drafted out of Bellaire High School in Houston by the Chicago White Sox in round 16 of the 2001 amateur draft. Seen as a skinny shortstop with blazing speed and questions concerning defense, Young wasn’t too highly regarded but he did posses plenty of athleticism to attract enough scouts. His first two professional seasons were spent at the Rookie level, where in Bristol he began to show some developing power by hitting .290/.357/.479 with 21 stolen bases in 28 attempts.
In his next season in the South Atlantic League (Single-A), Young went on to post a line of .261/.365/.503 by showing even more power in his age 20 season. However, Young would be introduced to a now familiar friend: the strikeout. In 554 plate appearances, Young would strike out 146 times. It wasn’t pretty but the developing power along with his speed and respectable walk rate did allow scouts to draw the Mike Cameron comparisons.
Among those grading prospects, Young’s time with the White Sox was hailed as promising but most charts had him below other young outfielders more highly regarded. In 2006, Young was given the chance to be an everyday center fielder when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks as the key prospect bundled up with spare parts Orlando Hernandez and Luis Vizcaino for Javier Vazquez.
From "Baby-Backs" to perennial cellar dwellers
In some ways, the rise and fall of the once promising Diamondbacks can be connected to the career of Chris Young. Once full of promise with enough young talent to strike fear in a weak division, the Diamondbacks quickly degenerated into a team plagued by strikeouts and a bullpen so bad, new lows were called into consideration.
The low point came in 2009 when Young was sent down to Triple-A Reno for 13 games. Not surprising since, statistically, everything was down as he was on pace to top his previous strikeout totals. But the good news? We can see a noticeable bump in his home run and stolen base totals in 2010 while he also brought his batting average back up to Mike Cameron levels… but are these improvements sustainable?
Comparing this to the previous set of stats, we can see obvious improvements to his strikeout rate in 2010 and a sustained increase in his walk rate.
So far in 2011 Young is hitting out of his mind, although I doubt his .326 isolated power score (ISO) will be maintained but increases to his League Adjusted On Base plus Slugging (OPS+) and Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) do look promising from last season and have been carried over into this season.
Batted ball data
Throughout his career, Young has been plagued by a low BABIP which can be correlated to his high infield fly ball percentage.
As we can see, no major improvement can be seen or predicted from this data since Young's fly ball tendencies are too evident. Also note, the major league infield fly average is a shade below 10 percent and at Young's current output it's expected that BABIP probably won't be doing him any favors this season.
Hitter counts vs. pitcher counts
One discernible improvement has been Young's increased pitch per plate appearance.
For Young to be effective, he must take advantage of better opportunities. Plate discipline has never been one of his attributes but a steady improvement in pitches seen could translate into better situations.
Below is a chart of Young's plate appearances that ended with either the batter ahead (BA), even counts (EC), and, finally, with the opposing pitcher ahead (PA):
Last season did show us an improvement in terms of being ahead of the count and these numbers could translate into even better stats in this trend continues.
|2-0 Count||2-1 Count||3-1 Count|
Finally, what's most striking is that Young was able to fall into 2-1 counts at such an excessive rate in 2007. What did this mean in terms of 2007 output? Who knows, but a steady increase in 2010 along with a healthy (in Chris Young terms, at least) number of 3-1 counts could be a major reason for Young's ability to draw improvement last season.
In conclusion, how much of an improvement can we expect from Chris Young in 2011? Currently, his batting lines look very impressive but to expect anything beyond his 2010 totals would be foolish. His numbers do point to a below-average BABIP, which will make it difficult to pull him above a .250 batting average. But if he can improve his ability to see more pitches and work himself into more advantageous counts, his power and ability to hit the ball in the air should be enough to sustain a decent batting line.
Vince has his own blog, The League of Transparency, and has also written for SBNation.