Chris Young

Location, Location, Location: True in Real Estate and for Chris Young

When the Royals signed Chris Young during spring training in 2015, I think they expected him to contribute, but not in nearly the way he did during the magical 2015 season. He appeared in 34 games for the champs, including 18 starts. In those games, he had a 3.06 ERA and gave up just 6.6 hits per nine innings. His 2.1 WARP was his best since 2007. He was kind of the Swiss Army Knife of the Royals pitching staff, doing pretty much whatever was needed. Even in the postseason, he made a couple starts and had a handful of huge relief appearances.

So it came as no surprise when he was re-signed to a two-year deal this offseason. It clearly was a priority for the Royals as he was inked early in the winter. It’s fair to say the Royals knew what they were getting with Young. He’s a guy who you can’t count on for 180 innings, but is probably a good bet to give you a solid 120-140 like he did last season. While I’m confident he was never going to spend an entire season in the rotation, he had shown enough in 2015 to be essentially given a spot in the rotation to start the year in 2016.

And you know the rest. He had a decent first start, allowing one home run that ended up being the only runs scored of the game and he took the loss. Then he pitched in Houston and got rocked. He took the loss. Then he pitched in Oakland and got rocked. He took the loss. He’s been the starting pitcher in three of the five Royals losses this season. Two of those three have been mostly on him. That could be a problem.

He hasn’t been good. It’s led many fans to want him out of the rotation immediately. It’s led others to tell you that all the signs were there that this was going to happen. Even with his 3.06 ERA last year, he had a 4.52 FIP due to walking a few too many and striking out a few too, well, few. A BABIP of .209 also played into that pretty significantly.

So is it simply regression to the mean for Young or is there something else at play here? Perhaps it’s a little of both. A few things jump out when looking at the numbers for Young. Oh, this is the point where I remind everyone that the sample is quite small and all that good stuff. Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to it.

The first thing I wanted to look at was simply how he’d been using his pitches. During the playoffs, we just heard an awful lot about how his fastball shouldn’t be so effective, but it is because of the spin rate and related movement. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Chris Young 2016

Chris Young 2015

Last year, you can see he threw 866 sliders. They were very good last year. He allowed a .167 average on those sliders and a .285 SLG. For a guy who might be a bit prone to the long ball, having a pitch you can rely on that doesn’t result in a home run all that often is usually a pretty good idea. So maybe he headed into this season with a plan in place to throw more sliders because it was so effective last year. It’s been effective in the regular season, so far, but not as effective as last year. He’s given up a .273 average and a .333 SLG. That’s still not bad at all, but if you’re throwing a pitch more because you’re expecting elite results, you expect better than that.

We’ll come back to the slider. It’s the fastball that has me most troubled. In the regular season this year, he’s thrown 127 fastballs and they’ve been crushed. He’s given up three homers and a triple along with seven other singles. That’s a .407 average and a .815 SLG. He’s gotten swings and misses on 5.5 percent of his fastballs. The BABIP on his fastballs is a robust .379

Last year, he allowed a .224 average and .424 SLG on fastballs all season with a .215 BABIP. He didn’t get that many more swings and misses last year, but it was nearly a full percent higher on that count last year as well. Basically everything about his fastball has been horrible in 2016 when it was an extremely effective pitch in 2015.

I would wager if he was throwing his slider less, it would also be more effective. Because of that, I’m going to cool it on slider talk for now and focus solely on the fastball to see what might be different.

You might recall a lot of talk about spin rate last season. The great has more information than I know what to do with. I recommend a visit. What it shows for his spin rate on his fastballs is an average of just over 2,400 RPM. His fastball is actually spinning a little bit more than it did last season when that was all the rage. In looking at the data, I tried to see if his lower spin fastballs were getting crushed more than his higher spin fastballs or if there was really anything there.

Two of the home runs he allowed were on two of his higher rotation fastballs. The other was one that had a rate just below his average. There’s surprisingly nothing there to suggest that spin rate has impacted him this year in a negative way. If anything, it might show that a little less spin could be a good thing based on the early results (though I don’t buy that). He gave up just 29 hits and five home runs on balls that spun more than his average last year. This year, he’s already given up seven hits and two home runs in those situations.

Young did mention that he was working through some mechanical issues, which for someone as tall as him and with limbs as long as he has, that can be a big issue. His release point on his fastball is slightly different from where it was last year, but that could really make all the difference in the world, even though it is just about .15 inches off from what we saw in 2015. That can lead to some location issues.

And here’s where we are possibly see the problem facing Young. With all the talk that he lives up in the strike zone, he actually does a better job of getting the ball down than most people realize. Or at least he did last season (and even in 2014). When a guy throws 87 MPH like Chris Young does, you have to get the job with deception, and a lot of deception is changing the hitter’s eye level. Unfortunately, with his fastball, he hasn’t been changing the hitter’s eye level very much. Take a look at the charts below.

Chris Young

Basically everything in 2016 has been middle up. That doesn’t give the hitter anything to think about. Sure he lived up in the zone during the 2015 season, but he kept the batters honest by throwing enough pitches down in the zone that he was able to make a few mistakes up in the zone. This year, he can’t do that because the hitter doesn’t have to even consider a pitch in the lower third of the zone.

What does it all mean? It’s hard to say for certain because Chris Young is no spring chicken. At 37, it’s very possible that he just doesn’t have the stuff anymore to get hitters out. It happens to the best of them. So yeah, maybe Young is just done. But his velocity is where it was last year. His spin rate is where it was last year. What has changed is his release point and his location. That sure seems like something that is fixable to me.

At this point, given that the issue for Young is almost certainly a mechanical one, I’d be inclined to get a couple starts from either Dillon Gee or Chien-Ming Wang while he works out these issues. They could even come up with a believable “back injury” to stash him on the disabled list and get him the work he probably needs without even taking up a big league roster spot. I just don’t think Father Time is calling for Young just yet. If he can fix his mechanics, he still has some good innings left in that right arm for the Royals this year.

Related Articles

1 comment on “Location, Location, Location: True in Real Estate and for Chris Young”

Comments are closed.