That version always appeared to be on the verge of implosion, with scary-low strikeout totals and dangerously high rates of home runs and walks.
But he was Roadrunner, not Wile E. Coyote, and he made it over the canyon without a bridge.
It turns out that Young has an unusually sustainable ability to induce popups and weak fly balls, which he rode to an inordinately-low BABIP (lowest in the majors), thus saving him from the risk that would otherwise ensue from his seemingly mediocre stats. His OPS-against after 13 games was .707 (about MLB-average for 2014, which is .702), but it would have been closer to .800 with a more normal BABIP. Pitchers don’t survive with OPS-against of .800.
But then, as we noted in Part 1, something strange happened.
Even while Young continued his ability to defy gravity … he stopped needing to.
The worrisome 1.35 HR/9 rate dropped to a more-tolerable 1.07.
The iffy 3.9 BB/9 rate fell to a rosy 1.9.
The mind-numbing 4.3 K/9 rate rose to a robust 7.1.
So here’s the thing:
Prior to mid-June Young was a nothing-special pitcher working mysterious magic to make himself good.
Since mid-June Young is a very good pitcher working mysterious magic to make himself outstanding.
Yes, the home runs are still going to be there — that’s the risk with being a fly-ball specialist. But going from 3.9 BB/9 and 4.3 K/9 to 1.9 and 7.1? This version of Young (the July and August version) is better than the version who was an All-Star in 2007. This version has the best strikeouts-to-walks ratio that Young has ever had.
But did he have to give up his special fly-ball brew that kills BABIP?
In Part 1 we saw how Young was out-distancing the universe in fly balls with a 58.7% rate that was almost 10 points higher than second place.
In July, it went up to 65.4%. And the infield-fly rate went up also. Fully 11% of all batted-balls off Young in July were infield popups. No wonder he gives up so few hits.
And any statistical analysis that depends on “normalizing” BABIP (like FIP, xFIP and WAR based on FIP) will not capture Chris Young. Period.
Young’s game is centered on deflating BABIP, and he’s been doing it for a long time. (He’s had these league-leading fly-ball rates and convention-defying low BABIP his whole career.)
But the recent version of Young doesn’t scare away FIP or our Brainstorm designer stats. His August FIP is 2.31 per Fangraphs.
When considering those, however, keep in mind the extra-bonus hit-denying popup goodness that’s not being captured.
Recent-vintage Young is doubly blessed, and if can keep up anything resembling his recent K/BB ratio he’ll be a hugely valuable player.
And to think that Randy Wolf’s Most Valuable Petulance is the main reason Young landed in a Mariner uniform.