Appreciating Chris Young’s Odd Qualities

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Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Young is an interesting pitcher. I don’t just mean a little bit interesting, either. Nearly everything about him is extremely fascinating.

He’s 6’10”. His fastball barely touches 89 MPH. He used to play basketball at Princeton. He gets more fly balls than anyone in baseball. And did I mention he’s almost seven feet tall?

I have an appreciation for players who do things differently and don’t adhere to what’s commonly accepted as “the right way to play.” He’s an oddity, and I love that.

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Young is a smart guy, and he’s learned to adapt to a game in which batters have gotten better and better at hammering pitches low in the strike zone. He found holes in many hitters’ swings at the top of the zone, so he attacks that area endlessly.

There’s a great article on FanGraphs containing some telling quotes from Young on why he pitches the way he does. He realizes that he’ll surrender some home runs by pitching up, but he’ll also get plenty of popups and other fly balls. When fly balls don’t go over the fence, they fall for outs pretty often.

This style of pitching goes against the theory that you have to keep the ball down in the zone to not get hurt. While it’s true that low pitches result in more ground balls, which means fewer extra-base hits, low pitches that are hit in the air tend to get hit very, very hard.

The players whose swings are geared to hit the low pitch well are usually unable to do much with pitches up in the zone, which is why Young has had success with his pitching style.

Young isn’t going to blow anyone away with his stuff. Even though his “invisiball” fastball comes in at a higher perceived velocity than the actual velocity, it’s not leaving any kind of smoke trail. He does have a slider he’ll throw a quarter of the time, and it will get a few whiffs, but Young makes his money by throwing his fastball up in the zone, and getting as much weak contact as anyone in the game.

Despite throwing just 165 innings last year, no pitcher in baseball got more popups than the 81 Young created. 42 of those were infield fly balls, meaning they were basically automatic outs. Granted, Young did allow 26 dingers last season, but you can live with that if he’s keeping hard contact – and the associated baserunners that follow – to a minimum.

He knows that his style won’t be as effective against every hitter, of course. He names Brian Dozier as someone who can hit high fastballs, and surely there are many others. Young gives away more walks than you would prefer to see from a pitcher who operates with such a small margin for error, and he is leaving the best pitcher’s park in the league, so this deal certainly isn’t without risk.

Still, I’m a fan of oddities in baseball, and Young is most definitely an oddity. The Royals’ outfield defense should help him continue to limit damage, and it’s not as if baseballs fly out of the K all of the time. I like the idea of having Young on the roster, but like Dave mentioned yesterday, it’s a curious move on its own.

It feels like another move is coming soon, because it’s difficult to see where exactly Young fits right now. Not only because of the extra leg room he’ll require, but the roster didn’t have a glaring hole in the pitching staff. Young isn’t a guy whose stuff will play up out of the bullpen, and it seemed like the Royals already had enough relievers. They obviously have five starters right now. Something has to give.

Louis Coleman is out of options and now is probably on the outside looking in, so I could see him being traded. When Luke Hochevar is healthy, the team will have six right-handed relievers (including Young) who are locked into spots, so it will be even more of a roster crunch.

The other possibility is a trade of a starter like Jeremy Guthrie, who is in the final year of his contract. I don’t know if the Royals want to part with his 200 innings in favor of the oft-injured Young, but maybe they could unload some salary to get more flexibility down the road. I really have no idea how this is going to work, but I’m willing to wait and see how it plays out, given the circumstances.

The Royals likely have something else planned that will make this move fit into the big picture, but for now, we can still appreciate who Young is, and he is an incredibly fascinating pitcher. He’s one of the pitchers for whom FIP is utterly useless in describing his value. He doesn’t really have pinpoint control, but part of that could be by design because he can’t pound the middle of the strike zone with 85 MPH fastballs. And again, he’s 6’10”.

I’m incredibly disappointed that Tim Collins is injured, because having him relieve Young would be the best weird baseball thing that could happen this year. That change in height, velocity, and arm angle is my dream scenario. Like I said, I’m a fan of oddities.

Next: Royals' Burning Questions for 2015

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