In the last two seasons, the soon-to-be 37-year-old Chris Young has started strong after entering the rotations of the Mariners (2014) and Kansas City Royals (2015) before fading with fatigue.
In 1939, the Chicago White Sox decided to start aging knickleball pitcher Ted Lyons only on Sundays due to a combination of chance and good results. A series of rainouts pushed back some early seasons starts in such a way that Lyons pitched on three consecutive Sundays, and Lyons got good results. The White Sox, who finished in sixth place in 1938, started to draw strong crowds on Sunday and quickly decided to push the idea that Lyons would start on that day.
The funny thing is, the one start a week schedule agreed with Lyons, who saw his performance jump to 14-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 172.2 innings pitched in 1939 after a much less impressive 9-11, 3.70 ERA in 1938. Lyons earned the only All-Star berth of his major league career in his 17th season.
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In fact, from 1939 and 1942, “Sunday Starter” Ted Lyons posted a fantastic 52-30 record with a 2.96 ERA in his age 38 through age 41 seasons before enlisting in the Army. Heck, Lyons even returned from WW2 in 1946 to make five more starts at age 45, with a 2.32 ERA before the White Sox named him team manager—which caused him to retire as a player.
If you prefer advanced metrics, Lyons compiled 14.8 bWAR (Wins Above Replacement) from age 38 to 41—an average of 3.7 WAR per season.
Lyons late career push, which included four top-30 finishes in MVP voting, likely elevated him to the Hall-of-Fame.
Could Chris Young enjoy a similar finishing kick if KC Royals manager Ned Yost decided to reach back into baseball history and emulated the “Sunday Starter” idea in 2016?
I don’t think anyone can know for sure, but the idea would certainly make sense given Young’s performance the last two seasons. After coming back from thoracic outlet surgery on his shoulder, Chris Young opened the 2014 season with a strong 8-6, 3.15 ERA first half, before crashing to a 4-5, 4.70 ERA second half.
With the KC Royals in 2015, Young joined the rotation in May and reeled off six starts with a 2.75 ERA while averaging six innings per start. He wore down in July to post a 1-2, 5.11 ERA in the last five of his 14 start run between mid-May and the end of July.
After returning to the pen when the KC Royals acquired Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline, Chris Young re-entered the rotation after Yost pulled the plug on Jeremy Guthrie. A well-rested Young rewarded Yost with two starts and 11.1 innings in which he allowed one earned run.
Chris Young is almost dominant while rested, before wearing down with regular use in a five-man rotation. Rather than make Young a long-man spot starter, Ned Yost might get more useful innings from his aging starter if he can put him on a seven day start schedule instead.
Certainly, such a move will take some juggling. The KC Royals will need another bullpen arm capable of making a spot start. But the reward would be filling the fifth rotation slot on the cheap. By substituting a cheaper bullpen arm rather than a signing mid-tier free agent starter, Dayton Moore could free up money to sign Alex Gordon.