Chris Young Is Still Unhittable

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Oct 31, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Chris Young (32) walks to the dugout after the third inning against the New York Mets in game four of the World Series at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 31, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Chris Young (32) walks to the dugout after the third inning against the New York Mets in game four of the World Series at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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There is a good chance Chris Young looks like your dad. But hitters don’t hit below .200 off of your dad.

As the Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, starting with the rotation.

So far, we have looked at Yordano VenturaEdinson Volquez, and Ian Kennedy.

Today, we will be looking at Chris Young

All statistics provided by Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball

"2015 stats – 11-6, 3.06 ERA, 83 SO, 43 BB, 1.09 WHIP, 4.52 FIP2016 Steamer – 6-7, 4.40 ERA, 82 SO, 41 BB, 1.35 WHIP, 5.03 FIP"

Projected Role – Bottom of the rotation starter/reliever

2015 Results

You would be hard pressed to find a more under appreciated pitcher in baseball than Chris Young.

When I typed his name into google, I got results for Chris Young, the musician. When I typed “Chris Young baseball,” I got the outfield version.

His luck around Major League Baseball has been about the same.

After giving the Mariners 165 innings in 29 starts while opponents hit just .229 against him, he received no major league offers.

The Royals offered him an incentive-laced minor league deal, where he proceeded to give the Royals 123 innings over 34 games (18 starts),

In those starts, Young was by far the most effective pitcher in the Royals rotation. In fact, he was one of the most unhittable pitchers in baseball.

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He finished the year with a career best 3.06 ERA at the ripe age of 36, while opponents failed to hit .200 against him.

Only three pitchers who pitched at least 120 innings had a lower BAA than Young’s .199. Those three were Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw.

Since 2007, only Kershaw has a better BAA (.204) than Young (.218) among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 750 innings.

Much of this success, if not all of it, is due to Young’s ability to deceive hitters. More specifically, his ability to deceive hitters up in the zone.

David Laurila of Fangraphs had this to say about Young’s ability to command the zone and deceive hitters.

"The 6-foot-10 right-hander is also known for getting outs up in the zone, with a slow fastball. Young’s four-seamer averages 86.4 mph, and he has the highest FB% (58.2) and the lowest BABiP (.217) among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings."

What Laurila is establishing here is that Young predominately uses his fastball to get hitters out, even though the pitch doesn’t fit the prototypical model of a successful fastball. So how was he successful?

One factor is his spin rate. Laurila confirms that Young’s spin rate on his fastball is in the leagues top 20%, despite having below-average velocity, which isn’t all too common.

This is in part due to his arm action, which Young tailors to create action on his fastball, as he says here.

"He [Curt Schilling] told me that the one thing he wants to feel on his fastball is the backspin off of his fingers. He wants to feel that action, that whip, that finish. That’s the same thing I’m trying to do on my fastball. I don’t throw as hard as Schilling — or as hard as a lot of guys — but it’s the same mentality of wanting to get through the ball to rotate it, to really backspin it. I want to create life on the ball."

If you pair Young’s extreme, over-the-top arm slot and the high spin rate, you get something very interesting.

You get a fastball rises.

That doesn’t mean what it sounds like. His fastball doesn’t break upwards. A better way to describe the action is that of a running fastball that is vertical, not horizontal.

Which leads me into the second factor in his success, being his ability to work up in the zone.

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This first chart shows us where Chris Young threw the ball in 2015. This is from the perspective of the catcher. The majority of red is found in the middle of the zone or up. The hottest red zone is down and out to a right-handed hitter, where he threw over 30% of his sliders.

This is your most basic example of setting up hitters. Throw fastball after fastball up, before burying a slider down.

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This second chart shows us where Young was most successful in getting hitters to swing and miss.

Obviously, those middle zones stand out. Young got more swings and misses in the middle-upper region of the strike zone than any other spot in the strike zone. For comparison, Young got batters to swing and miss at a higher rate than Clayton Kershaw in four of the six outer 2/3 sections of the strike zone.

His hottest swing and miss zones are down and away, again, with this being directly correlated to his pounding the top of the strike zone before burying sliders with two strikes.

Young has a unique ability to stifle hitters, that relies heavily on his ability to command the top half of the zone.

2016 Outlook

Despite his, at times, dominate performance in 2015, projections are still not enamored by Young for 2016, which is reasonable.

Young is a novelty pitcher who is 36, with a history of arm problems.

However, I envision Young’s regression looking much more like a hitters than a pitchers.

A pitcher regresses when his velocity, stuff, and/or arm starts to break down.

A hitter (i.e. Billy Butler) regresses when the bat speed begins to diminish, but also when the league attacks his weaknesses.

Young’s arm is already gone. He doesn’t have the velocity and doesn’t have a plus breaking or off speed pitch.

His success hasn’t been because of tremendous velocity, stuff, or command, like most pitchers. It’s has been grounded in deception.

The biggest hurdle to Young and the Royals at this point will be whether or not Young will be able to stay healthy and fresh.

Young benefited immensely last season when the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto and moved Young to the bullpen for nearly all of August and September. Although the rotation certainly didn’t benefit at that moment by going with Jeremy Guthrie over Young, it did allow Young to take a breather headed into the playoffs.

He got two starts in September before the postseason and then wound up being, arguably, the Royals most valuable asset in the playoffs.

With Kris Medlen, Danny Duffy, and now possibly Mike Minor, the Royals should be able to platoon enough to keep Young’s arm healthy and fresh.

If it does stay fresh, his success will come down to his ability to continue deceiving hitters.

Until he proves us wrong, there’s no reason to believe he won’t.

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