One Chris Young has found a home this offseason, as the former D-Backs, A’s and Mets outfielder re-signed with the Yankees early in the winter. The other Chris Young, despite having enjoyed the better results of the two in 2014, remains available on the free agent market. The 6’10” right-hander soaked up 165 innings in the Mariners’ rotation last season, working to a 3.65 ERA with 5.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. That’s solid production, and based on runs allowed (RA9-WAR), Young was worth 2.4 wins above replacement.
And yet, the towering righty remains unsigned, perhaps in part due to the fact that sabermetric estimators suggest that his success was exceptionally fortunate. Young’s 5.02 FIP, 5.19 xFIP and 5.24 SIERA paint an ugly picture, to be sure, but there are reasons to think that he can still provide value in a team’s rotation.
Firstly, we can’t ignore the fact that Young’s career ERA (3.77) is significantly better than his career FIP (4.38), xFIP (4.82) or SIERA (4.63). Being an extreme fly-ball pitcher is likely a turn-off for teams in small parks, but because he allows so many fly balls (58.7 percent in 2014; 54.8 percent for his career), Young has proven capable of sustaining a BABIP that is considerably lower than the league average (fly balls in play fall for hits at a much lower rate than line drives and ground balls). Extreme fly-ball arms like Young have proven to be able to outperform those figures because a larger percentage of balls in play against them are converted into outs. Repeating a 3.65 ERA may not be likely, but it stands to reason that Young could demonstrate at least somewhat useful run prevention skills at the back of a rotation.
Young has also shown a dominance over right-handed hitters throughout his career, and particularly in 2014. Same-handed hitters have mustered a paltry .218/.287/.381 batting line against Young in his big league career, and he held them to an even feebler .199/.260/.372 line last year. On the flipside of that is that he struggles against left-handed hitters, of course, but a team with a spacious outfield that naturally suppresses lefty power could use its home environment to maximize Young’s strengths while shielding against his weaknesses.
The cost on Young shouldn’t be prohibitive; I’d imagine that if he is able to secure an MLB deal, the base salary would fall shy of the respective $5MM and $6.5MM guarantees of Aaron Harang and Kyle Kendrick. And, there’s also the possibility that given the late stage of the offseason and the number of teams with their rotations filled, Young will have to settle for a minor league deal. Any non-guaranteed deal would figure to have a relatively substantial base salary in the event that Young made the team. (John Axford, for example has a $2.65MM base on his minor league deal in Colorado.)
Given all of these elements, let’s examine a few spots that make sense for the Reynolds Sports Management client to end up…
- Angels: The Halos have addressed their pitching depth this winter by adding prospects Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano in separate trades, but the rotation still doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 5 starter. It’s also not a given that Garrett Richards will be ready for Opening Day, so adding a veteran like Young makes some degree of sense. Angel Stadium ranked 25th in left-handed home run factor in 2014 (per Baseball Prospectus) and routinely ranks in the bottom third of the league.
- Tigers: Detroit’s rotation depth has taken a hit in recent years due to several trades, and they have little in the way of certainty beyond their projected starting five (David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon). Even Greene and Simon have some uncertainty about them, as Greene has little MLB experience, and Simon wilted in the second half of what could be an outlier season. Comerica Park ranked 23rd in left-handed HR factor last year, though it has played as more of a middle-of-the-road park for lefties in other seasons.
- Braves: Atlanta hasn’t been shy about adding veterans to slot into the bullpen or the rotation, having added the likes of Eric Stults, Wandy Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Matt Capps and Todd Coffey on minor league deals recently. Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Alex Wood and Shelby Miller are locks, but the fifth spot is up for grabs.
- Astros: Houston recently added Roberto Hernandez to a minor league deal with the idea that he could compete for a spot in their rotation, and Young could be brought in to compete in a similar manner. Righty Brad Peacock may not be ready to open the season, and Houston did part with Michael Foltynewicz in the Evan Gattis trade (though the team also added rotation candidate Dan Straily in the Dexter Fowler deal with the Cubs).
- Rays: Matt Moore won’t pitch until this summer as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, leaving Nate Karns and Alex Colome as the likely candidates to compete for the fifth spot behind Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer. The AL East and its hitter-friendly parks may not be an ideal setting for Young, but Tropicana Field is more favorable to pitchers than rival parks such as Yankees Stadium and Rogers Centre.
Few teams possess the type of pitching depth that would allow them to completely rule out adding a depth candidate to compete for a role at the back of the rotation. One could make a compelling case for Young fitting with any number of teams not listed here, and it’s also possible that a Spring Training injury could create a need for an arm like his. At 36 years of age and with a limited MLB track record in recent years, Young isn’t a big-ticket item, but 165 innings of 3.65 ERA in 2014 should at the very least net him the opportunity to try to prove that he can recreate the feat.