Chirs Young came into this season with big expectations. In 2008 he had a league average bat and played average defense in center field, all at the age of 24. That kind of performance, at a premium defensive position and such a young age, is usually a indicator of a very good to superstar level player in the future. That very good to superstar level player has not shown up in 2009. Young has played below replacement level and was optioned to Triple-A on Monday.
His performance at the plate is mostly responsible, as his wOBA has dropped below .300. R.J. looked at his K troubles, which have been caused by a big drop in contact percentage. His other plate discipline numbers have actually improved this year. He is swinging at more pitches in the zone and fewer out of the zone than ever before, so he is walking more.
The big problem comes when he makes contact. Young far and away leads the league in infield fly balls, with over 14% infield flies per ball in play. No other player has more than 10%, and Clint Barmes and Vernon Wells are the only other players above 7%. Young is a major outlier. Pop ups are the worst balls in play possible, as they are effectively automatic outs. The huge number of pop ups, and a lack of line drives, justify his horrid .254 BABIP. In addition his HR/FB has dropped in half to 5.6%, which I am sure is not unrelated to his huge number of pop ups.
Part of the problem is that Young cannot lay off the high-heat. Here I plot swing percentage against fastballs by pitch height. I normalized the pitch height with the linear transformation that takes the top of the zone to 1 and the bottom to 0.
Again the differences appear subtle, but I think have a big effect. These fastballs up in zone and above the zone are most likely to be whiffs and pop ups, and Young swings at them about 7.5% more often than average. I am not saying this is the sole reason for the problem, and I am sure there are hitters who can succeed swinging at high fastballs. I do think, though, that these swings up in the zone and above the zone are not helping.
Young is swinging at too many pitches up in the zone and, probably, there is something wrong with the path of his swing leading to the increase in pop ups and drop in HRs. I would love to hear the opinion of any swing analysts. He is still young. Hopefully, he can get his swing back, and get a promising career back on track.