The New York Mets have been in the news quite a bit this offseason. Unfortunately for their fans, most of the headlines have centered on the financial problems facing the franchise and not the on-field product. With most of their payroll tied up in a handful of players, new General Manager Sandy Alderson has had to make due with little resources.
With Johan Santana on the mend, Alderson’s main task was filling the remaining rotation spots behind Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, and Jon Niese. With few internal options (Dillon Gee) and limited spending money, Alderson was forced to make some risk/reward signings and hope for the best. One of those signing came in the form of Chris Young, formerly of the Alderson-led San Diego Padres.
The 6’10” right-hander made 97 starts for San Diego from 2006-2010. During that time, he went 33-25 with a 3.60 ERA/4.29 FIP/4.80 xFIP. As you can see, he is one of the pitchers whose ERA perennially outperforms his FIP/xFIP, which is due to a lower-than-normal BABIP and a slightly higher-than-average strand rate.
A predominately flyball pitcher (53% career), Young’s batted-ball tendency has been a perfect match for Petco Field. Because of this, much has been made of his home/road splits, and with good reason. As a member of the Padres, he owns a home ERA of 2.85 and FIP of 3.73. On the road, his ERA climbs to 4.29 while his FIP rises to 4.89.
Obviously, taking Young out of Petco would concern any potential suitor; however, signing with the Mets may be the best choice for the flyball-happy giant. Since opening in 2009, Citi Field has been one of the most pitcher friendly stadiums. In 2010, the warning track at Citi Field was a grave yard to many deep flyballs – earning a home run park factor in the bottom five of the league.
While Young may lose the “Petco Factor”, he will gain the “Citi Field Advantage.” Because of his high propensity for flyballs, his home run-to-flyball ratio is key to his success. Over the past two years, Padres’ pitchers have enjoyed an 8.8% HR/FB at home. Surprisingly, that puts them smack in the middle of the league. On the other hand, Metropolitan pitchers have a home HR/FB rate of just 7.4%, best in the major leagues, which should ease concerns of him leaving San Diego, but it does not solve the home/road split issue.
With average stuff, and his preference of batted ball, Young will likely continue to be below-average away from home, making for some frustrating road trips. His strong platoon split at home, meanwhile, should balance him out over the course of a full season, which brings us to New York’s real problem: Young’s durability or lack thereof.
Over the past five seasons, Young has spent more than a calendar year on the disabled list. He has landed on the 60-day DL in each of the past three seasons – including the past two years with shoulder injuries. Although he made at least 30 starts in each season from 2005-2007, he has never thrown 180 innings in a season. In the past three years, he has failed to reach 200 innings combined.
The unpredicatablity of injuries complicates the value of the signing quite a bit. Young could throw 20 innings – as he did last season – or he could find the magic elixir and toss 200. For the price, it is a risk the Mets were willing to take. If he pitches well and maxes out his contract incentives – $4.5 million, or about the cost of one win – then the Mets will get value for their gamble. If he fails, then the team takes a modest loss of $1.1 million and moves on to the next option.
There is plenty to worry about heading in the 2011 season for Chris Young – the main one being durability. If he can stay on the mound long enough, moving from Petco to Citi Field should not be a major concern, as he’s simply traded the west coast pitcher’s paradise for the east coast version.
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