Chris Young’s Fatal Flaw

Last night, Dexter Fowler ran wild against the San Diego Padres, becoming just the 18th player in the last 55 years to steal at least five bases in a single game. The rookie sensation continues to demand that he be penciled into the line-up, as he now has a .416 wOBA through his first 62 plate appearances of the year. Even with a crowded outfield, the Rockies are going to have a hard time keeping Fowler out of the line-up.

However, this post isn’t about Fowler. This post is about Chris Young. The tall pitching one, not the hack-at-everything center field version. See, Young was on the mound for the Padres last night, and while he only lasted three innings, that was long enough for the Rockies to steal eight bases off of him.

Yes, the Rockies stole eight bases in three innings off of Young. They didn’t attempt a steal after he left the game. They weren’t running on the Padres catcher, Nick Hundley, who had to feel fairly helpless as he watched his CS% go through the floor. They were running on Young, who has one of the slowest deliveries to the plate in baseball history.

After last night’s track meet, opposing baserunners are now 14 for 14 in stolen base attempts off of Young this year. This isn’t new, though – in his career, Young has had 131 bases stolen off of him, and 13 runners have been gunned down while he was on the mound. That’s a 91% success rate.

It’s even worse if you look at recent history. Since the beginning of the 2007 season, opposing runners are 73 for 75 in stolen base attempts against Young. That’s a 97% (!) success rate.

Given this, it’s fairly obvious that teams aren’t running on Young enough. The breakeven rate of stealing a base is somewhere around 75%, and anything over 80% is certainly adding value. With a recent 97% success rate, it’s almost impossible that other managers aren’t leaving runs on the table by not running on Young more frequently.

The Rockies have some guys with speed, so they were able to execute a game plan that should be typical when Young takes the mound. Everyone short of David Ortiz should be stealing on practically pitch Young throws. Every baserunner he puts on should be thinking second base.

Quite simply, Young is worse at holding runners than anyone else in baseball is at any other skill. He’s historically awful, and opposing managers need to take a page from Clint Hurdle and make him pay for it.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

27 Responses to “Chris Young’s Fatal Flaw”

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  1. Kincaid says:

    Blame Greg Maddux.

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  2. rwperu34 says:

    Does this show up in his WAR?

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  3. Seth says:

    Any way the catcher could just stop trying to throw them out and get them marked as “indifference”?

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    • joser says:

      I could be wrong, but my impression is that “indifference” is ruled based as much on the actions of the pitcher and infielders to keep the runner close to the base as it is anything done by the catcher. Plus if it’s likely to affect the results of the game (it’s early in the game, and/or the runner represents a tying or winning run) it’s not going to get scored as defensive indifference. 10.07(g)

      The scorer shall consider, in judging whether the defensive team has been indifferent to a runner’s advance, the totality of the circumstances, including the inning and score of the game, whether the defensive team had held the runner on base, whether the pitcher had made any pickoff attempts on that runner before the runner’s advance, whether the fielder ordinarily expected to cover the base to which the runner advanced made a move to cover such base, whether the defensive team had a legitimate strategic motive to not contest the runner’s advance or whether the defensive team might be trying impermissibly to deny the runner credit for a stolen base. For example, with runners on first and third bases, the official scorer should ordinarily credit a stolen base when the runner on first advances to second, if, in the scorer’s judgment, the defensive team had a legitimate strategic motive—namely, preventing the runner on third base from scoring on the throw to second base—not to contest the runner’s advance to second base. The official scorer may conclude that the defensive team is impermissibly trying to deny a runner credit for a stolen base if, for example, the defensive team fails to defend the advance of a runner approaching a league or career record or a league statistical title.

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  4. Alec says:

    This is going to be an extremely interesting situation to watch. If CY can’t hold runners to anything less than a 90% SB success rate, the flaw may very well be fatal to his career. I hope, for his sake, that he learns quickly.

    I’m trying to think of semi-comparable situations, for a frame of reference… What other combination of player & skill compares to this degree of ineptitude?

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  5. kris says:

    I realistically can’t get over the fact that if the Padres figure that they’ll do more harm trying to throw the runner out than just holding tight. If the runners are stealing at a 97% clip — I’d have to ask what the percentage on Hundley throwing it into the outfield, or the ball somehow getting free such that the runner could advance to third. I’d imagine it’d at least be close to 5-10 percent, which almost makes standing up and eating it, rather than throwing somewhat of a strategy.

    Now, whether or not the out is worth more 3 percent of the time, than the extra base is worth 10 percent of the time, is up for debate.

    I think it’d be smart for Hundley to say screw it 3 of 5 times, and almost try and trick runners into believe he wont steal.

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  6. rwperu34 says:

    Since 1980 I was able to find two players that were almost as bad at holding runners.

    Mike Scott from 1987-1990 allowed 162 SB with only 22 CS for a 88% rate (actually probably allowed more SB runs than Young).

    Bobby WItt in 1986-1987 allowed 90 SB with 6 CS for a 93.8% rate.

    Dwight Gooden from 1986-1989 was likely next with 143 SB and 29 CS, an 83 % rate.

    I’d be interested in seeing SB runs allowed on these guys and see who’s the worst single season and who had the worst multi year runs.

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  7. philosofool says:

    Minor correction: Chris B. Young, the D-Back center fielder is not a “hack at everything player.” His career swing percentage is just 41% and he swings a pitches in the zone just a little less than three times as frequently as out of zone. It’s hard to diagnose what’s wrong with Young’s approach at the plate, but it isn’t free-swinging; about half his K’s were looking rather than swinging. One suspects that given his low swing rate, pitchers aren’t afraid to go after the zone with him and get him behind sitting on hittable pitches. I’d have to stop and watch him more to be go beyond speculation based on the stats.”

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    • Fresh Hops says:

      Correction: that should have read “his looking strike rate was half his swinging strike rate” not “half his Ks were looking.” There’s obviously a big difference. Still, that is a high rate of looking Ks.

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  8. cpebbles says:

    If it becomes career-endangering, all Young really has to do is start holding onto the ball with runners on to vary his timing enough to keep slow players from stealing against him. He can’t be so slow to the plate that people with average or below speed can frequently steal off him without getting a big jump.

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  9. Trent says:

    Chris Young is no doubt an enigma as a pitcher. Consider his other three major outlier stats:

    Career BABIP: .268
    Career BAA: .226
    Career GB/FB: 0.53

    I would say those stats explain why he has had success considering the awful SB percentage. There are various conclusions that could be drawn. At least one of which is that because of the low GB/FB he relies less on the double play than most pitchers, thus it is not as important that he keeps runners on first. As well the low BAA results in less of the runners that make it to second being driven in by base hits.

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    • Matt Harms says:

      He’s an extreme flyball pitcher playing half his games at Petco. 2006 BABIP of .237, 2007 BABIP of .252, 2008 BABIP of .266. The guy is only in the majors because he plays in the ideal stadium for half the year.

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  10. Trent says:

    I would say that is a bit of an exageration. Here are his splits for his first two years in San Diego(leaving out last year because he was injured most of the year):

    Away: 181IP 68ER 126H 76BB 3.38ERA 1.07WHIP
    Home: 171.1IP 60ER 126H 65BB 3.14 ERA 1.06WHIP

    Yeah…I suppose your right, no way he should be in the majors. You would think if you frequented a site like this you wouldn’t throw out generalities like you did without first looking at the numbers.

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    • Matt Harms says:

      You’re right on me throwing out the generalities, fair enough. But the whip, era, and hits are all artificially low due to his unsustainable babip.

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      • Trent says:

        Most people seem to agree with you. I went ahead and looked back a few years…Here is what I found.

        From 2005-2008 35 pitchers have had a season with a GB/FB under 0.7. Of these only 8 had a BABIP over .300. Where as 9 have had a BABIP under .260. Considering BABIP is supposed to normalize at .300 it looks like there might be a trend for those pitchers that are extreme flyball pitchers to have a lower normalized BABIP than normal pitchers.

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  11. John says:


    Where did you find the stolen base numbers against Young? Are these statistics (stolen bases allowed/attempted) readily available?

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  12. Clearly anyone can see that throwing out baserunners is solely the catcher’s duty so it’s Nick Hundley’s fault. “Before the throw that popped Hawpe in the neck, Colorado had stolen 8 bases off of San Diego catcher Nick Hundley — 5 by Dexter Fowler. Hundley, who’s only relation to Todd is that they both suck at nabbing base stealers, didn’t intend to hit Hawpe in the neck, but I bet the throw had some extra zip on it out of frustration.”

    See? If only Hundley’s throws were 300 mph … Ian Stewart’s glove would’ve wound up pinned to the CF fence. But still.

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  13. bhoov says:

    Gavin Floyd may be second worst among active pitchers. baserunners are 66 for 74 for an 89% success rate in his career. 37/42 last year for 88% success rate.

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  14. mike says:

    “Where did you find the stolen base numbers against Young? Are these statistics (stolen bases allowed/attempted) readily available?”

    BB-ref also has them, under the main “pitching statistics” for a player, in the “Batting Against–Pitching” table.

    Young has an amazing record. I thought Gooden, Nomo, and Wakefield were bad at preventing steals, but they’re still not close to Young.

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  15. Caleb says:

    Updating a previous item, base stealers are currently at 20/20 against Chris Young.

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