To be honest, I had figured that Diamondbacks centerfielder Chris B. Young would be entrenched as a star-caliber player by this point in his career. A 6-2, 200 pounder with a unique blend of patience, power and athleticism, Young was originally a 16th round steal by the Chicago White Sox in the 2001 amateur entry draft. On the heels of a gargantuan season for AA Birmingham in 2005 (.277/.377/.545, 26 HR in 554 PA), Young was shipped to the D-Backs in a deal that netted Chicago the equally enigmatic Javier Vazquez. The one question that pundits had about Young was his lofty strikeout totals, but he appeared to be making some gains on that front as he climbed the minor league ladder:
2005 (AA): 12.7 BB%, 23.3 K%
2006 (AAA): 11.5 BB%, 17.7 K%
Following a .276/.359/.532 campaign at AAA Tucson that included the reduction in his whiffs, Young made a brief cameo with Arizona and looked poised to post some outstanding numbers as an everyday player in 2007.
However, Young’s transition to the majors did not go as smoothly as expected. His solid plate discipline eroded, as he managed just a 7% walk rate to go along with a lofty 24.8 K%. While he displayed a good deal of pop (.230 ISO), Young’s .237/.295/.467 showing earned him a -0.05 WPA/LI.
2008 brought him some gains in the patience department, as he upped his walk rate to 9%. However, that sinister K rate rose to 26.4% and he posted a .248/.315/.443 line, with a slightly better WPA/LI of 0.24. Young’s 77.47% contact rate placed him in the lower third tier among qualified batters, though it was actually an improvement over his 76.66% rate in 2007. Young also got jammed with alarming frequency, as his 16.8 IF/FB% was the fifth-highest mark among qualified batters. So, what gives?
If a player possesses good secondary skills (walks and power), strikeouts do not preclude success. However, a K rate in the vicinity of Young’s does put a significant cap on his batting average, putting more stress on his ability to draw free passes and pop extra base hits; if you’re only going to manage a .230 average, you better be able to draw walks by the bushel to compensate (lest you post execrable OBP’s like Young has to this point). It does appear that Young made some gains in this department, as he lowered his Outside Swing Percentage (O-Swing%) from 22.87 in 2007 to 20.43% in 2008.
The question regarding Young at this point is, will he draw enough free passes to offset the handicap of a .230-ish batting average? Given his track record, it seems reasonable that Young will draw a few more walks as he matures, but the high K rate is here to stay given his contact rate and his issues with breaking balls. Still, he has the secondary skills and speed (27 SB in ’07, 14 in ’08) to be a fantasy asset. Only 25 heading into next season, Young still possesses the skills to guide him down a Mike Cameron-type career path if he can be a little more selective at the plate.