Chris Young the Outfielder

When we checked the center field position and created tiered rankings, there were a few players that were suggested as possible values at the position.

Carlos Gomez and Cameron Maybin could provide some nice speed – at the cost of risking your batting average. Since the rankings were for rotisserie baseball, that risk pushed those players off of the rankings.

But what if we were talking about head-to-head baseball, where punting a category is a strategy many deep leaguers employ? In such a format, you are competing in ten categories every week and can easily ‘punt’ a category if it provides an advantage elsewhere. Imagine the value you could get out of eschewing batting average – your lineup could employ Jimmy Rollins, Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, and Jayson Werth, all without the problems that lineup would normally entail.

With that strategy in mind, is Chris Young a viable option in 2010? If Bill James is to be believed, Youngs’ power and speed could return and answer that question affirmatively. The fans have yet to chime in (but should take this chance to give their input).

After famously being demoted to the minor leagues last year, Young returned to a post-All-Star-break line that could help batting-average-punters (.236/.343/.444) – at least in the power department. He didn’t steal a base. We can be forgiven for feeling confused.

Looking at his plate discipline stats may just muddy the waters. Every statistic is going in a different direction. His strikeout rate has gotten steadily worse (24.8% in 2007 to 30.7% last year), but he’s reaching less often (22.9% in 2007 to 18.0% last year). Perhaps it’s all about his contact rate, which is definitely getting worse (79.7% in 2006 to 73.9% last year), but there are plenty of players that succeed with a 75-ish% contact rate (Evan Longoria and Adrian Gonzalez most prominently), and with his still-strong walk rate (9.1% career, 12% in 2009), he has his good qualities.

There’s also something interesting going on with Young’s take rate. As RJ pointed out, Young takes a lot of pitches in the zone, and a good portion of those pitches could have been called balls last year. But again, Victor Martinez and Chris Coghlan both also took about 40% of the pitches they saw in the zone, and they had pretty good years last year.

It may just be that a player that both takes a lot of pitches in the zone and doesn’t make contact is going to have a hard time in major league baseball. Let’s set the bar at Young’s career levels of swinging in the zone (around 60%) and contact rate (around 76%). How many other players in the last two years have had good seasons with those rates?

Last year, the list was short: Mike Cameron, Jason Bay and Brandon Inge all had passable years sporting percentages close to Young’s numbers (but none took as many pitches in the zone, with Cameron swinging the least at 63.7%). In 2008, it was Jason Bay and Mike Cameron again (but Bay made contact on 77.1% of his pitches, and Cameron swung at more pitches than Young.)

It looks like we have a (rather obvious) comp in Mike Cameron then. Except that if you compare Cameron’s career numbers in the two categories (63.9% Z-swing%, 75.4% contact rate), you’ll notice he doesn’t take as many pitches in the zone. He also plays solid center field defense (+5.7 UZR/150 in CF, career).

And you have your two things to work on for Chris Young the Outfielder. In order to be Mike Cameron, he needs to swing at more pitches in the zone and play better defense. Then he’ll always have a place on the field. The good news is that Young swung at more pitches in the zone last year than he did the previous two years. The bad news is that his defense needs to take a serious step forward this year (-4.9 UZR/150 in CF, career). The good news means that he may be ownable in the right league next year. The bad news means that he won’t be ownable in any keeper leagues going forward if the defense doesn’t improve.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers’ fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A’s or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Well, if he ever comes remotely close to 30HR-25SB again, his bat will easily play in a corner spot and his defense won’t be a worry. He’s not a butcher in CF regardless, but the bat is the worry. Please make more contact Chris, please.