On Wednesday Chris Young will make his eighth start for the Seattle Mariners. Two months ago that seemed fairly improbable, because two months ago Young wasn’t even on the Mariners roster.
Even more improbable, Young has run a 3.22 ERA and holds a 3-1 record. Those are things that some people care about, but not really the kinds of things that informed people care about. This isn’t news to you. You’re informed.
Mainstream media points to these numbers however, and says that the Young signing was “good,” or that he’s been a hidden gem, or some other meaningless colloquialism. The real most important part of the Young signing isn’t that he’s run a sparkly ERA, but rather that he cost the Mariners next to nothing, and filled the hole left by Randy Wolf after the whole opt-out pseudo-fiasco.
A couple of weeks ago I flew to Chicago, and for about a year my girlfriend and I have operated as a single-car household. There are a lot of reasons behind this, but the main reasons are that I got into a car accident last June that totaled my car and paid off my loan, and we live in decent proximity to Tacoma’s transit options. As such, I’ve become quite familiar with Freighthouse Square, which is a departure point for the Sounder Train, several buses, and Tacoma’s Link light rail.
On this day, my girlfriend dropped me off on her way to work right at the end of the link line. It was only shortly thereafter that I realized that I had left my ear buds on my desk at home. With no time to return, I was forced to weigh the options of paying an enormous sum of money at the airport for ear buds (seriously, they’re marked up to an outrageous percentage), finding whatever awfulness existed at Freighthouse Square, or spending the next roughly seven hours of my day without a myriad of podcasts and dirty rap songs.
“My daughter uses them,” said the owner of the convenience store within Freighthouse Square, answering my inquiry of the quality of some ear buds he was selling for $9.99.
I was faced with a dilemma. This was hardly a vote of confidence. I could buy these ear buds, of which I expected little quality, or I could risk paying double this price for equally disappointing ear buds in the airport, all with the likelihood that I’d have to reconcile this situation once I reached Chicago.
I bought the shitty convenience store ear buds, and the first hint of bass in Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty” told me every thing I needed to know. I had bought the Chris Young of ear buds. They weren’t expensive, and though ostensibly effective, they were quite terrible. And I feel like someone (seriously dude) could have told me in advance.
Young doesn’t strike batters out anymore, or at least not so far. He’s striking out basically half of his career average rate per nine innings, while posting a near-equal walk rate. His home run rate is lower than you’d expect from a guy with only a 26.5 percent ground ball rate, and a more-than-2.5 run difference between his ERA and xFIP tell a story that only gets more gruesome when you consider how his peripherals don’t support an uptick in strikeouts, a downturn in walks, and though his 11.0 infield fly rate is better than league average, it’s the worst rate Young has posted in his career.
Seemingly every bit of Young’s empty success has come at the hands of the .199 BABIP against him. Young has spent his career outperforming his peripherals, but much of that has to do with the homer-suppressing environments with the New York Mets and San Diego Padres in which he’s pitched the lion’s share of his career. If we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that homer-suppressing stadiums impact the home team too, and while pitchers like Young may be able to post ERAs that are the envy of their competitors while pitching in these environments, no-stuff pitchers with fly ball issues aren’t an effective prescription for insufficient winning percentage.
Chris Young isn’t a good pitcher anymore. In fact, he may have never been a good pitcher. If he keeps up his present rates, something for which we have very little evidence of change on the horizon, he’s likely to be quite awful soon. He’s posting the lowest strikeout rate among all qualified pitchers right now, with 3.63 K/9. Last year’s lowest strikeout rate belonged to Jeremy Guthrie, who averaged 4.72 K/9.
The last pitcher to average less than four strikeouts per nine innings was the 2012 iteration of Henderson Alvarez. Alvarez is about a league average pitcher, but has averaged 4.65 K/9 for his career, and boasts a 2.23 GB/FB ratio. He’s also in his mid-20s and throws in the mid-90s. Young is in his mid-30s and throws in the mid-80s. Both of those things bode worse for Young than they do for Alvarez, because duh.
The Mariners are on borrowed time with Young. It may seem crazy to think that the Mariners should be looking for a replacement for Young while his results look so good. But the chances of Young remaining effective for a whole season are small unless something changes drastically.