When the Mariners started the 2014 season with Randy Wolf kind of on the roster, they would have been thrilled to get the kind of results they’ve gotten from Chris Young from Wolf. Young’s 3.65 ERA has been something of a windfall for the Mariners. Sure, he’s been riding a fall all season, and actually holds the highest xFIP of any qualified pitchers, but Young — ostensibly their second choice — has done a pretty good job of limiting runs allowed this season.
Young has been incredibly lucky this year, though his career of substantially outperforming his peripherals is well exemplified by this year’s results. He’s got an ERA that is 1.55 runs below his xFIP. His career, however, has been colored by an ERA that is 1.05 runs lower than his xFIP. Chris Young is an anomaly. He’s a freak. He’s almost seven feet tall, and he’s had much of his success as a result of a high infield fly ball rate. Infield fly balls are basically as good as strikeouts.
Young has been able to supplement a sub-pedestrian strikeout rate for his career with a very good infield fly ball rate. His 14.1 percent infield fly ball rate in 2014 has been third best in the league this year. Since Young entered major league baseball in 2004 he’s got the highest infield fly ball rate among all pitchers with 1000 innings pitched or more. This year’s version of major league baseball has yielded the second least infield fly balls of any season since 2004, and Chris Young has maintained an elite infield fly ball place.
I don’t mean to eulogize Young at this point. His career isn’t necessarily over. The Mariners season isn’t over by any stretch at this point. Chris Young, theoretically, could make an important start for the Mariners in the postseason.
Chris Young has fly balled his way into being a pretty good pitcher from a runs-allowed perspective. That’s a hard thing for me to admit, as I’ve been predicting his impending doom since the second the Mariners showed interest in him. He’s imploded recently, but amazingly, despite him being a constant candidate to have his numbers erode to zero-value production, Young has been a steady arm for the Mariners up until the past five games he’s pitched.
Young will be in the bullpen going forward, and forward could mean anything from basically a week to more than a month in the absolute unthinkable, perfect scenario. Young has been worth 2.1 rWAR, but more importantly, his success is a worthy reminder of how the Mariners, given the right mix of stuff and peripherals, can find a pitcher who doesn’t allow a bunch of runs in Safeco Field. Young owned a respectable 3.86 FIP in Safeco Field, and a 6.28 FIP away from The Safe. This isn’t a shock that he was so bad away from Safeco, and he’s not necessarily an ideal pitcher stylistically for Safeco, but he’s fine, and cost basically nothing.
Most importantly though, Young was expendable, which is sounds fine in theory, but seemed unlikely in execution on a team that is not presently known to be on the leading edge of modern baseball strategy.
In some ways Chris Young represents the Mariners greatest weaknesses, the past ostensible strength, but ultimately, Mariners fans don’t have to white-knuckle anymore during each Young start. So I guess, thank you Chris Young, you were cheap, and weirdly effective, until you weren’t.