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Does Chris Young have a future?

The free-agent right-hander just put up one of the strangest seasons ever. Does he have any chance of repeating it?

Can Young continue to spit in the face of DIPS?
Can Young continue to spit in the face of DIPS?
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Young is weird, man. He's a 35-year-old junkballer with an injury record longer than Mark Prior's*, and he's accrued more than a thousand big-league innings with results much better than his peripherals. Continuing the latter trend, his 2014 season had something going for it that no other season did.

* - Not really, but, y'know, hyperbole.

First, though, some background. Drafted by the Pirates in 2000, he bounced around the minors for a few years before cracking the show with Texas in 2004. Over the next two campaigns, he compiled 201.0 innings, with a 94 ERA- and a 102 xFIP-; the latter figure made it appear that he'd allow more runs in the seasons to come.

Of course, appearances can deceive. Following a move to San Diego (in one of Jon Daniels's more ill-advised trades), Young broke out: Across 2006 and 2007, his 81 ERA- ranked 15th in the majors. Even more impressive, he posted that despite similarly-subpar peripherals — his 101 xFIP- for the Padres didn't differ much from his mark with the Rangers. For those 352.1 innings, he was on top of the world.

Then it all fell apart. Over the next six years, Young compiled a combined 337.1 innings, with a mediocre 104 ERA- and a hideous 124 xFIP-. With injuries and aging taking their toll, he didn't seem to be anything more than a guy with a decent history of overperformance. When Seattle inked him last March, no one expected much.

Then came the season itself, in which things got really weird. Always a fly ball pitcher, Young took that to the extreme last year: His 2014 fly ball rate of 58.7% beat those of every other qualifier since 2002. (Incidentally, his aforementioned 2006 and 2007 seasons occupy the second and third places, respectively, on that list.) Together with a plummeting strikeout rate and a walk rate that remained poor, this made him the worst pitcher since 2002 by park-adjusted xFIP.

But that's only half the story. Young's trend of out-pitching his xFIP also continued, to an unprecedented extent: Somehow, he had an above-average ERA. Yes, that's right — despite the worst peripherals in recent history, he allowed 67 earned runs in 165.0 innings, giving him an ERA 1% better than the major-league average.

That's incredibly uncommon, in case you didn't guess. (For the sake of comparison, we'll use FIP, since Young didn't have a lucky HR/FB% in 2014.) In the 144 years for which we have data, 6,042 qualifying pitcher seasons have had a better-than-average ERA. Of those, only three have had an FIP 30% worse than average:

# Season Name Team ERA FIP ERA- FIP-
1 1884 Billy O'Brien Apostles 1.80 2.77 85 149
2 2014 Chris Young Mariners 3.65 5.02 99 136
3 1933 Sugar Cain Athletics 4.25 5.42 98 130

Click here for the complete leaderboard.

The last guy to do what Young just did was born before World War I. So, yeah, it was a weird season.

Can it happen again? Let's look to history. First, we'll get a sample of some similar campaigns. A roughly average ERA — within, say, 5% of league average — along with a decidedly below-average FIP — at least 20% worse than the league-wide mark — will work. Since 1871, those conditions have occurred 44 times; below, you'll see all of them, along with the following season:

Season Name IP ERA- FIP- ERA FIP Season +1 IP ERA- FIP- ERA FIP
2014 Chris Young 165.0 99 136 3.65 5.02 2015 --- --- --- --- ---
2014 Shelby Miller 183.0 104 125 3.74 4.54 2015 --- --- --- --- ---
2012 Jason Vargas 217.1 101 121 3.85 4.69 2013 150.0 106 109 4.02 4.09
2010 Wade Davis 168.0 103 120 4.07 4.79 2011 184.0 115 121 4.45 4.67
2010 Randy Wolf 215.2 104 121 4.17 4.85 2011 212.1 95 110 3.69 4.29
2006 Kris Benson 183.0 105 123 4.82 5.59 2007 --- --- --- --- ---
2004 Jose Lima 170.1 98 120 4.07 5.09 2005 168.2 156 128 6.99 5.71
2003 Jake Peavy 194.2 103 123 4.11 4.99 2004 166.1 57 77 2.27 3.14
2001 Dustin Hermanson 192.1 104 123 4.45 5.33 2002 22.0 171 101 7.77 4.51
1996 Pete Harnisch 194.2 103 121 4.21 5.05 1997 39.2 168 137 7.03 5.78
1994 Pat Mahomes 120.0 97 128 4.73 6.21 1995 94.2 132 131 6.37 6.26
1992 Dave Stewart 199.1 99 120 3.66 4.42 1993 162.0 101 115 4.44 5.06
1991 Charlie Hough 199.1 101 120 4.02 4.73 1992 176.1 102 119 3.93 4.56
1990 Charlie Hough 218.2 104 127 4.07 4.98 1991 218.2 104 127 4.07 4.98
1990 Bill Gullickson 193.1 104 122 3.82 4.44 1991 226.1 94 97 3.90 3.95
1988 Tom Browning 250.2 96 125 3.41 4.50 1989 249.2 93 114 3.39 4.24
1985 Ron Romanick 195.0 100 123 4.11 4.98 1986 106.1 134 119 5.50 4.89
1984 Eric Show 206.2 97 122 3.40 4.23 1985 233.0 87 116 3.09 4.17
1983 Dan Petry 266.1 97 121 3.92 4.83 1984 233.1 83 91 3.24 3.59
1983 Steve McCatty 167.0 103 123 3.99 4.71 1984 179.2 125 131 4.76 5.01
1983 Tim Conroy 162.1 102 120 3.94 4.58 1984 93.0 140 129 5.32 4.92
1981 Jim Palmer 127.1 104 126 3.75 4.61 1982 227.0 78 98 3.13 3.95
1980 Tom Seaver 168.0 100 123 3.64 4.48 1981 166.1 72 104 2.54 3.58
1980 Steve McCatty 221.2 100 123 3.86 4.76 1981 185.2 67 98 2.33 3.48
1977 Ross Grimsley 218.1 104 124 3.96 4.71 1978 263.0 86 102 3.05 3.57
1975 Dennis Blair 163.1 101 125 3.80 4.70 1976 15.2 110 132 4.02 4.80
1969 Luis Tiant 249.2 99 123 3.71 4.74 1970 92.2 89 116 3.40 4.63
1964 Bennie Daniels 163.0 102 121 3.70 4.56 1965 116.1 136 128 4.72 4.59
1963 Phil Regan 189.0 105 123 3.86 4.56 1964 146.2 134 112 5.03 4.33
1946 Monte Kennedy 186.2 98 129 3.42 4.54 1947 148.1 118 105 4.85 4.25
1944 Atley Donald 159.0 97 122 3.34 4.17 1945 63.2 88 108 2.97 3.73
1933 Sugar Cain 218.0 98 130 4.25 5.42 1934 230.2 96 112 4.41 5.10
1920 Eric Erickson 239.1 105 124 3.84 4.37 1921 179.0 88 101 3.62 4.06
1916 Jean Dubuc 170.1 102 120 2.96 3.47 1917 --- --- --- --- ---
1913 Boardwalk Brown 235.1 104 122 2.94 3.40 1914 188.1 129 103 3.54 2.92
1912 Carl Cashion 170.1 95 129 3.17 3.98 1913 9.0 205 256 6.00 7.56
1910 Kirby White 179.1 105 122 3.16 3.53 1911 3.0 267 216 9.00 7.43
1908 Cy Morgan 205.0 101 130 2.46 2.90 1909 293.1 75 122 1.81 2.86
1907 Harry McIntire 199.2 101 132 2.39 3.26 1908 288.0 120 115 2.69 2.72
1890 Cannonball Titcomb 168.2 102 129 3.74 4.29 1891 --- --- --- --- ---
1888 Bill Burdick 176.0 96 126 2.81 3.65 1889 --- --- --- --- ---
1886 John Kirby 325.0 103 134 3.30 3.90 1887 103.0 174 137 7.25 5.71
1883 Charlie Sweeney 146.2 104 125 3.13 3.44 1884 492.0 58 81 1.70 2.31
1877 Tricky Nichols 350.0 101 120 2.60 2.91 1878 98.0 189 105 4.22 2.35

Some of these men didn't pitch at all in the subsequent season; others didn't do much with the time they saw. But of those who managed to gut it out, the overperformance remained. The average ERA- and FIP- for the 22 that qualified in the next campaign were 95 and 110, respectively.

So that gives some hope to Young — while he probably won't repeat 2014, he could have a decent season. Then again, this analysis doesn't take one critical thing into account: age. Young turned 35 last May, and by this point in a pitcher's life, they can implode at any time, for any reason.

With that in mind, let's look at another sample, one that looks upon Young's body of work. We'll take pitchers with at least 1,000 innings before age 36, with ERAs between 90 and 100 and FIPs between 105 and 115. (Young's career marks in those regards sit at 93 and 109, respectively.) Below, you'll find the 39 men who fit this profile, as well as their career outputs from 36 onward:

Years Name IP ERA- FIP- ERA FIP Years +1 IP ERA- FIP- ERA FIP
2004-2014 Chris Young 1055.2 93 109 3.77 4.38 --- --- --- --- --- ---
2004-2014 Jeremy Guthrie 1616.1 99 110 4.23 4.69 --- --- --- --- --- ---
2000-2013 Jon Garland 2151.1 98 106 4.37 4.69 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1998-2009 Braden Looper 1176.0 98 105 4.15 4.48 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1998-2009 Jarrod Washburn 1863.2 92 105 4.10 4.60 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1994-2006 Rick Helling 1526.1 99 107 4.68 5.00 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1993-2006 Steve Trachsel 2303.1 99 109 4.28 4.73 2007-2008 197.2 124 134 5.60 6.01
1993-2002 Woody Williams 1313.0 92 106 4.06 4.69 2003-2007 903.1 105 108 4.36 4.55
1989-2003 Kent Mercker 1168.2 99 107 4.27 4.65 2004-2008 156.2 76 101 3.33 4.48
1979-1991 Dan Petry 2080.1 98 109 3.95 4.39 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1977-1990 Dan Schatzeder 1310.1 99 106 3.72 3.99 1991 6.2 230 118 9.45 4.81
1976-1985 Pat Zachry 1177.1 99 108 3.52 3.84 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1970-1983 Charlie Hough 1423.0 94 106 3.50 3.94 1984-1994 2378.0 95 110 3.89 4.49
1967-1982 Mike Torrez 2781.2 100 105 3.90 4.05 1983-1984 262.1 130 121 4.67 4.41
1966-1972 Tom Phoebus 1030.0 100 108 3.33 3.72 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1961-1973 Bobby Bolin 1576.0 97 106 3.40 3.63 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1959-1966 Ernie Broglio 1337.1 95 106 3.74 4.09 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1958-1971 Mudcat Grant 2441.2 100 113 3.63 4.17 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1955-1965 Roger Craig 1513.2 97 107 3.80 4.14 1966 22.2 155 125 5.56 4.36
1953-1964 Bob Buhl 2265.1 92 112 3.38 4.07 1965-1967 321.2 130 119 4.70 4.18
1952-1965 Ron Kline 1900.0 99 106 3.82 4.07 1968-1970 178.0 90 114 3.03 3.68
1951-1963 Bob Turley 1712.2 98 107 3.64 3.99 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1939-1949 Elmer Riddle 1023.0 94 109 3.40 4.01 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1936-1946 Johnny Lanning 1067.1 98 106 3.56 3.98 1947 3.2 242 181 9.82 7.41
1914-1919 Pete Schneider 1274.0 98 108 2.66 2.93 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1913-1923 Harry Harper 1256.0 96 108 2.87 3.22 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1912-1926 Dixie Davis 1318.2 94 108 3.97 4.49 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1906-1918 Jack Coombs 2314.1 99 106 2.78 2.81 1920 5.2 84 96 3.18 3.46
1903-1913 Cy Morgan 1445.1 95 115 2.51 2.82 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1903-1910 Ed Killian 1598.1 91 106 2.38 2.67 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1902-1909 Bob Rhoads 1691.2 99 112 2.61 2.77 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1902-1909 Carl Lundgren 1322.0 90 105 2.42 2.86 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1901-1909 Frank Owen 1368.1 100 106 2.55 2.62 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1896-1902 Cy Seymour 1029.0 99 112 3.76 4.10 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1892-1903 Brickyard Kennedy 3021.0 98 108 3.96 4.28 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1890-1898 Ed Stein 1656.0 97 109 3.97 4.35 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1888-1895 Phil Knell 1452.1 100 106 4.05 4.06 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1888-1891 Darby O'Brien 1080.2 100 111 3.68 3.90 --- --- --- --- --- ---
1875-1884 George Bradley 2940.0 92 110 2.42 2.65 --- --- --- --- --- ---

This sample kills a lot of the optimism of the first one. Of the 37 who could have pitched more, only 11 did, and they performed poorly. A 132 ERA- and a 120 FIP- doesn't keep you around for long. (Obviously, Hough's the exception here, but other circumstances allowed him to remain great.) By this test, Young — and Jeremy Guthrie, I suppose — doesn't have much of a future.

What does all of this mean for Young? Because he's defied expectations for as long as he has, we can probably say he's a true-talent overachiever. But he's still old, and he could fall off the cliff at any time. Steamer sure thinks he will  — it projects a 5.21 ERA and a 5.71 FIP, driven chiefly by that astronomical home run rate. While I don't see him regressing that much, I doubt he'll maintain what he did last year.

Moreover, in order for him to do anything, he'll have to join a team. At the time of this writing, he's still a free agent. Maybe the fact that no one's signed him yet testifies to the changing market — teams no longer value results as much as peripherals. Or maybe an old, injury-prone hurler doesn't appeal to them all that much.

Whatever the case may be, it'll be interesting to watch what happens to Young this year. He's had an odd career, and 2014 only represented another chapter in it. In 2015, the story might continue, or it might end; we'll have to see.

. . .

All data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.

Ryan Romano is an editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles on Camden Depot and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.