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Chris Young tied the Royals’ hands

By one metric, Chris Young set a record as one of the worst starters in the history of the game last year, yet he was a serviceable relief pitcher. A deep dive into his inability to churn through lineups.

Kansas City Royals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Matt Brown/Angels Baseball LP/Getty Images

Here’s a nearly impossible trivia question with which to dazzle your friends: What do Steve Blass, Fred Osborne (who?), and Chris Young have in common with one another? They are the only starting pitchers in the history of baseball to finish a season with >50 innings and a FIP- higher than 190. Even including Osborne, who was hardly a pitcher –with only 58 innings from 1890 to his name, hardly a ballplayer really – Chris Young tops the list with the worst FIP- in history.

Young struggled mightily in his 88 23 innings of 2016, giving up a ton of home runs and walks and costing the Royals wins (-1.2 fWAR, to be precise). Kansas City paid him over $4 million last year and he posted a 6.19 ERA and 6.62 FIP; they’re also on the hook for another $5.8 million this season.

Young’s 56 innings as a starter were putrid. He allowed 26 home runs (nearly one every other inning!). As a reliever, his BABIP was extraordinarily high, but his strikeout rate and walk rate matched what he did as a starter. The question is, what happened? And what should the Royals game plan be going forward?

Innings ERA FIP Hits ER HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA BABIP Soft% Medium% Hard%
Innings ERA FIP Hits ER HR BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA BABIP Soft% Medium% Hard%
Starter 56 7.39 8.56 67 46 26 10.5 22.6 .291 .366 .689 .433 .281 12.8 42.4 44.8
Reliever 32.2 4.13 3.30 37 15 2 10.7 24.2 .280 .365 .380 .327 .372 23.2 41.1 35.8

The first thing that is immediately apparent is the lack of soft contact as a starter. Over 87 percent of all contact was either medium- or hard-hit when Young took the mound in the first inning. Alternatively, nearly a quarter of his relief contact is classified as softly hit.

In that light, the differences in wOBA and BABIP are unsurprising. The number of home runs also makes sense, as nearly nine out of ten batted balls against Young as a starter were classified as medium or hard hit. But what does that difference in quality of contact stem from?

A look at Young’s pitch mix does not offer any clues, as he relied on his slider 52.65 percent of the time as a starter and 54.23 percent as a reliever. He supplemented his slider with a four seamer, rarely using another pitch.

And herein lies one of his key problems. Young was not able to get through the lineup more than once with only two pitches at his disposal. Take a look at his numbers multiple times through the order in 2016:

Times through order IP ERA TBF HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Times through order IP ERA TBF HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG wOBA
1st time as SP 28 4.50 117 7 12 27 .219 .299 .481 .330
2n time as SP 21.2 10.80 109 15 11 22 .367 .431 .897 .536
3rd time as SP 6.1 8.53 31 4 4 9 .296 .387 .741 .462
1st time as RP 29 2.48 130 1 16 31 .266 .364 .345 .316
2nd time as RP 3.2 17.18 19 1 0 5 .368 .368 .579 .403

Even as a reliever, Young had difficulty keeping batters off the bases. On his first time through the order, 81 of the 247 opposing batters reached base, for an unenviable .328 OBP allowed, but that number is far better than the abysmal .421 OBP allowed on his second time through the lineup and .387 OBP on his third churn (which barely ever happened).

This is pretty bad news for the Royals, who likely thought they were paying for 125 to 165 league-average innings when they signed Young before last season. The numbers seem to state that Young cannot start a game unless the Royals are willing to accept horrible performance starting around the third or fourth inning; that’s not much of a leash.

Kansas City has a couple of options, none of them great. It can simply continue to use Young as a regular starter, putting itself at a huge disadvantage, as it is incredibly unlikely he can make it past the fourth inning in a majority of those starts. Alternately, it could use him as a middle-reliever, relying on him for one or two innings maximum, and never letting batters see him more than once. In my opinion, that’s exactly what they ought to do. If he puts together 40 decent first-half innings, they may be able to unload him to a contender needing some middle relief help, and successfully recoup their $5 million investment.


Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano