By: Brian Mangan
Chris Young is fine, and Mets fans should not be mad at (and willing to sacrifice) Chris Young simply because Terry Collins is going to insist on playing Eric Young Jr.
The composition of the Mets outfield has been the source of much consternation as of late. Although discontentment among fans about Terry Collins’s choices regarding playing time has been brewing all year, things really came to a head last week with the #FreeLagares controversy. For anyone not familiar, here’s the short version: Collins benched Juan Lagares (of the 807 OPS and excellent defense) for four out of five games, without explanation, starting Eric Young Jr. (of the 620 OPS and good defense) instead.
In the aftermath of that dilemma, I’ve noticed something. Terry Collins is legitimately causing fans to go through the seven stages of grief:
Fans initially reacted with shock (or immobilization) when seeing Lagares out of the lineup in favor of Eric Young. They then moved to denial, hoping that there was some reason that Collins would do so (in fact, some are still in denial, wondering if Collins may have been protecting his player or giving him time off to work on his swing). Next, fans reacted with anger. This is where we saw the #FreeLagares movement reach it’s peak.
Now, sadly, fans are “bargaining”. In this stage, fans have begun to consider the following question — Terry Collins is going to start Eric Young Jr. whether we like it or not, so who should be benched in his favor?
And now, for the first time, fans have turned their critical eye toward Chris Young.
Even the media has gotten into the act. Tonight on the radio broadcast, Howie Rose and Josh Lewin discussed that exact topic, wondering how long into a season a player would be entitled to depend on that promise before, well … it’s no longer a bad start, but has become a bad season.
Writers are getting into it too. Here’s the Post:
Instead of celebrating Lagares’ incredible ability to play center field, the Mets go out and sign Chris Young, promise him at-bats and create an outfield issue because Eric Young Jr. is fast and Terry Collins, like any manager in the real world, wants to have speed at the top of his lineup.
And the Daily News:
Let me stop you guys there.
Forget the promises. Chris Young should be starting because he gives the Mets the best chance to win ballgames.
We did an in-depth write-up of the Chris Young signing here at the Read Zone at the time it was announced. We pointed out that between 2010-2013, he was one of the best outfielders in baseball on a per-game-appearance basis when you factor in offense, defense, and baserunning. We said that if he could be adequate defensively, “we could be looking at a 2-win player with even a moderate bounce back with the bat.” We ultimately concluded that he would be “a fine player … that will nudge the Mets [toward mediocrity].”
[FN] Although I liked, but didn’t love, the Young signing at the time that it was made, most of my hesitation was based on things that had nothing to do with Young himself. I wondered aloud whether the signing should have been multiple years, I wondered what the point was of spending such a large percentage of the budget on a single player (although the Mets would then go on to blast past the $20-$30M number that we had been told by signing both Colon and Granderson).
Ultimately, team context aside, we believed that Young could contribute.
It is May 21st, no longer that early, and thus far, Chris Young has struggled. After missing some time with an injury earlier in the year, he has returned to post a .211/.279/.368 batting line. Overall, Young has been worth -0.2 WAR (including his negative grade on defense).
Given the “playing time crunch” in the outfield, the pressure is now on Chris Young for the first time to justify his starting role. Perhaps most fans are like me – content to let Chris Young start while Eric Young rides the pine as a late-inning pinch runner/defensive-replacement extraordinaire – but in case you’re not, let me make the case for Chris Young.
#1 – He Looks Good
First of all, I watch the games. So please no “derp derp you’re a stathead” comments this time. That said, Chris Young looks like he’s taking good at bats. He seems to be hitting the ball hard. He looks athletic. He covers enough ground in the outfield. He doesn’t look hurt or lost. The stats below support this.
[Ed. He didn't look good last night, 5/21, in the cleanup spot. Bad timing to have a bad game. But for the last month he's looked like one of the only Mets (along with Murph) with a puncher's chance of hitting the ball out of the ballpark.]
#2 – He’s Hitting Much Better Lately
Chris Young began the season on the disabled list. This followed up a year where he played sparsely in the second half (32 starts), and was stapled to the bench in the playoffs. Undoubtedly, he was rusty.
His overall line this year is .212/.284/.374, but since April 26th (his tenth game back) he has batted .227/.329/.409 despite a .260 BABIP. He’s been a little unlucky, but has still posted a 738 OPS. His overall line is dragged down by his first nine games, in which he hit .182/.182/.303.
#3 – He’s Hitting Very Long Fly Balls
I wrote an article on May 8 lambasting the Mets’ offense as a bunch of punch-and-judy hitters, citing as part of my evidence their weak fly-ball distances. At the time, only one Met, Lucas Duda, was in the Top 100 in the major leagues in fly ball distance. The rest of the teams regulars spanned from Granderson (#122, average 277 feet) down to Ruben Tejada (#225, average 252 feet).
At the time, Chris Young was 132nd in baseball, with an average fly ball distance of 276 feet. This was less than two weeks ago. Today, Chris Young is up to 81st in baseball with an average of 286 feet per fly ball. This number, aside from being pretty good just in a vacuum, means that he’s been hitting fly balls really hard and really hard lately to raise that average.
Look at the guys around Young. Ryan Howard, Christian Yelich, Matt Holliday. He’s in the company of real hitters.
#4 – He’s Been Unlucky
It’s a new, lazy, fake-sabermetric thing lately to look at a player’s BABIP and complain that he’s unlucky. But in this case, Chris Young has been quite unlucky so far this year.
Young sports a .247 BABIP this year so far, which is under his .274 career average (which is already low) and far below the league average. Part of this is due to his batted ball profile, in which he’s been hitting only 14.5% line drives and 48% fly balls. But the analysis doesn’t simply stop there.
As a fly ball hitter, Chris Young will never have a high BABIP, but that’s okay, because he’s hitting the ball hard and far according to his fly ball distance. And good news — home run rate is correlated with fly ball distance. Therefore, the problem with Chris Young is partially his BABIP, but more notably, his unluckiness when it comes to home runs (aka balls OUT of play, therefore not factored into BABIP).
To this point in the season, Chris Young has 3 HR. Given his fly ball distance, he should have more. According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker, all of Young’s home runs have been “no-doubters” or “plenty” while he has zero that are “just enough” or “lucky.” He’s due.
The players around him in fly ball distance have all done well in the home run department: Howard (7), Desmond (7), Yelich (5), Dominguez (7), and even Ackley in his pitcher’s park (4), and Jaso who only has 23 fly balls (4).
If Chris Young had two home runs rather than two loooong flyouts, he’d be batting .232/.300/.454 on the season instead of .212/.284/.374. His 754 OPS would be third on the team behind Lagares and Murphy, and it would be light years ahead of Granderson (665) and Young (620).
Chris Young started the year rusty, but since then has been hitting the ball hard and far. His high fly ball percentage will prevent the batting average from coming up, but he should be hitting for more power than he is so far given neutral luck.
His batting line of .227/.329/.409 since April 26th is not bad, and is actually quite close to his career line of .235/.314/.430 and what he is projected for the rest of the season by ZiPS of .229/.308/.411.
An OPS of 700 to 720 is nothing to write home about, but compared to Granderson and Eric Young Jr., Chris Young should not be looking over his shoulder and worried about playing time. I understand fans’ frustration at the fact that Terry Collins is continuing to play Eric Young Jr. at the expense of Chris Young and Lagares — but please, I counsel patience with Chris Young.
I know we’re all bargaining here (e.g. “if you have to bench someone, please let it be Chris Young, not Lagares!”) but I hope that fans can stay strong and wait for Chris Young to start turning this season around, because all signs say that he will.
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Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York City, and has found that the longer he writes about the Mets, the more frustrating it becomes to look back and see how the team would be better had they just listened to you in the first place.
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