On-Base Perception

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People v. Chris Young

Chris Young stares down at the ball after

Chris Young stares down at the ball after making a throwing error in the sixth inning. (Aug. 21, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

In baseball free agency, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups. Fans who will do anything to keep their favorite players and fans who have no problem kicking any player to the curb.

This is Part 2 of a series looking at upcoming free agents for the Mets and Yankees and arguing for and against keeping them.

(Insert the "Law & Order" clang, clang here, just in case you didn't already catch the reference.)

The case:

Chris Young, a right-handed starting pitcher, will be 33 at the start of the 2013 season. He signed a minor-league deal with the Mets this season and has posted a 3-7 record and 4.33 ERA in 14 starts. He was 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts for the Mets last season.

The facts:

Young is 52-41 with a 3.79 ERA in nine seasons with the Rangers, Padres and Mets. He was an All-Star for San Diego in 2007.

The prosecution:

Young is an extreme fly ball pitcher in a park where they just moved the fences in. So far this season, he has a fly ball rate of 58.2 percent, the second highest of his career. The highest was the 66.1 percent he posted in 2011, also with the Mets. Young's rate this season is the highest in the majors -- by far -- among starters with at least 80 innings pitched. The next highest is Phil Hughes, who's at 48.4 percent.

His average fastball velocity has decreased every year of his career, from 91.2 mph in 2004 to 84.3 mph this season. Despite the low velocity, Young still throws his “heater” 73.5 percent of the time, mixing it up with a heavily used slider (24.5 percent). The only starters in the majors this season (minimum 80 innings pitched) who throw slower fastballs than Young are Barry Zito (83.8 mph) and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (83.4 mph).

Young has pitched 81 innings this season, and that's his most since 2008. He hasn't made at least 30 starts in a season since 2007, and he's started four games or less in two of the last three seasons. He's been on the disabled list six times since 2007 for a litany of injuries: oblique, strained right forearm, inflamed right shoulder, tightness in his right shoulder, right biceps tendinitis and tightness in his right shoulder.

Hoping for any more than veteran insurance from this guy is a risky gamble.

The defense:

Say what you want about Young's fly ball tendencies, but Jon Niese and Johan Santana both have higher rates of home runs per nine innings. Combine that with the fact that he's walking less batters per nine innings than Santana or Matt Harvey and you have a pretty effective starter on your hands.

At a low, low price.

Most teams will prize younger, harder throwing pitchers this offseason, and Young could be overlooked, relegated to the proverbial “bargain bin.” But it doesn't matter who or how you get the outs, it just matters that you get the outs. And Young has proven capable of doing that as a solid, back-of-the-rotation starter.

Look inside his record and you find this: Young has allowed more than three runs in just four of his 14 starts. He has a 2.71 ERA in his other 10. Four of his losses have come in games where he's allowed three or fewer runs.

This guy belongs in a major league rotation.

The verdict:

The Mets are already running out of rotation spots for the 2013 season. If Johan Santana and Dillon Gee come back healthy, and there's not much reason to think they won't, the pair will join Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey to fill the first four spots. Then you have to consider Matt Harvey. And Collin McHugh. And an expected Zack Wheeler call-up. Plus, that's all assuming the team parts ways with Mike Pelfrey (he's eligible for arbitration, but could be non-tendered).

If Young is willing to sign another minor-league deal, he could provide good insurance if one of the injured starters breaks down or Harvey regresses. But any kind of guaranteed deal would be blocking a rotation spot from a younger candidate that could be a part of the Mets' future.

For his part, Young would do well to look for a role on a team where the future is now.

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