Yankees' analytics department hits home run with Chris Young signing
Why has Chris Young been so good with the Yankees when he was so bad with the Mets? We asked an expert.
"I don't know if I can even give you an answer for that," Chris Young said. "I don't know if there is an answer."
We don't know either. But there are a couple of guys in the Yankees front office who probably do -- the quantitative analytics executives who had been talking up Young to general manager Brian Cashman since 2012.
Young, a bust with the Mets last season before he was released on Aug. 15, has been a revelation with the Yankees since signing a minor-league contract after his release and re-signing as a free agent this offseason for $2.5 million.
As a Met, Young hit .205 with eight home runs, 28 RBIs and a .630 OPS after signing a one-year, $7.25-million contract. He struck out in 21.3 percent of his at-bats (54 in 254).
As a Yankee (going into yesterday), he is batting a combined .293 with nine home runs, 22 RBIs and a .947 OPS. It's not the strikeouts that did in Young as a Met. As a Yankee, he has struck out 33 times in 140 at-bats (23.6 percent).
"They approached me after he was released," Cashman said of Michael Fishman, the Yankees' assistant general manager and director of quantitative analysis, and professional scouting manager Steve Martone. "They continued to make their case that they believed that he still had upside and he was better than his numbers showed. Under that circumstance, because it didn't cost anything, I agreed to sign him for kind of the equivalent of an NBA 10-day contract tryout. And he's performed as a high level ever since. We re-signed him as a free agent and he's continued to perform."
Cashman said he wouldn't reveal exactly what metrics the Yankees used to evaluate Young. "You have the normal numbers and then there's certain data streams that can imply someone's performing actually better and not necessarily getting the luck behind it or the results maybe that you would want," he said. "But they should be getting better results with some underlying numbers that they continue to show. And so they kept highlighting those numbers."
The Yankees have had an analytics department under Fishman since 2005. Cashman proudly noted that ESPN the Magazine in February ranked the Yankees as being sixth out of 122 professional sports organizations in the excellence of their analytics department and how they use it.
Young was once a star centerfielder in the making. From 2007-12 with Arizona, his average OPS was .754 even though his batting averages were as low as .212 in 2009.
Young finished fourth in the NL in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, when he hit 32 home runs and stole 27 bases. In 2010, he made the NL All-Star team. In 2011, he led the NL in The Fielding Bible's advanced stat Defensive Runs Saved with 20. Young struggled in 2013 after an offseason trade to Oakland (.200 batting average, .659 OPS in 107 games) and had an equally bad run with the Mets.
Then he came to the Bronx last September when the rosters expanded and hit to the tune of an .876 OPS in 71 at-bats.
With Young, there also could be a mental component. It may help that he's under the radar as a fourth outfielder with the Yankees, though his hot start has earned him guaranteed playing time against lefthanders and some starting at-bats against righthanders with Carlos Beltran struggling.
"It's just baseball," Young said. "I had a rough couple months with the Mets. I'm not happy about it. I know the fans aren't happy about it. I was able to come over here and get a fresh start, take a deep breath and be able to focus just on baseball and try not to put too much pressure on myself. It's allowed me to relax a little more."
One Mets person suggested Young's success with the Yankees is "vindication" for the Mets' decision to sign him. Chances are Mets fans wouldn't see it that way, though.