16 February 2010

Smile Arizona! You've Got Talent!!

Josh Byrnes is well spoken, sometimes too much so for his own good, but the GM's recent remarks about Chris Young seem uncharacteristically facile - even borderline disturbing. However there's no more welcoming place to disseminate Dback dreck than azsnakepit.com, so Josh scores points for at least serving his audience.

Here's 'Pit's bit on Young - transcribed by a softball pitcher clearly thrilled to bask in Byrnes' aura. I've bolded three of JB's themes for review.

Snakepit: Are you confident that Chris Young is going to be able to turn his offensive woes around?

JB: Yeah, he finished '09 strong, he has a great minor-league track record, he has shown it in flashes in the big leagues, he's still hitting lefties at a very high level. How he finished last year was very encouraging. He accepted the Triple-A time very well, played well, played with a smile on his face and then came up and had a very good September. He's worked very hard this off-season, his commitment to excelling has never been an issue. He works very hard and wants to be a very, very good player.

He has a similar skill-set to Mike Cameron or Franklin Gutierrez and is about where they are at the same age, when they both started taking a step forward. The holes in his offensive game have been apparent. I think he can improve upon them, and when the whole package is put together- the on-base, the power, the defense, impacting the game on the bases, the durability - he is a very good player. But he needs to have not so many at-bats that just aren't competitive, which was a large part of the '09 season.

The first bolded part is rapid fire cherrypicking, sure to puff out the chests of half baked fanboys. What about everything else sandwiched between halcyon minor league triumphs and a 135 PA September blip? Like 1500 measly major league ABs, establishing Young as a really lousy hitter? Or his horrendous performance against MLB predominant righthanders - ahead of only hapless Willy Taveras, among all outfielders. Crowing that CY hits lefties at a "very high level", is akin to crooning that Susan Boyle has bewitching elbows. As Mark Reynolds, or any reasonably holistic thinker, might observe, "So what."

The second angle, about CY's longstanding committment to excellence, can be taken two ways. Byrnes is suggesting (or hoping) Young will eventually break through because of all that hard work, but shouldnt such talent and work ethic already have delivered better results? Maybe something over 90 ops+ somewhere within those numbing 1900 plate appearances? Chris "Not So" Young will be 27 in September, and our GM is all but conceding the effort and attitude cant significantly improve.

Byrnes' third leg, comping Young with Cameron, is more carnival hyperbole than conviction at this point - assuming the GM's alleged familiarity with basic player evaluation. It certainly made sense a couple years ago - to sensible people, anyway - comparing rangy, low ave/higher ISO CFers, after Young's intriguing rookie campaign. But Cameron established a 109 ops+ season (446 PAs) and a 105 ops+ season(636 PAs) by the time he was Chris Young's current age - CY hasnt approached a single season like that. Both guys endured "lost years" at 25; if we exclude those debacles - on grounds they're not real representative of either player - Cameron's ops+ shoots to 103 (thru age 26). Young's bumps up to 88 - a significant difference over 1000-1400 PAs.

So, when Josh offers that Chris is about where Cameron was at this age, and that this was also the age Cameron took a noticeable step forward, he's dead wrong on both counts. Cameron figured out major league pitching at 24, after a couple hundred at bats, got injured at 25, then re-established his earlier 100-110 ops+ level for a dozen years! The idea he catapulted onto the scene at Chris Young's current age, or by implication after nearly 1700 at bats, is crafted fantasy.

This isnt to insist Young cant improve some, or that he's resigned to submediocrity the rest of his days. Maybe he'll pop over 100 once or twice, which would be great. The odds are he wont accomplish that more than once, however, and he certainly isnt going to do it for a dozen seasons, or anything close to that. Not without artificial enhancement or pitchers tossing underhand.

Franklin Gutierrez is a better batting comp, but the transplendent gloveman became a league average hitter at 24 - just like Cammy - and sports a 97 ops+ since. Despite more extensive MLB playing time prior to age 24, Young's ops+ is only 86 since - and his component obp is lower, widening true production gaps beyond straight OPS+.

More appropriate comps for Young might include gold glover Mickey Stanley, Jim Gosger or Charlie Moore. Stanley and Moore had decent careers and actually improved in their late 20's, so it can happen, especially since CY has set his offensive bar so low. It's just hard to justify everyday status for an outfielder, even a fleet, above average defender, when his career RHP split (.705) translates to sub 80 ops+ versus roughly two-thirds of all pitchers. Hitting .859 against a minority of lefties is nice, but in a generally favorable hitting environment, probably insufficient to play every day.

How cosmically significant was Young's September? He's flashed meteoric streaks like this before, invariably eclipsed by astronomical epochs of suck. At some point, in an unforgiving baseball universe, that defines a less than stellar hitter. Between May 28-July 21 for example, he hit .847 over 147 PAs, as Daron Sutton breathily touted Jack Howell for unlocking Young's greatness. Then Chris hit .074 over a dozen games and got sent down.

Is there something more lasting about the tiny September sample that will carryover? Something more productive than 'a smile' on Chris's face? I dont know. Derrick Hall's been smiling for years. Cant win much or turn a profit, supposedly. Make of it what you will.


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cici said...

CY is anyone's guess. Due to the mediocrity and less than that of the team last year, plus the hideous post-break pitching and secondbase hitting and injuries...it was kinda overlooked. In anywhere other than here or Metland(where they would just be happy that he was healthy and played willingly) they'd have gotten rid of him by now. We can only hope he deserves the chance.

Diamondhacks said...

Josh has alot invested in Young. He traded Javier Vazquez for him (essentially), and isnt going to part with him easily. Neither does Chris have much trade value now.

So Josh is just talking him up, praying Chris catches lightning in a bottle, sometime before JB's contract expires in 2045.

Anonymous said...

Great piece, guys. Byrnes was definitely dropping some serious GM-speak in that interview, and why not? Chris Young has a better shot to succeed if he feels the organization has confidence in him (real or not), and you never know what tidbits like this mean to other organizations. I've never understood GMs that undersell their own players. It doesn't help the player and negatively impacts their potential trade value. Not saying the D-backs are trying to trade CY, but why not keep his perceived value up following a trying year.

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Sorry to do this in the comments, but I couldn't find a contact form.


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