Unlocking the value of Chris Young as a World Series starter

Chris Young, who delivered a masterful three shutout, hitless inning performance in Game 1 of the World Series, will again take the ball for the Kansas City Royals in the pivotal Game 4 on Saturday. Young, the 6’10” former Ivy League center, made 18 starts this season, and posted a very effective 3.18 ERA. The tall right-hander’s starts spanned only 99.0 innings, and of the 18 starts, only seven met the qualifications for the ever elusive, always valuable quality start. The 36-year-old veteran does not throw hard, strike out many hitters, or pitch deep into games. Despite all of marks against him, Young is an extremely valuable pitcher for the Royals, especially in a Game 4 matchup with rookie Steven Matz.

While Young does not throw hard — his fastball averaged only 87 MPH in 2015 — he is very deceptive, changing speeds and arm slots at will throughout the game. As if the deceptive repertoire were not enough, Young is the tallest pitcher in the league. There is not a hitter in the Major Leagues that is used to picking up the ball out of the hand of a pitcher who was tall enough to consider a career in professional basketball. Young’s job is to get through the first five innings, before opposing hitters begin getting comfortable with his delivery. During the regular season, Young allowed a .221 batting average and 2.86 ERA in innings one through three. He was just as good over the next three innings, posting a 3.02 ERA while limiting hits to a .178 clip. Young pitched into the seventh inning only three times on the year, but that doesn’t matter. His job is to get at least 15 outs before handing the ball off to the Royals dominant bullpen.

That’s where the real value of a pitcher who is an anatomical anomaly is unlocked. When Chris Young pitches, the bullpen rarely gives up a run. Don’t believe me? The pitchers who will see the most use out of the bullpen in the World Series — Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales, Kelvin Herrera, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar, and Wade Davis — allowed a grand total of three earned runs in 42 innings (not a small sample size for middle relievers prone to wild fluctuations in performance) while backing up Young. That’s a 0.66 ERA. That’s a Jake Arrieta number.

Ryan Madson 11.2 10 0 0 0.00 5 8 0
Luke Hochevar 3.1 2 1 1 2.70 3 2 1
Franklin Morales 8.2 7 0 0 0.00 1 3 0
Kelvin Herrera 7.1 8 2 2 2.45 2 6 0
Danny Duffy 1.0 0 0 0 0.00 0 2 0
Wade Davis 9.0 5 0 0 0.00 3 10 0
Totals: 41.0 32 3 3 0.66 14 31 1

This group of pitchers was phenomenal all year, but Madson had a 2.18 ERA overall, Morales had a 3.18 ERA overall, and Hochevar had a 3.73 ERA overall. Davis, of course, was phenomenal all year no matter who he was relieving. In Young’s 18 starts, the pitcher who came in right after him allowed only a single run in 20.1 innings once you neglect the three runs given up in a 13-2 loss by Jason Frasor who will not be pitching in the World Series. When Young comes out of the game, whoever comes in after him is essentially given a free pass as the opponent attempts to readjust to picking up and hitting a ball thrown much faster by a pitcher close to a foot shorter than the starter.

If Chris Young can give the Royals at least five quality innings, his team is going to have a chance to win. It’s hard enough hitting a pitcher who changes speeds effectively and throws the ball from an abnormal arm slot. Once he’s out of the game, an opponent has to get comfortable against an entirely different type of pitcher throwing in the upper nineties who you have very few, if any, at-bats against.

As the results show, that’s very difficult. Chris Young may not be the prototypical World Series Game 4 starter, but he is so unique that it makes an already dominant bullpen that much more dominant. That’s the real value of the Royals starting Chris Young in the World Series where many wanted to see Kris Medlen. Keep it close, get it to the bullpen, and grind out a victory.

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