It is a tough predicament when you have a true weakness. Nowadays, with data available on every facet of the game, there is no way to hide it. Chris Young must know this. When a blogger, like me, sitting on my couch at home can find out how to pitch to Young’s weakness, then surely opposing pitchers will do the same.
So what is this obvious weakness in Chris Young’s game?
When you look at Chris Young’s zone profile, it is clear that throughout his career opposing pitchers have liked to pitch him low and away. The chart below highlights this point. Taken from the catcher’s perspective, we can see that since Young entered the big leagues, he has seen more pitches low and away than almost all inside pitches or those high outside the strike zone combined.
Why would pitchers throw so many pitches in one quadrant of the zone matrix presented above? There must be a reason. And of course there is. On pitches low and away, Chris Young has a futile .062 career slugging percentage.
So, on nearly 25% of all pitches Chris Young has seen in his career, he is slugging below .180, depending on exactly where the low and away pitch falls. It made me wonder. Are these numbers skewed by particularly bad seasons? Perhaps the volatility in Young’s year-to-year numbers can be explained by his success at chasing pitches low and outside. However, that does not appear to be the case.
Chris Young’s best season was arguably in 2010. He hit 27 home runs and slugged to a league and park adjusted OPS+ of 108 (best of his career). In that season, pitchers still frequented pitches low and outside, accounting for 13% of all pitches Young saw. And he still struggled to hit them, with only two hits on such pitches.
Now, before we take all of this information and become too concerned with Young’s hitting weakness, let’s consider where pitchers are focusing their pitches. There are pitches that are low and away, but inside the strike zone. In other words, pitches that paint the outside corners. In Young’s case, the pitches that he most frequently sees are well outside the strike zone. He doesn’t need to hit these pitches to be successful. He needs to be more selective in letting them hit the catcher’s mitt and called balls.
Since 2008, Chris Young has seen the 11th most pitches low and away among right-handed batters. What is hurtful to his game is that he has the 8th highest percentage of those pitches turned into strikes. Put simply, pitchers are throwing so that Young will chase pitches outside of the strike zone, and based on the percentage of those pitches that go for strikes, he is happily obliging.
We know that in his two best seasons – 2010 and 2011 – Young still chased pitches low and outside of the strike zone. However, that doesn’t mean that he can ignore this weakness and hope to find continued successful. It will be something to watch as he gets regular at-bats with the Mets in 2014.
(Photo: Brad Barr, USATSI)