He Should Be Cheap
Chris Young is not a great pitcher. He's basically the almost-worst-case scenario on a Jeremy Hellickson-type pitcher -- few Ks, not-great BB%. He relies on fly balls and weak contact, and that has resulted in a career 4.38 FIP and 4.63 xFIP. He managed 165 IP with the Mariners in 2014, but did so with a 5.02 FIP and 5.24 xFIP. Oh, and he turns 36 this year.
He's basically a toxic asset.
He Should Be, eh, Serviceable
Here's what makes Chris Young unique, and what makes him worth even considering: His absurd pop up rate.
Pop ups are a 99% out. They have an out-rate similar to that of a strikeout. Since Young basically doubles the league rate in infield fly outs, we can effectively add that extra 3% to his K-rate. This helps explain how he had a 3.65 ERA in 2014 and how he's got a career 3.77 ERA.
Basically, Chris Young stands at 6-foot-infinity and hitters have to swing vertically just to make contact. Since 2004, no one with a minimum of 500 IP has a BABIP as low as his .251 BABIP. And the only pitchers close to him are all relievers. The next closest purely starting pitcher, Matt Cain, has a .264 BABIP.
Add in the Rays defensive talents (the outfield should be slick and the infield should be at least average) or the Trop's penchant for retaining fly balls of all types and sizes, and Chris Young looks perfectly capable of a league-average FIP in a Rays uni.
He Fits the Rays' Present Need
The Rays don't need a starter. They need a swingman. Matt Moore will be back, hopefully much better than Chris Young. And Chris Young has a decent shot at being a touch better than Alex Colome (who I think will be legit when the time comes) and Nate Karns (who I'm less bullish on). And once Moore is back, we can shuttle Young to the bullpen or Durham or the streets with little or no impact on the franchise.
I think it is important to have at least 7ish serviceable starting pitchers heading into a season. Presently we have:
- Alex Cobb
- Drew Smyly
- Chris Archer
- Jake Odorizzi
- A half season of Matt Moore
- Alex Colome
- Nate Karns
- Burch Smith
- Mike Montgomery
- Enny Romero
- Matt Andriese
- Grayson Garvin
I personally only see 1.5 pitchers I trust there -- Colome and Moore. I think the others could easily surprise me, but only Colome and Moore strike me as immediate options. And even then, I think both guys are likely to pitch around league average.
Adding Young, then, gives the Rays that 6th or 7th pitcher. And if he looks like hot garbage in Spring Training, then let some other team roll the dice on him. But for right now, the Rays and Chris Young kind of make sense.
NOTE: My colleague Jeff Sullivan also sees a possible Chris Young and Rays marriage. So that's pretty cool.