Recent Boston Red Sox free agent acquisition Chris Young adds depth in the outfield, but why was he picked over others for the role?
Talk on the street about the Boston Red Sox targeting pitching this offseason has been so rife lately, that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you heard they acquired Chris Young and thought it was talking about the 36-year old Kansas Royals reliever/depth starter. Talk of him being a Jackie Bradley replacement wouldn’t be that shocking, after all, Bradley’s hitting prowess in 2014 and for most of 2015 was on par with what one would expect from a pitcher.
Instead we got 32-year old outfielder Chris Young from the New York Yankees, sometimes called “Other Chris Young”, “Young Chris Young”, or “Swing and Miss Young”. And if you thought the pitcher would be a good fit in Boston, then have I got good news for you, outfielder Young is perfect. You may have heard to the contrary, but let’s sit down together and closely examine what makes this a good move, if not a great one all things considered.
To begin, it was known Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski wanted a fourth outfielder. Known, primarily, because he kept no secrets about the need for one. The Boston outfield is strong defensively, perhaps stronger than any collective Red Sox outfield in history, it’s that good. Bradley is worth every penny today and in the future for his glove and sheer athleticism, even if his bat is silent a majority of the time. Mookie Betts is the nearest thing Fenway will see to a true, five tool, All-Star caliber player for years. Rusney Castillo also plays the wall very well and has top notch fielding abilities. What seems only to be lacking, Betts accepted, is that offensive edge.
Bradley and Castillo blow hot and cold, perhaps more frequently the latter. Bradley has been extremely inconsistent at the plate and Castillo has shown diminishing returns in the stretch, this would leave Boston with at least two offensive question marks heading into a year they intend to compete in. What’s the logical solution? Why, have a fourth outfielder, of course.
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As it turns out, such a player exists on the Red Sox roster already in Brock Holt. But Dombrowski would sooner have Holt more flexible to do what he does best – flash his +2 WAR and shiny golden locks from any position in the park, as needed. Holt is the ultimate insurance policy, whether a player needs a day off or they’ve inevitably ended up on the disabled list, he’s there to pick up the slack. No, a dedicated bench outfielder was required, and Dombrowski got a good one in Young.
Young’s reasonable line for 2015 of .252/.320/.453 is decent in and of itself, but really only tells part of the story. Young absolutely mashes vs lefties, to the tune of .327/.397/.575 with an OPS of .972. Similarly, while his K rate is high (24.9%) against righties, indeed similar to Bradley’s overall, against lefties that drops down to 16% and his walk rates jump from 6.6 to 10.3% overall. This just screams platoon right here, not that Bradley or Castillo had any issues hitting left handed pitchers, but Young is even better still. Pinch hitting towards the end of the game, or even coming in to relieve David Ortiz at DH (who managed only a .231 AVG against lefties last year) isn’t unthinkable. Just another weapon at John Farrell’s disposal. Whether he uses it or not is, sadly, another story.
Regardless, there’s more to Young in Boston than just that, he’s basically built to swing here. Don’t believe me? Fangraphs’ David Cameron had this to say:
Wow, OK, I’m listening. The Red Sox have a history of trying to find the perfect Fenway hitter, usually a big lumbering oaf with a huge pull to take advantage of the Green Monster. Good things can come in small packages too I guess. It’s not all bluster either, these figures have translated into Young having an obscene OPS of 1.054 (!) in his 73 career plate appearances at Fenway. Oh, and Young has quite a bit of pop too, in 140 games in 2015 he went yard some 14 times. Every single dinger was dead pull and would have cleared the Monster by a mile. There is actually a genuine argument that Young could play up in Boston, perhaps more than other options on the market right now.
To cap it off, interest in Young hasn’t exactly been strong. Whether due to his perceived value only in a platoon or because there’s another player with the exact same name as him who won a World Series this year also entering free agency. I can’t imagine Young’s agent pulling the phone plug before he goes to bed at night. Even further did Young fly under the radar because the Yankees never really gave him a chance at more regular play time. This represents a bargain for Dombrowski who, subsequent to acquiring elite closer Craig Kimbrel and in the hunt for an expensive ace like David Price, will want to keep other expenditures to a minimum to allow for payroll flexibility. It remains to be seen, but Young is likely to exceed expectations for the money he will have signed for. He certainly did for the Yankees.
Queries still remain about how involved Young will be in the lineup going forward. It certainly appears that he wanted more playtime, wherever he ended up. That doesn’t mean it’s a certain that moves are being made to trade from the outfield depth, contrary to what many are extrapolating. Certainly if a team with an overabundance of quality starting pitchers was crazy enough about Bradley to offer Dombrowski one, he’d consider it, but the chances of that are about the same as you and I being traded for Bradley. And, while the Red Sox would consider moving Castillo, it’s complicated by the swathes of money left on his contract and performance questions at the plate.
So who knows? Maybe Young can fit a platoon role, a utility role or something different that we haven’t thought of yet. Maybe they intend to sign pitcher Young and use the two to play mind games with the opponents? Either which way, Young is heading to Boston and the team has only gotten better.