Note: Most of this was written before the Sunday afternoon start. Thankfully, he didn’t do anything to contradict me. C. Young for Cy Young! Not really, but still …
If you are just checking in, you may or may not know that most the statistical techniques that I employ are designed to isolate out the “non-random” part of a player’s contribution. That is, we try to figure out whose stats are the least dependent on good fortune. It’s just the way we approach things.
As a result, I spent the first part of the year waiting for the inevitable collapse of Chris Young. I was referring to him as a cartoon character who runs off the cliff and is halfway over the canyon before he realizes that there’s nothing underneath. Eventually, he’ll fall.
Of course, it didn’t happen.
Then I concluded that he was an “outlier.” A statistical anomaly. Sometimes you find those.
Ichiro is the greatest “outlier” of all time. Ichiro had the ability to make offensive value out of singles in a way that is pretty much unprecedented in the modern age.
My stats show Ichiro as not being very valuable. That doesn’t mean he isn’t or wasn’t. Only that he needs to rely on things that ordinarily are not under the hitter’s control. In Ichiro’s case, they are under his control. That’s why he’s an outlier.
And I was working on a whole series to include Ichiro, Justin Smoak (he’s a reverse outlier), and Young.
Then a funny thing happened.
Young’s success was no longer dependent on oddball stats that seem to defy conventional wisdom.
Young just started being really good.
Let’s take a look:
|Young First 13||51||65||55||81||60||81||41|
|Young Next 11||73||131||98||61||121||96||118|
The first four columns are rate stats where I have set the 10-year MLB average at 100. “PSA+” is a measure of “getting non-random outs” and “Conv+” is a measure of “preventing non-random offensive production.” Both are set so that the 10-year MLB average is 100. “Comp” is the composite of the prior two columns.
You can see from the first row that Young appeared to be quite mediocre in his first few months. His home-run-prevention score was very low (he gave up 11 in 13 games). He walked too many, and didn’t strike out many at all.
You can see by the “41” composite score, we would have expected him to either have a very poor performance, or be reliant on extremely good fortune.
Well, his ERA was 3.68 and he was averaging about 6.0 IP per start, so it seemed that he was just extraordinarily lucky.
Or, maybe he’d figured something out.
Chris Young, you see, induces hitters to hit fly balls. Lots of fly balls. What exactly he does, I’m not sure, but he leads the majors in fly balls induced — by a bunch.
|1||Chris Young||Mariners||.224||0.40||18.1 %||23.2 %||58.7 %||14.8 %||7.6 %|
|2||Marco Estrada||Brewers||.254||0.68||17.6 %||33.2 %||49.2 %||11.9 %||15.1 %|
|3||Jered Weaver||Angels||.267||0.67||18.3 %||32.8 %||48.9 %||10.6 %||8.1 %|
|4||Jake Odorizzi||Rays||.309||0.67||21.5 %||31.5 %||47.0 %||7.9 %||7.9 %|
|5||Drew Hutchison||Blue Jays||.295||0.79||20.0 %||35.3 %||44.7 %||8.8 %||8.8 %|
|6||Julio Teheran||Braves||.270||0.81||20.2 %||35.8 %||44.0 %||8.3 %||8.7 %|
|7||Drew Smyly||- – -||.306||0.86||20.9 %||36.6 %||42.5 %||12.7 %||9.6 %|
|8||Josh Collmenter||Diamondbacks||.288||0.93||19.3 %||38.8 %||41.9 %||10.3 %||9.1 %|
|9||Travis Wood||Cubs||.318||0.86||22.4 %||35.9 %||41.7 %||14.0 %||7.5 %|
|10||Max Scherzer||Tigers||.312||0.89||21.5 %||37.0 %||41.6 %||6.7 %||7.8 %|
And in the next column you can see the percentage of fly balls that are “infield” flies — essentially popups. Young survived by inducing a massive number of flies, of which a big percentage were popups.
And we’ve found that the surest way to deflate BABIP is to induce (or hit) popups. Young does that part better than anyone. But even setting popups aside, just hitting the ball more in the air will have a negative effect on BABIP (though it will also result in more home runs).
The pitchers in the above table are just the top 10 in fly-ball percentage, but Young, in fact, leads all qualifying pitchers in lowest BABIP-against with that .224.
So, even though he was giving up more home runs, extra-base hits and walks than he was “supposed to” — and wasn’t striking very many out — Young survived by sharply reducing the number of singles opponents got against him.
In that sense, he was Inverse-Ichiro.
Ichiro’s game was creating singles by hitting the ball on the ground. Young’s game is denying singles by inducing balls hit weakly in the air.
But then …