11:28 am Aug. 3, 2012
“As we head toward that last six weeks of the season,” Collins said, “will it help Chris Young or Santana or even Jon Niese to have an extra day now and then? I think the answer might be ‘Yes.’ ”
Getting extra rest for Santana, who is owed $31 million next season and recovering from shoulder surgery, makes a great deal of sense. Getting Niese some extra rest, when the pitcher has faded in each of the past two seasons (and is signed for the next four) could also help. That the Mets can accomplish the same thing by employing, say, Jeremy Hefner as spot starter, without risking their ace, is undeniably true.
But—and there's no delicate way to ask this—why are the 2012 Mets worrying about Chris Young?
Young has pitched well for them this year, and probably helped to keep the Mets in contention for around a month longer than they otherwise would have been. After Mike Pelfrey went down for the year, the Mets had a gaping hole in the rotation. Young filled it, giving the Mets a quality starter every night until Dillon Gee and Johan Santana subequently went down.
After Thursday afternoon's seven innings of one-run pitching, Young has provided the Mets with 64 innings of 4.22 E.R.A. pitching. That's good for an E.R.A.+ of 90, or a bit below league average. Considering that he had complicated shoulder surgery in May of 2011, the performance has to be considered a bonus.
Young's 64 innings are more than he totaled in 2010-11 combined, and roughly on par with his 76 total innings in 2009. That's been his recurring problem, not succeeding when he is out there, but simply staying healthy. So far, so good on that count.
But the performance itself isn't what it was. His career strikeout rate is 7.6 per nine innings; he's at a far more pedestrian 5.3 per nine in 2012. The walks are down, helping to mask some of that decline. But his x.F.I.P. is an unsightly 5.47.
Now, what's really interesting about Young is that he's consistently outperformed his x.F.I.P. by about a run. He is an extreme flyball pitcher, which should be more of a problem than it is, because he induces a huge number of infield pop ups every year. It has happened for long enough now to be treated as more than a fluke; he's been doing it since 2004.
But outperforming a 5.47 x.F.I.P. by a run only gives Young a 4.50 E.R.A. or so; his career is built on outperforming an x.F.I.P. of 4.72 by a run, which leads to a career E.R.A. of 3.77. The infield fly ball trick, in other words, may not be enough. And at age 33, it is unlikely we'll see that strikeout rate return to previous levels; the smart money is on seeing it continue to drop.
The problem the Mets will have this winter, if Young finishes the season healthy, is that some other team is likely to commit a guaranteed major league contract, and real money, to Chris Young. And the Mets will have a very limited amount of money to spend. It was the fact that Young had pitched so briefly in 2011, and was coming off of shoulder surgery, that allowed the Mets to bring him back in the first place for 2012.
With many holes to fill this winter, and not much money to do so, the Mets would be wise not to spend too much of their budget on the guy with diving peripherals and a spotty health history. It's essentially the same logic the Mets probably used to decline to sign Chris Capuano, though Capuano had better peripherals, with no decline in them whatsoever.
In the meantime, using R.A. Dickey, who is signed for 2013 to a very reasonable team option and certainly will be part of the plan for next year, to give Young more rest, makes even less sense than bringing Young back.