Chris Young takes the hill for the Mets tonight as they try to salvage the last game of the three-game series against the Phillies and end their six-game road trip with a .500 record. Young has made three starts for the Mets and was dominant in his first two and not so hot in his last one, his first time back since landing on the disabled list with an injured biceps.
The big question is if now that Young has gotten a start under his wings if he’ll go back to the guy that the Mets saw in Spring Training and the first two starts of the regular season. In 25 innings of Grapefruit League play, Young had a 1.78 ERA and he followed that up with a 1.46 ERA in his first two starts of the 2011 season. Additionally, the strikeouts which were down in Spring Training were back during the regular season, as Young fanned 12 batters in his first 12.1 IP.
But in his first start back from the DL, Young gave up 3 ER in 4.2 IP. But the thing that really makes you snap to and pay attention is that all three runs came on solo home runs. There were three main concerns surrounding Young heading into the season. The most important was if he could stay healthy. The other two were concerns about his strikeout rate and his home runs allowed.
The concern about HR is directly the result of Young being an extreme fly ball pitcher. Lifetime, Young has a 53.3 FB% and a GB/FB rate of 0.53. Here’s how the other four starters for the 2011 Mets performed lifetime in those categories:
Capuano – FB% 39.9, GB/FB 1.10
Dickey – FB% 33.5, GB/FB 1.40
Niese – FB% 31.6, GB/FB 1.53
Pelfrey – FB% 30.9, GB/FB 1.59
Many felt that Citi Field would help out Young, that fly balls there would be less likely to result in HR. After all, Mets and their opponents hit 110 HR in Citi Field last year while on the road the Mets and their opponents combined for 153 HR.
But so far in 2011, in 13 games the Mets and their opponents have hit 28 HR in Citi Field compared to 24 HR in 14 road games.
That’s bad enough but it can be attributed to a small sample size. Another small sample size working against Young right now is his fly ball rate. We’ve already seen that Young’s fly ball rate is 13.4 percent higher than any other starter on the Mets. This year, Young has taken this lead and added to it significantly. His 2011 FB% sits at an astounding 72.7 percent, which easily leads the majors for pitchers with at least 10 IP. The next closest SP is Daisuke Matsuzaka with a 56.6 percent mark.
Young had a fairly normal for him GB/FB split of 6/8 in his first start. But in his last two outings, he has posted 29 fly balls and 3 ground balls. The remarkable thing is not that he allowed 3 HR in his last start, but that he had not allowed a HR before his last outing. The average rate is to allow a HR somewhere in the neighborhood of around every 10 fly balls (down from the recent past, which was closer to 11).
Young’s current HR/FB rate of 9.4 is right around average. It explains how his xFIP (4.84) is nearly identical to his FIP (4.91), as FIP does not normalize for HR rate. Both of them are significantly worse than his actual ERA of 2.65, not a good sign for Young going forward.
Tonight will be a big test for Young. He squares off against the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, a notorious HR park. In the first two games of the series, the two teams have combined to hit 5 HR, despite a dominating effort from Roy Halladay. Can Young keep the ball in the park and duplicate his success from earlier in the year? Or will we see another multi-HR game like in his last outing?
For Mets fans who’ve been on a roller coaster ride that saw the team lose 12 out of 14 games, then rip off six straight wins and who now have seen three straight setbacks, it’s important for Young to be like he was in his first two starts.
Of course, we wouldn’t mind seeing a weather report indicating that the wind was blowing in tonight, either.