For New York Mets fans, it's been a difficult run of futility, especially during the hot stove season. While rebuilding and retooling can be justified by any rational fan, the lack of big-market activity by general manager Sandy Alderson has been alarming over the last few years.
On Friday morning, the Mets made a move to bolster their outfield, but a vocal portion of fans haven't been able to separate the present and future when breaking down the deal. According to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, former Diamondbacks and Athletics outfielder Chris Young is on his way to New York.
When first glancing at Young's 2013 numbers, it's easy to understand the lack of excitement at a player that will cost $7.25 million, per the New York Daily News. This past season, Young posted an 85 OPS+ in 375 plate appearances for Oakland.
Yet, after taking a look at the 30-year-old outfielder heading to New York, Mets fans should be excited for a player poised to resurrect his once promising career.
Before we dive into why Young is ready to reemerge in 2014, let's look at the type of player he was before a disappointing season in Oakland, the level he could return to next year and where he ranked among the top outfielders in baseball during his best days.
When at his best, Young is a rare player. Few outfielders possess the ability to hit 30 home runs, steal 25 bases and play top-tier defense. During three separate seasons (2007, 2010, 2011) in Young's career, he's been at least a 20/20 (20 home runs, 20 stolen bases) offensive player. During the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Young's glove was good enough to account for 38 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in Arizona.
The following charts illustrate just how prolific Chris Young was when at his best. The fact that he's coming off a poor year in Oakland makes him a perfect buy-low for the New York Mets. Without the budget or willingness to splurge on lucrative, long-term deals, the front office in Flushing, Queens, led by Sandy Alderson, is forced to search for bargains. At the age of 30, Young is still young enough to repeat or exceed past performances.
|120/120 Outfielders Club (2007-2013)|
As you can see, Young's power-speed combination is rare. Since 2007, only Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp, the top two finishers on the 2011 NL MVP ballot, have profiled as better power-speed combinations among outfielders.
Furthermore, the names below Young on the chart, Alex Rios and B.J Upton, both signed contracts in excess of $69 million during their respective careers. On a one-year, $7.25 contract, the Mets are receiving a player with a skill set that has been paid between $69 and $160 million.
When factoring in WAR, Young's defensive prowess puts him above many star outfielders in Major League Baseball. From 2010-2012, the three years prior to Young's awful 2013, he profiled as one of the 12 most valuable outfielders in baseball. Among the names behind him on that list: Shin-Soo Choo, Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Hunter Pence.
|Outfielders WAR (2010-2012)|
If Young can experience a career resurgence, the Mets will be rewarded with one of the more valuable outfielders in all of baseball.
It's abundantly clear that Young has been a versatile and excellent player during the bulk of his career, but neither of those accolades are enough to predict an upswing in performance for the Mets during the 2014 season. Instead, we can look to the poor luck experienced in Oakland as a reason for his revival.
As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs pointed out when discussing the bargain deal the Mets just shopped for, Young's 2013 season was hurt by a well below-average BABIP (batting average on balls in play). As Cameron discusses, Young was basically the same hitter in 2013 as he was in his good years, but he suffered from an inordinate amount of bad luck on batted balls. Per Cameron's thoughts:
None of that changed last year. He still hit for power, drew walks, struck out, and hit fly balls. However, he posted a .237 BABIP that was the lowest of his career, so his wRC+ fell from 98 to 82. Other than that, he was basically the same hitter he’s always been, and while BABIP for hitters isn’t entirely random, there’s no reason to expect him to sustain a career low. Steamer projects him to post a .269 BABIP in 2014, a little below his career average, and that bump would push him right back to league average hitter status.
The final thought is key. After a difficult 2013, it won't take much more than better luck to return Young to being a league average player. At the age of 30, it's hard to believe his defense and speed have disappeared. Thus, an uptick in luck at the plate, combined with good defense, potentially in a corner outfield spot in New York, and 20-plus stolen bases, can put Young back in the category of rare outfielders that he profiled as during his time in Arizona.
Frustration from Mets fans is easy to understand, but the road back to contention doesn't have to be littered with big names. Young, even on a reasonable deal, will take up a significant chunk of the organization's offseason budget. If he produces, it will be a boon. If he doesn't, more despair will emanate from Citi Field.
Transcendent talents cost over $100 million to secure. Young isn't that good, and likely never will be, but he does possess some of the same skills as comparable players that got paid on that level. By mid-summer, he could become underpaid and highly valuable member of an improved Mets team.
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