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Tuesday, January 18, 2011
In right place, he can be a fine Young man

By Mark Simon

Let me give you a pitching line that I think you will like.

2.01 ERA
.188 opponents batting average
179 1/3 innings
167 strikeouts
66 walks
7 home runs allowed

Those are soon-to-be Met Chris Young’s numbers from his last 29 starts at PETCO Park.

Unfortunately, with all the health issues Young dealt with, it took him four years to make 29 starts.

In that four-year span, Young’s rate of fly balls to ground balls was the highest in the majors.

That’s actually a good thing for someone pitching in Citi Field. The Park Factor for home runs there was the lowest in the NL last season (there were 26 percent fewer home runs in Mets home games than in Mets road games).
Pitching anywhere other than PETCO Park or Citi Field might give Young a lot of trouble.

In that same four-year span, Young made 37 road starts. Two good ones in 2010 dropped his numbers slightly, but they’re still not good –- a 5.20 ERA, 29 home runs allowed, and 4.9 walks per nine innings.

At home, only 2.7 percent of the balls hit in the air against Young left the ballpark. On the road, that nearly quadrupled to 10.7 percent.

The difference between Young’s home ERA and road ERA (2.01 vs 5.20) is the largest in baseball in that time by a considerable margin.

Young’s other bugaboo is one that hurts him regardless of ballpark - the stolen base. Since 2007, opponents are 81-for-83 stealing bases against him. Josh Thole and Ronny Paulino: consider yourselves warned.

But maybe there’s hope. I remember in a Baseball Tonight meeting a few years back that his former pitching coach with the Rangers, Orel Hershiser, now an analyst for Sunday Night Baseball, referred to Young as the most coachable pitcher on his team. When the Mets first pursued Young, I asked Hershiser for a list of Young’s strengths.

Hershiser cited Young’s ability to make quality pitches in key moments (opponents are only hitting .229 against him with runners in scoring position for his career) his ability to get outs while pitching up in the strike zone (Young’s stats when throwing fastballs up have historically been significantly better than league-average) and his willingness to work on his weaknesses.

If Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen finds the latter to be true, maybe Young can find his way back to his 2007 form. That season, his last healthy one, Young made 30 starts and finished with a 3.12 ERA.

What will that take? Getting his fastball up from the 85 miles-per-hour it averaged last season, to the 89 he threw it at in 2007 would be one thing. Another would be getting swings-and-misses on his breaking pitches at the 40 percent rate he did that season. It’s encouraging to note that he was able to match that in his four starts last year.