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Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The secret behind Chris Young's resurgence

By Tom McKean, ESPN Stats & Info

Chris Young’s 2009 season with the Arizona Diamondbacks was less than memorable, when he hit under .200 until mid-September and spent part of the season in the minors. It seemed to be rock bottom for the youngster who came to Arizona in the Javier Vazquez trade in 2005.

Young enjoyed a 2007 season in which he finished 4th in NL Rookie of the Year voting. Young followed that with nice power numbers in 2008, overcoming a .248 BA. The talent that the Diamondbacks had seen in Young while in the minor leagues with the Chicago White Sox was evident, and his 54 combined HR in 2007 and 2008 was proof.

But 2009 was a completely different story, as he hit just .244 against the fastball after pounding that pitch in each of the previous two seasons (.304 in 2008 and .287 in 2007).

This year has seen Young return to stellar form, however, hitting over .300 while knocking in 24 runs in his first 26 games. To put that in perspective, it took Young 79 games to reach 24 RBI last season. He’s found success against the fastball again, hitting .302 against heaters this season. Through May 4, Young’s .845 OPS is higher than notable sluggers like Matt Holliday.

So what's the reason for the resurgence?Some of Young’s success this season can certainly be attributed to an Arizona offense that leads the majors in runs and is 2nd in home runs, but that in no way should take away from what Young is doing, as he’s a big reason for the Diamondbacks’ potent offense.

Just like last season, Young is batting primarily in the sixth spot of the lineup. Last year, Young hit .211 in 44 games when he was sixth in the batting order. In 2010, he’s played 21 games batting from that spot and is hitting .313.

In actuality, Young may have Adam LaRoche to thank. LaRoche, an offseason acquisition by Arizona, has spent the majority of his time batting 5th this season, and his success in that spot (1.102 OPS) has likely opened the door for Young considerably.

My colleague Dan Braunstein crunched some numbers with Inside Edge and the theory rings true.

In games where he’s hit behind LaRoche (not necessarily all PA’s after LaRoche, but just games where he’s slotted after LaRoche in the order), Young has seen fastballs 59.6 pct of the time, hitting .444 (12-27) on those pitches. Hitting behind anyone else, Young has seen fewer fastballs at 56.3 pct, with Young batting .194 (7-36) against fastballs.

Getting a healthy dosage of fastballs with LaRoche on base ahead of him seems to be feeding Young's hitting frenzy. Last year through 26 games, Young had seen fastballs 56.6 pct of the time, and was hitting .176 (9-51) with 2 HR against them. This season through 26 games, Young has seen fastballs slightly more often at 57.8 pct, but was hitting .302 (19-63) with 3 HR.

Again, the season is still very young but this is a trend that we noticed and we'll continue to monitor as the season moves along.