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SnakePit Round Table: The Diamondbacks and Center-Field

"All-Star Chris Young". That has a nice sound to it, doesn't it? And with the near-total absence of Evil Chris Young from the playing field, and his departure for the Mets (snicker), there no longer seems any need to add any kind of qualifier to his name e.g. "No, the other one." Young was second on the 2010 Diamondbacks for both home-runs and RBI, and with the people ahead of him in each category no longer part of the team, is being counted upon to carry a significant part of the offense in 2011.

Young, and the center-field spot he occupies, is the subject of this week's SnakePit Round Table, so let's get right on with the questions...

Last year was a significant bounce-back year for Young. What did he do, that had largely gone missing from his game in 2009?

Azreous: Young’s change to his swing mechanics paid huge dividends last season. He had already improved his walk rate, and that kept his OBP above .300 during his abysmal 2009 campaign. By sitting lower in his stance, he was able to raise his batting average while still taking a bunch of walks -- and really, CY doesn’t need to hit .300 to be a star if he draws free passes that much. His K:BB ratio is down below 2 after being nearly 3.5 his rookie season. More importantly, he passes the eye test: He just looks more comfortable at the plate. He can still punish fastballs, particularly up in the zone, with his power, but he does a much better job with breaking stuff and changeups at his knees. I imagine we all remember the hole in his swing in 2007 when he seemed incapable of laying off sliders down and away -- those days have thankfully passed.


DbacksSkins: He moved to a flatter swing, presumably sometime in his days tearing up Reno in late 2009. However, unlike many rebounding hitters, rather than raise his line drive rate, he seems to have simply whacked the ball harder and shown a little more discipline. CY’s infield fly ball rate was the lowest of his career, while a higher rate of fly balls turned into homers than in any season except his rookie year of 2007 -- we can presume that the average fly ball off CY’s bat was traveling further. His slugging % and isolated power were also higher than in any other non-2007 season, also making it appear as though he was hitting the ball harder.

At the same time, the knock on CY’s offense has almost always been his on-base skills, and while his power numbers were slightly lower than his rookie year, he showed an ability to get on that hadn’t been exhibited in his MLB career thus far. CY’s discipline at the plate manifested itself through a better walk to strikeout rate than any other season, and though his walk rate was actually higher in 2009, his strikeout rate last year represented a career low. Chris has had a reputation as a bit of a "guess hitter" in years past, but it seems that he’s finally developed some pitch recognition, as his overall contact rate and both contact on pitches in and out of the zone were the best of his career. Combine that with a batting average on  balls in play just under his 2008 career high, and you’ve got a guy with an on base percentage of .341, a career best by 26 points.

The 2010 season saw Chris Young put it all together as a mature major league hitter. Now, he’s just got to continue in 2011 and beyond.

Jim: I think it’s also worth mentioning the stint spent by Young down in Triple-A late in 2009. I don’t know whether it was just a question of him getting his confidence back, or if there was also a mechanical adjustment. But the difference before and after is clear. Both spells cover the same number of ABs (702)

June 6, 2008-August 9, 2009: .228/.304/.406, 17 HR
Post August 29, 2009: 258/.343/.462, 35 HR

His OPS has been a hundred points better since his return. I also note while his line-drive percentage remained almost unchanged, his insane infield pop-up rate of 2009 (28%) was nearly halved last year, dropping all the way to 15%, though that’s still above major-league average (12%),

His stolen bases jumped from 11, to a career-high of 28. Is Young the closest thing the team has to a lead-off hitter for 2011?

Azreous: As usual, the problem with Young is that he fits just about anywhere in the lineup (except the 2 hole, really). He could definitely slot in at leadoff with his speed and improved OBP. But then you run the risk of wasting his power and taking away a couple dozen RBI opportunities that he could have hitting 3rd or 4th. But if Young’s in the heart of the lineup, who bats leadoff then? Drew? MELVIN MORA???!?1?1/?1/!?

DbacksSkins: As an oldskool guy, I expect that Kirk Gibson will bat CY leadoff fairly often to take advantage of his smart baserunning and his raw speed. However, Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew, and Justin Upton all had higher on-base rates last year. I’d rather slot CY in the #4 or #5 spot than leadoff.

Kishi: He may not be a perfect fit, but I think he’s pretty much the best choice we’ve got, I think. He’s got speed, he’s got good OBP skills- even when he was hitting .212 in 2009, he still had an OBP of .311. Yeah, we might lose out on some of his power, but that’s really a risk I’m willing to take. It’s hard for me to complain about lead-off home runs.

Jim: The problem is, if Young bats lead-off, who’s going to drive in the runs? Only Reynolds had more home-runs than CY on the team last season, and with all respect to Xavier Nady, I don’t look at any of the replacements and see them as credible clean-up hitters. I think I’m with ‘Skins, and think a heart of the order that went Upton, Johnson, Young, could be the best fit.

Wailord: He certainly does strike me as the best candidate for leadoff, but as everyone else said, it leaves a void further down in the lineup. Our roster isn’t all that clear - we don’t have many players that have a slot locked up. It provides for flexibility down the road, but I can’t help but think I’d like the lineup to be a bit more defined. Ideally, Young would be able to bat lower in the lineup and we’d have a dedicated leadoff hitter.

soco: I feel like I’ve taken a time machine back to 2007.  I think he’s always had the ability to be the lead-off guy, the only question is if he plays consistently enough to be trusted with it.

By UZR, Young also had a career year; the 2010 UZR of +4.0 was a sharp improvement on 2009’s -5.7. Does that fit with what you felt, looking at him?

Azreous: It seems like CY is completely comfortable out in center. He’s always had the tools to play a great CF, but it looks as though getting a ton of reps at the big-league level has improved his instinct and ability to read the ball off the bat. If anything, I feel like he’s less flashy but better at the same time, because he’s getting better jumps and not having to use his speed to track down everything.

DbacksSkins: NO BECAUSE HE NEVER GETS HIS UNIFORM DIRTY AND WEARS HIS HAT SIDEWAYS LULZ!!!!! But seriously, like Upton, CY doesn’t need to dive for a ball because he’s usually got the speed to set himself up right under it, and he seems to be taking very good angles out in center nowadays. He also looks like he’s got good instincts while playing the outfield. The knock on him, defensively, is something that he’ll readily admit: his arm strength isn’t great.

Jim: I was more surprised to see he was rated below-average in 2009 than anything, he really didn’t seem like he was out of his depth there, though he has got better. I think, defensively, an outfield of Gerardo Parra, Young and Upton would have to be seen as among the best in the league. I would, however, like to see a little better communication between our center and right-fielders: I seem to recall a couple of occasions last year, where we came uncomfortably close to watching two-third of our outfield writhing on the turf.

Chris Young came top in the ‘Face of the Franchise’ poll last week on the ‘Pit. Your thoughts?

Azreous: Considering his relative longevity with the club (now that previous FotF candidates like Eric Byrnes and Mark Reynolds are gone) and Stephen Drew’s chameleon-like demeanor, it makes sense. He was also our all-star last season, which means that fans of other teams in the country probably remember him more than any other Diamondback (save Upton, maybe). Young isn’t necessarily a vocal leader on this team, but he’s well spoken and a good interview who I think is easy to like.

Jim: Can I just say, I am going to try and work the phrase, "chameleon-like demeanor" into my regular speech patterns more often. It’s right up there with "heartless guttersnipe".

DbacksSkins: CY isn’t loud, but he always comes across as very positive and very friendly, and I think that contributes. As far as FOTF goes, just tonight, I was pondering looking into getting a new jersey to replace my #27, (MARK!!! :.( ) and my instinctive first thought was getting CY’s, and then Upton’s. To me, CY’s the natural face of the franchise right now because he’s one of only two remaining significant contributors of the 2007 playoff team, and Drew’s 2007 was subpar.

Kishi: I think he’s a good choice. He’s been with the team for a while, he had a good season last year, and he’s got a pretty personable attitude on the field.

Jim: I have absolutely no problem with that. To me, he has always seemed a bit too chill - though somewhere I’ve got a copy of a comment from the hell that is AZCentral, complaining about him grabbing his crotch! I would like to hear more from him this year though, and become the go-to guy for quotes in the way Reynolds was in 2010.

Wailord: He wasn’t my pick, but I have no problem with him taking the title. He’s been with the team forever and bounced back in a big way last year. No off-the-field distractions of note, and as far as I can tell, he seems like a pretty cool guy. I haven’t actually met him, so I don’t know how much that observation is worth...

soco: I’m not going to complain.  He seems like a good guy, has talent, what more could you want?

Who do you see backing him up in CF for 2011?

Azreous: Hopefully, about 10 games of someone who doesn’t suck. Like...I guess Parra can play there a couple times. Maybe Nady on a day where he stretches thoroughly and has lots of coffee before the game.

DbacksSkins: Including his 13 AAA games in 2009, CY has averaged 153 games per season since 2007. He played 156 last year and 160 in 2008. May that trend continue next season. If CY were to (God forbid) go down with injury, Parra’s subpar defensively in CF but adequate offensively. Barring AJ Pollock making a late-season appearance in CF, I wouldn’t expect to see anyone else out there, besides maybe Gillespie.

Kishi: Parra, I suppose. We don’t have an overabundance of options at the moment, I think. Parra’s not spectacular, but for something under a dozen games, I think we can tolerate that.

Wailord: Grumble grumble Parra grumble.

Jim: No-one. He’s going to pull a Luis Gonzalez and start every single game. You can do it, Chris! Slightly more seriously, it’ll be Parra, but Kirk Gibson needs to be aware, every day that Young doesn’t start, a fairy dies.

DbacksSkins: Psssht. Jim, Kirk Gibson kills fairies for fun.

soco: Is there any other legitimate option other than Parra?  He’s not ideal, maybe, but he is a backup.  I’ll worry if he’s a starter.

In 2010, he posted an OPS of .793. Do you think he’ll do better, worse, or about the same as that in 2011? And will he repeat as an All-Star?

Azreous: I’m actually hoping for a little better, just above the .800 plateau. And from an irrational fan standpoint, I don’t want Young to be our all-star this year -- I want Upton to be sitting around .300/20/75 at the all-star break and get invited to take part in the Derby in front of his home crowd. But if he posts similar numbers from last year, CY will be a strong candidate. The only other challenger off the top of my head could be Daniel Hudson, if he starts 2011 like he finished 2010. It’s hard to imagine that kind of dominance again (I’d be very content with a sub-3.50 ERA from him), but if his numbers are strong, as a pitcher, he won’t have to worry about fan voting to get in.

DbacksSkins: Like Azreous, I’d like Upton to have the better season, simply because he’s got the higher offensive ceiling. Should the Dbacks get off to a fast and surprising start, (unlikely) we might see both CY and Upton at the ASG -- possibly as a bit of a concession to the home crowd.

CY’s BABIP in 2010 was .296, well above his career average of .281 but below his 2008 number of .300. In 2010, the NL average BABIP was .299, including pitchers. For a fast runner like CY, there’s no reason he couldn’t be an above-average BABIP guy. I expect that he’ll regress slightly, but the fact is, he could be even better in 2011.

Kishi: I’m looking for a better year. Granted, I’m pretty much always looking for a better year than someone gave us the last season. But he’s 27 this year, so I think there’s definitely potential. I think he’s got the inside track to be our All-Star representative- if Upton or Drew have really good starts, they could get the nod, instead, but I’d be surprised if it isn’t CY getting his second straight trip to the game.

Jim: He should be in the mix for an All-Star spot, but as noted, it does depend on whether Upton surpasses him. I think he will do slightly better next season than this; I think Gibson’s emphasis on small-ball will result in an increased number of steals, and Young could have a shot at becoming the first 30/30 guy in the NL West since Raul Mondesi for the ‘99 Dodgers.

Wailord: I’d like to see and believe he will show some improvement over his 2010 campaign. Last year looked fantastic considering it followed up 2009, and hopefully he can improve in 2011 and make 2010 look like child’s play. I can dream, can’t I? In reality, I don’t expect a drastic change in either direction for Young in 2011.

soco: I don’t think he’ll be an All-Star this year, but I don’t think he’ll have much regression.  Or at least, I hope he doesn’t.