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2019 SnakePit Awards: Performance of the Year, Alex Young: September 7 @ CIN

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The best performance ever by a Diamondbacks rookie? Could be.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

I did notice there was a bit of an attempt to engage in... well, let’s just call it “getting out the vote,” from a certain section of the electorate. One who might perhaps have a slight vested interest in the outcome, and whose neutrality may be somewhat questionable!

Now, we have, on at least one previous occasion in the Pitties, declared voting null and void and gone with “No award” due to egregious ballot-box stuffing. But in this case, I’m letting it stand. I was watching results over the course of proceedings, and while this family loyalty likely increased the margin of Young’s victory, he was already ahead at the time of the above Tweet. There’s no indication the actual result was changed, and you’d also be quite hard-pushed to argue that this remarkable start from Young wasn’t a worthy victor. So we’ll let those involved off a with a slap on the wrist and a warning as to their future conduct. :) Now, moving on to the performance itself!

Young was largely an unheralded prospect when he arrived in the major. Less than a month before he made his debut on June 27, Fangraphs didn’t list him in their top 32 for Arizona. But he made an immediate impression, winning his first game with five innings of one-run ball against San Francisco. That helped him stick in the rotation, and he threw six no-hit innings versus the Rockies in his third game. Through his first 12 games (11 starts) he had surpassed expectations, going 6-3 with a decent 3.84 ERA, though had been helped by a low .242 BABIP. But there was nothing to suggest he was about to deliver the best 2019 performance by a Diamondback, with a Game Score surpassed just once since 2011.

Young tossed eight shutout innings in Cincinnati, facing two batters over the minimum on 109 pitches. There was a first-inning walk to Joey Votto, a fifth-inning infield single to Jose Iglesias, immediately erased by a double-play, and another infield single to the penultimate batter faced, Curt Casali in the eighth. Using almost entirely off-speed stuff (he threw just 18 fastballs all game), he struck out 12, setting an AZ rookie record. The resulting Game Score of 89 tied Young for 17th on the franchise all-time start list. Those ahead of him are: Randy Johnson (8 games), Curt Schilling (4), Ian Kennedy (2), Patrick Corbin and Brandon Webb (1 each). Not bad company for a guy making only his thirteenth appearance in the majors.

The game was Arizona’s 11th win in their last 12 games, and certainly marked the second-half high-spot, if not the peak of the entire season for the Diamondbacks, fanning hopes of a late wild-card surge. Delivering a performance like this after forty or so family and friends made the trip to sit in the Cincinnati stands (contrary to what Baseball Reference says, I have it on good authority that Young was born in Westlake, Ohio, so this was the closest and most obvious start of his season), made it even sweeter for the pitcher:

“Everything felt really good. Each inning just felt like I was getting better and stronger. I’m just happy that we got the win, and are one game closer to the wild-card... Every time family comes out, you get a little adrenaline rush and you want to do a little bit better. So it was awesome to perform like that in front of them.”

Surprisingly, Young credited YouTube for his success on the day. He had been comparing videos of his college outings to his recent games, and noticed a change in his delivery, which was now flying open on his follow through. He said, “Obviously, when you’re younger, you’re more raw, and you can lose it when you grow up, your body changes and everything. That was one thing I tried to change this time around.” Alex reckoned the adjustment might have helped in several different ways, including creating deception, helping him get more extension, and finish his delivery better. He did also get some assistance from his defense, not least on the double-play, driven by Jarrod Dyson’s sliding catch on a sinking liner.

Said opposing manager David Bell, “We were having trouble picking it up off him. It seemed like he just kept changing speeds. A lot of soft, softer and softer and he’d sneak the fastball in there. … As he changed speeds, we weren’t able to make the adjustment.” There was only one hard-hit ball off Young all day, a second inning fly-ball which ended up nestling in the glove of Ketel Marte in center. It had been six years since any other rookie had a similar outing, of 8+ innings, two or fewer hits, and a dozen or more strikeouts. The last such? Shelby Miller when a Cardinal in 2013. Hopefully the rest of Young’s time in Arizona will go rather better than Miller’s did!

AZ SnakePit Awards