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2019 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews : #15, Alex Young

He asked the right question. “How am I going to ever get called up?” 

Alex Young
Alex Young
Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rating: 6.70

Age: 26

2019 stats: 83.1 IP, 7-5, 3.56 ERA, 4.81 FIP, 0.8 bWAR

2019 salary: league minimum, pre-arbitration

2020 status: 3 options remain

Introduction Part 1: His pitching in Reno was unremarkable.

“The biggest risk is that Young simply lacks the stuff to be an effective pitcher in any capacity at the MLB level.” — Michael McDermott, November 12, 2018

With the caveat that pitching for Reno is challenging for developing pitchers, among Reno starters Alex Young’s ERA ranked 8th/9th in 2018 and his ERA ranked 6th in 2019 (6 start minimum to be ranked, ERAs included starts and bullpen appearances).

He began the 2019 season in the Reno bullpen. “Young was not the Diamondbacks first choice to fill a rotation spot. He wasn’t even someone the club had thought of as a future starter entering the year.” — Jim Marshall, July 1, 2019

Introduction Part 2: He asked the right question.

Despite his many talented teammates, Alex Young asked the right question, “How am I going to ever get called up?” Four answers follow:

  • He developed 5 effective pitches. Although all five are pitched against lefties and righties, he uses his fastball and cutter more frequently against lefties, and he uses his sinker and changeup more frequently against righties.
  • His curve ball is most interesting. While his other pitches are in the 85-90 mph range, his curve averages 81 mph with much different movement. It is his “out” pitch.
  • Except for his fastball, all his pitches have above average movement (either horizontally or vertically).
  • Between 2018 and 2019, he listened to the player development team and improved his pitching. “His K% rose from 17.2% to 24.8% in one offseason. That’s a HUGE change. ... I do have it from a friend on the inside that Alex Young was the darling of the Player Development team. So it sounds like they had figured something out with Young. So far it’s looking brilliant but obviously things could change.” — Sean Testerman, 19 July 2019

2019 Review: He was surprisingly great.

“I think every year there’s going to be certain surprises and [rookie] Alex Young has definitely fit that criteria right now.” — Torey Lovullo, 20 July 2019

Alex Young started 15 games and entered 2 games from the bullpen. Let’s look at three aspects of his great performance.

He pitched better in high leverage situations. In his eight high leverage games, his 2.08 ERA was much better than his 3.56 season ERA. In those games, his Bill James game score ranged from 49 to 64. When he faced a challenge, he pitched better.

“This year’s the best I’ve ever felt…” —Alex Young

He kept the D-backs in contention for the second wild-card. On September 7 against the Reds, he pitched 8 innings with zero earned runs. His Bill-James-Game-Score was 89! Jim McLennan wrote, “The resulting Game Score of 89 tied Young for 17th on the franchise all-time start list.” His performance won an award: 2019 Snake Pit Performance of the Year. That win kept the D-backs 1.5 games ahead of the Brewers, who eventually earned the second NL wild-card.

He ranked high among D-back starters. For a rookie called up mid-season, his rankings were high compared to the 9 D-back pitchers with at least 2 starts, and with at least 50% appearances as the starter. Next season his ranks will rise because Greinke is gone, and perhaps Ray will be traded. Details follow:

  • His 125 ERA+ ranked 4th.
  • His 7.8 HR/9 ranked 5th.
  • His 4.81 FIP ranked 6th.
  • His 2.63 SO/BB ranked 7th.

“I felt very comfortable out there….” — Alex Young

2020 Commentary: Will Alex Young be in the opening day rotation next season?

Reasons for uncertainty:

  • Strong competition. Barring setbacks, Taijuan Walker and Luke Weaver will likely be back at full strength. They would join Robbie Ray, Merrill Kelly, Zac Gallen, and Mike Leake. And what about pitchers who are almost ready to join the rotation, like Jon Duplantier and Taylor Widener?
  • “Young’s raw ‘stuff’ is probably not on the same level as the other two [Weaver and Gallen], and if he’s to succeed over the long-term, he’ll likely have to out-think opposing batters to a greater degree.” — Jim McLennan
  • Short track record. “Frankly, there are too many starting pitchers on this team with longer track records to see him finding a way in the rotation without an injury or a trade happening.” — Zach Buchannan, 9 October
  • His pitching may regress next season. An indication is that his FIP of 4.81 is greater than his ERA of 3.56. “His .252 BABIP was almost fifty points lower than the MLB average (.298) and probably won’t be sustained.” — Jim McLennan
  • Low strikeout rate. “Young’s 6.27 K/9 is well below league average, however this is deflated largely due to how insanely low his WHIP is (pitchers with higher WHIPs get inflated K/9 due to having more baserunners over 9 IP). His 20.0% K% is better, though still below league average. But he appears to be a bit underperforming so far - his xK% is sitting at 21.9%, which is right around league average.” — Sean Testerman 17 July 2019
  • Low fastball velocity. “The other main concern is his velocity. Alex Young is only 25, yet his fastball velocity is already averaging below 90 MPH and ranks in the 2nd percentile in velocity. That’s extremely low. We’ve already seen that Young can succeed at these velocities (as has Zack Greinke) but it does narrow his margin for error.” — Sean Testerman 17 July 2019
  • Third time through the order. In 2019, his results dropped in the third time through the order: 1st PA, .179 OBP, .606 OPS ; 2nd PA. .200 OBP, .689 OPS ; 3rd PA, .418 OBP, 1.112 OPS
  • In 2019, he pitched better in away games: ERA: home 4.57 vs away 2.37 ; Hits per 9 innings: home 8.3 vs away 7.1 ; WHIP: home 1.279 vs away 1.079
  • He might be better as a bullpen pitcher because of his lefties/righties split: ERA in Majors: lefties 1.78 vs righties 4.34 ; ERA in minors: lefties 4.50 vs righties 6.75.

Reasons to have confidence:

  • An awesome game. “Alex Young had a masterpiece outing, throwing 8 shutout innings in perhaps the best game by a Diamondbacks starter all year. Working efficiently, he gave up just 2 hits, walked 1, and struck out a career high 12.” — Jack Sommers, 7 September 2019
  • Surprisingly good stuff. “…Alex Young has surprisingly good “Stuff”. Now “stuff” is a very loose term, but is usually refers to either having swing-and-miss potential or is really good at inducing poor contact. Alex Young appears to possibly be good at both!” — Sean Testerman 17 July 2019
  • Great command. “Young’s walk rate this year is a sterling 4.6%...But limiting walks isn’t the only important part of command - hitting your spots and not making mistakes are both crucial to MLB success….He [does it, which is] ideal for guys with fringe velocity but a lot of movement….” — Sean Testerman 17 July 2019
  • “His numbers look impressive,…” Buchanan, 9 October 2019
  • Experience is valuable. With the departures of Zack Greinke and Zack Godley, just four D-back pitchers (Kelly, Ray, Clarke, and Leake) exceeded his 83.1 innings in the Majors in 2019.
  • Crowd knowledge: 320 AZ Snake Pit fans provided their expected opening day roster. With 271 votes, the fans expect him on the opening day roster.

My early rotation prediction includes Alex Young:

Note: Yesterday, Taijuan Walker was non-tendered. This prediction assumes that Robbie Ray will be traded in off-season.

  • Zac Gallen.
  • Merrill Kelly.
  • Alex Young.
  • Mike Leake.
  • One of the following pitchers who have options remaining: Luke Weaver, Taylor Widener and Jon Duplantier.

“Ask the right questions if you’re to find the right answers.” Vanessa Redgrave