The Red Sox haven’t made a ton of moves this winter, but there’s no arguing that they haven’t made impactful moves. Bringing in names like David Price, Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith have sort of overshadowed the addition of Chris Young. It’s justified, of course, as he’s going to serve as something a little more important than a typical fourth outfielder while the other three all have the potential to be elite players at their respective positions. Despite that, Young can be a valuable player this season. In fact, if he’s utilized correctly by John Farrell, he can wind up being one of the fan favorites on this roster.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Young’s strange hitting style, and how it may make playing defense against him a bit easier. While that remains true, it’s important to mention that it’s worked for him in the past. What’s crazy is the fact that his strange batted ball distribution isn’t the most extreme thing about the outfielder. Young is an absolute monster against left-handed pitching, and is a light-hitting middle infielder against righties.
Last season, with the Yankees, he inexplicably got a nearly equal number of plate appearances against both types of arms. With a southpaw on the mound, Young hit a ridiculous .327/.397/.575, good for a 162 wRC+. Against righties, he hit just .182/.246/.339 for a 58 wRC+. To put those wRC+’s in terms of 2015 full-season performances, Young was Paul Goldschmidt against lefties and Chris Owings against righties. His career splits aren’t quite as pronounced — 122 wRC+ vs. LHP and 83 wRC+ vs. RHP — but there is still an extremely noticeable difference there.
With that information given, it’s clear that Farrell should do everything in his power to limit Young’s exposure to right-handed pitching while also giving him the maximum exposure possible against lefties. Unfortunately for the 32-year-old outfielder, there are more righties in the league and his role prevents him from starting too often. On the one hand, he and the front office almost certainly discussed his role before he signed on the dotted line, and one would have to think his platoon splits would be brought up in that kind of meeting. On the other hand, we’re still taking about a professional athlete, and sitting on the bench on a consistent basis is going to make any pro upset. With that being said, the top of the American League is setting up to have plenty left-handed weapons who will be pitching in big moments against the Red Sox. Even if the playing time isn’t up to par, that reality gives Young the chance for plenty of late-game heroics and endearing himself to the fan base.
Any discussion about late-game plate appearances against left-handed pitching has to start with the Yankees. While the Red Sox have put together a great back-end of the bullpen, the Yankees’ addition of Aroldis Chapman made theirs unfair. Now, they have both Chapman and Miller — two of the best relievers in the league regardless of handedness — to throw out in close games. Even with how good he is against lefties, Young will still probably struggle against them. Everyone does. However, he’s still a better option than most on the roster. the Red Sox and Yankees will play a lot of games against each other this year, and there will certainly be some close ones. Just a couple of big late-game hits from Young would go a long way towards building his narrative, along with providing a valuable boost to the team.
It’s not just the Yankees, either. The Orioles boast Zach Britton, who’s transformation into one of the best relievers in the game completed last season. The Blue Jays’ bullpen is likely to be headed by Roberto Osuna and/or Drew Storen, Brett Cecil is still an outstanding set-up man. Looking outside of the division, if the Red Sox are to be contenders this year, they’ll likely be competing with the Astros. Houston brought back Tony Sipp, a very effective left-handed reliever that I argued for the Red Sox to bring in earlier in the winter.
Even beyond the relievers, Young will have plenty of chances to make a big impact in big games. The AL East doesn’t have a ton of high-end left-handed starters, but the Rays could if everything breaks right for Drew Smyly and Matt Moore. Other contenders in the league have the big names, though. Both Texas and Houston figures to be in the playoff picture this year, and their rotations are headed by Cole Hamels and Dallas Keuchel, respectively. The White Sox may have a slightly more difficult road to contention, but their pitching can carry them and Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon all happen to throw from the left side.
All of this is to say that Young should get plenty of chances to make an impact despite not starting on a regular basis. In fact, he’s playing in a role that lends itself to high-leverage situations. There’s no guarantee he’ll come through in those moments, of course, but he has as good of a chance as any. Coming through in those spots is obviously valuable to the team, but it can also be valuable to his persona in Boston. Despite being the least exciting addition to the roster this winter, Young has the chance to win the hearts of the fan base thanks to his extreme platoon splits and the plethora of strong southpaws on contending teams.