Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Chris Young.
In 2016, Chris Young’s first year with the Red Sox, the outfielder was among the most underrated players on Boston’s division-winning team. This past season was....well, it wasn’t as successful. We really need to stretch things a bit to find some positives in his season. For one thing, however, he was a strong leader in the clubhouse, particularly among the young outfielders. From watching the last two seasons, it’s clear that Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Andrew Benintendi looked up to the veteran outfielder. This was a group that, for as talented as they are, really could have used a big leader over the last two years, and Young filled that role.
Looking at his on-field production, you’ve really gotta squint to find some positives. For one thing, he did show off some of the best plate discipline of his entire career. Although strikeouts continued to rise around the league, Young struck out less than 20 percent of the time for the first time in three years. Furthermore, he walked 10.9 percent of the time for the first time since 2011.
Finally, he had a fairly strong year against right-handed pitching. Clearly this was not the role he was meant for and not what this Red Sox team needed, but it was success nonetheless. In 143 plate appearances against righties, he hit .259/.331/.462 for a 107 wRC+.
It’s not hard to figure out where to begin with Young’s negatives in 2017. His biggest role this past year was supposed to be as a right-handed platoon player. He had always smashed left-handed pitching throughout his career, and the expectation was that he’d do the same in his final year with Boston. Instead, he struggled mightily against southpaws all season long. Although he showed off strong plate discipline in these situations, he failed to make anything close to consistent hard contact. That led to a .200/.310/.280 line and a 61 wRC+. To say that this is unacceptable given his expected role would be an understatement.
In addition to the lack of production against lefties, there was just a general lack of power from the big righty. This, of course, was the case for most of the Red Sox players. However, Young has always been a power hitter first and foremost, largely due to his batted ball profile. Throughout his career, he’s been a big flyball hitter and a big pull hitter. He still pulled the ball a lot in 2017, but he hit the ball on the ground more than just about any other point in his career and made less hard contact than ever. All of that resulted in a career-low .152 Isolated Power.
Finally, we have one more negative. For one thing, his defense is on the way down. This isn’t as big of a deal for the Red Sox, since Young is hidden in left field. At home in particular this can hide poor gloves. Plus, the Red Sox surround him with great outfield defense.
The Big Question
Young was really good in 2016, but oddly enough he didn’t hit too well at Fenway Park. This was surprising, because his flyball and pull tendencies for a righty seem like a perfect fit for Boston. The hope was that he could stave off any regression from the year before by utilizing Fenway Park more in 2017. On the one hand, he kind of did use Fenway better. He was fine at home, hitting .246/.348/.434 at home for a 104 wRC+. Being simply average at home wasn’t enough of a boost to make up for all of his other deficiencies this year, though.
Looking ahead to 2018
Young is a free agent right now, and at this point it would be extremely surprising to see him back with the Red Sox. Leadership qualities aside, Boston has an in-house option that should be similar to Young in Chris Young. There are also better options available in free agency if they want to go in a different direction. Young will get another part-time role somewhere, though he can expect less trust from whichever team he signs with after his rough 2017.