Welcome to Over The Monster’s One Big Question series. For the next 40 (week)days, we will be trying to answer one important question for each player on the Red Sox 40-man roster. The goal is to find one interesting portion of each player’s game to watch for, whether that be in spring training or the early regular season. We’ll be going straight down the list on the team’s roster page, meaning we’ll be going in alphabetical order through each position group, starting with the pitchers. Today, we’re highlighting Chris Young.
The Question: Will Chris Young actually take advantage of Fenway Park in 2017?
Last winter, the addition of Chris Young was largely overshadowed by the other major moves Dave Dombrowski swung that offseason. Specifically, he got lost in the excitement over David Price and Craig Kimbrel. In other words, he was that year’s version of Mitch Moreland. Despite the lack of hype, Young was a fantastic player for the Red Sox in 2016 and was a big reason why they were the best offense in baseball. A big reason for that is because he was able to hit against left-handed pitching more often than not, and he took full advantage of the platoon matchups. On the other hand, he was still much better against righties than any of us were expecting. Overall, it was the best season of his career by wRC+, albeit with his lowest plate appearance tally since his rookie year. The scariest part for the rest of the American League is that there is room for Young to be even better in 2017.
In just 227 plate appearances, the former Diamondback and Yankee hit .276/.352/.498 for the season, good for a 125 wRC+. This was 15 points higher than his previous career high, which actually came in 2015 with the Yankees. There’s something about the AL East, I suppose. As expected, most of that damage came against lefties. Southpaws allowed Young to put up a .329/.410/.589 line good for a 165 wRC+. Unexpectedly, he still put up a league-average .246/.319/.446 (101 wRC+) line against righties.
One of the big reasons that Young can be even better by the end of 2017 is that there is even more reason to have him in a strict platoon this year. That was, of course, the plan in 2016, but the outfield wasn’t nearly as secure. Left field was a revolving door for much of the season, and Young had to step up against righties for parts of the year. This year, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts have things locked down against righties. Barring injury, Young won’t have to touch the bat against right-handed pitching more than a handful times. Even if he does have to, he proved last year that he can hold his own. It’s everyone’s preference he doesn’t have to attempt a repeat performance, though.
Even more interesting than that, though, is how Young performed at Fenway Park in 2016. In theory, this was a match made in heaven. Young, afterall, is a right-handed, pull-happy flyball hitter. In other words, Fenway and the Green Monster were essentially built for hitters like him. He should have been knocking extra-base hits off that wall on the regular.
Instead, he actually played much better on the road in 2016 than he did when he was at Fenway. When he was in Boston, he hit just .274/.349/.407 for a 98 wRC+. On the road, he hit .278/.356/.611, good for a 157 wRC+. The big difference, obviously, was with the power. His home .133 Isolated Power was more than doubled by his .333 ISO on the road. In a way, it sort of makes sense. Some of the fly balls that left the yard in other parks merely bounced off the wall at Fenway. However, one would think that would lead to more doubles. Alas, he had the same number of doubles at Fenway as he did in road parks despite coming to the plate 25 more times at Fenway.
Looking forward to this season, I would expect that to change. Some of his poor home performance was surely based on luck. I haven’t gone back and looked, but I’d imagine he had some unlucky bounces off the wall that held him to a single on what would normally be a double. Some of it was his fault, too. Although he’s pulled the ball 52 percent of the time over his career (per Fangraphs), his pull rate was just 46 percent at Fenway next year. On the road, for what it’s worth, he was still pulling the ball 56 percent of the time.
It’s worth noting that the projection systems don’t agree with my assertion that Young should be even better next year. That makes plenty of sense, as projection systems don’t make a habit of expecting improvement from 33-year-olds. ZiPS foresees a 96 wRC+, Steamer projects a 99 mark, and and PECOTA pegs him for what would likely be something around a 94 wRC+. These projection systems, however, either don’t factor in platoon splits enough or don’t factor them at all. Not the mention his fit at Fenway, which is so unique that it’s almost impossible to quantify.
I will admit that it’s hard to fully expect improvement from Young next year, only because of the age factor I mentioned above. That being said, the only big difference between him now and him earlier in his career is the power. The fact that he is going to be in a platoon almost all year is only going to help that. If he starts to take advantage of Fenway like he’s supposed to, well, he could be looking at a pretty big payday for himself when next winter rolls around.
And, with that, the One Big Question series is done. If you missed any or are interested in re-reading anything, you can catch all of the entries here. Big ups to the Red Sox for not making any changes to their 40-man roster over the last couple of months. April can’t get here fast enough.