Chris Youngs and Occupying Extremes

Extreme performances are exceptional performances, so it stands to reason that there are relatively few extreme performers. Granted, there are a lot of different ways in which one can be extreme or exceptional, but still, most players fall somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t make those players uninteresting on its own, but it also definitely doesn’t make those players more interesting. Extremes are interesting.

There are two Chris Youngs in baseball, and they’re independent of one another, linked only by profession and coincidence. Still, it’s fun to compare them on account of their names, and one notes that Outfielder Chris Young has a career 16.3 WAR, while Pitcher Chris Young has a career 16.3 RA9 WAR. It’s never been a secret that Pitcher Chris Young occupies an extreme. Two of them, in fact. Not only is Pitcher Chris Young extremely tall; he’s also extremely fly ball-prone. Since 2002, Young has posted the lowest groundball rate in baseball. I suppose one could argue Young is also extremely fragile.

But this post is about Outfielder Chris Young — henceforth “Chris Young” — and as it turns out, he also occupies an extreme. Now, I’ve always found it interesting that both Chris Youngs infrequently generate groundballs. The pitcher has done it roughly a quarter of the time, while the position player has done it roughly a third of the time. But we’re moving beyond just looking at grounders.

Watch this video highlight from August 7, 2010, and listen to the broadcaster. Or don’t, because I’m going to quote him in like just a few seconds.

Beginning at 0:28:

Just by memory, folks, that’s all I need. I will tell you that rarely, if ever, happens. A home run the other way for Chris Young.

According to the FanGraphs splits, that is one of three opposite-field home runs Young has ever hit in his career. According to the Baseball-Reference splits, that is the only opposite-field home run Young has ever hit in his career. FanGraphs splits things up into even thirds; I don’t know how B-R does it. But the point is that the Diamondbacks broadcaster was right to be surprised.

Young does not have a track record of hitting for power the other way. And, after further investigation, it turns out Young does not have a track record of hitting at all the other way. He has sent many balls in play to right field, but so, so many of those have turned into outs. Easy, routine outs. There are players who can hit well to all fields, and then there is Chris Young, who can’t do that. Chris Young can hit well to one field.

Chris Young is simply an extreme pull hitter. Let’s go back to 2002 and look at players with at least 250 pulled batted balls. This leaves us with a sample of 643 dudes. By wRC+, Young is tied for 41st, at 212. When pulling the ball, he’s slugged .796. Albert Pujols, over the same span of time, has slugged .795.

Now let’s go back to 2002 and look at players with at least 250 batted balls hit the other way. This leaves us with a sample of 509 dudes. By wRC+, Young ranks dead last, at -21. When going the other way, he’s slugged .215. For his career, overall, Matt Cain has slugged .193, and he’s had to hit in San Francisco. Young just hasn’t demonstrated any ability to do damage when hitting the ball to right. He did have some moderate success in 2008, but he’s had nothing since.

From Texas Leaguers, we can take a look at Young’s 2009-2012 batted-ball spray chart:

That doesn’t show anything we haven’t already talked about, but it does show the same information visually. When Young has pulled the ball, he’s been lethal. When Young has gone up the middle, he’s been kind of okay. When Young has gone to right, it’s like he’s done so by accident, because that’s not where he wants to be. Right field isn’t where Chris Young has been finding his hits.

We can also take a look at a run value heat map, from Baseball Heat Maps. Chris Young, 2008-2012, from the catcher’s perspective:

Again, it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect. Young has been most dangerous over the inner half, compared to the league average (I should have mentioned the image is a comparison of Young to the league average). He has holes over the outer half. The outer half is where Young either rolls over on the ball, or hits it the other way. Everything in here so far: it’s textbook pull hitter. Chris Young is what he is, and what he is is extreme.

From The Arizona Republic in August 2010:

Young won’t name names, but he felt pressure within the organization to alter his hitting approach. He’s always been a pull hitter who ran the bases aggressively. Next thing he knew, he was concentrating on slapping the ball to the opposite field and almost becoming a straight situational hitter.

“You want to become a complete hitter and I understand that, but I worked on my weaknesses so much, I forgot about my strengths,” Young said. “I forgot how to pull the ball. I forgot how to pull the ball with authority. I forgot how to be me.”

That’s Young trying to explain a lousy 2009 season in which he got demoted. Between 2006-2009, Young posted an 87 wRC+, and he went the other way with 19 percent of his batted balls. Between 2010-2012, Young posted a 103 wRC+, and he went the other way with 14 percent of his batted balls. They’ve already tried to make Young into more of a balanced hitter. Young has already done that and gone back to the way it always was, for him. After pulling 49 percent of batted balls in 2010, the last two years Young has pulled 57 percent of batted balls.

Chris Young isn’t an extreme pull hitter because he only ever pulls the ball. Chris Young is an extreme pull hitter because he only ever has success pulling the ball. His total bases are out in left field, and he’s well aware of it. It’s possible, then, that Chris Young is the most extreme pull hitter in the game today, which goes along well with the other Chris Young being maybe the most extreme fly ball pitcher in the game today. Those Chris Youngs aren’t dull.

One assumes Billy Beane is aware of Young’s tendencies, having traded for him. One assumes Billy Beane has worked out how playing in Oakland instead of Arizona might affect Young’s productivity. And one assumes Billy Beane will instruct his coaching staff not to try to change who Young is. The balls that Young hits to right are lazy, routine fly balls. Practically automatic outs. But the balls that Young hits to left are dangerous balls indeed. Chris Young knows all about Chris Young’s strengths.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Forrest Gumption
Forrest Gumption

“And one assumes Billy Beane will instruct his coaching staff not to try to change who Young is.”

Jack Cust, Daric Barton, Chris Carter & Josh Donaldson would love to have a word with you…

However, that’s a split between bad and good, old and new. The good and new is Donaldson’s second half, Brandon Moss and Chris Carter. I’m saying with the trend upwards in how incredible the coaching staff has handled these struggling guys “figure it out”, that if they do indeed take a crack at Young instead of “not changing who he is”, they could really unleash a beast.

Ivan Grushenko
Ivan Grushenko

FWIW A’s were 2nd in MLB in Hits Pulled according to Fangraphs, although they were in the middle of the pack by Total Balls Pulled.They were also 3rd in HR pulled and 28th in Opposite Field HR. The A’s hitting coaches apparently want you to pull the ball whenever you can and swing really hard when doing so.. This seems to be a new approach in 2012. In 2011 the A’s were 22nd in Pulled HR and 25th in Hits Pulled.

wily mo

it’s all chris carter


Chili Davis has been the A’s hitting coach for one season. I suspect the change in approach came from him and the talent he’s working with.